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Demise of Rusty Wallace team illustrates the loss of purpose for the Nationwide Series

By admin | January 8, 2012

By Richard Allen


I often use the space on this website to bemoan the fact that the current regime in charge of NASCAR has forgotten its roots and lost its sense of history. And even though that theme may be getting old to some, I’m going to employ it once again.

On Friday afternoon Rusty Wallace, Inc. announced that it was closing the doors of the Rusty Wallace Racing side of their business and thus ceasing operations as a Nationwide Series team. The announcement is just one more example of how NASCAR’s second series essentially has legislated teams that intend to run that series only out of the game.

While RWR driver Steven Wallace may have been much maligned, it would hardly have mattered if he weren’t. His team, with no glaringly obvious Sprint Cup ties, had little chance of ever securing enough sponsorship to compete at a high level.

As an example of the futility of fielding Nationwide teams for young, less established drivers, look at the Roush Fenway Racing teams devoted to Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse. Even with their Cup ties, these two operations ran without sponsorship for much of 2011 while the car driven by Carl Edwards for that same organization was sponsored.

With so many Nationwide races run as support events for the Sprint Cup Series and with sometimes as many as 10-12 stars from the top division competing, the series has ceased to be what it had originally been intended, a proving ground for young up-and-coming talent or an outlet for older drivers who may not have had the opportunity to race at the top level.

Now, the Nationwide Series operates as more of a ‘Sprint Cup Lite’ than as a separate entity. Last season, 28 of the 34 second series’ races were won by Sprint Cup regulars.

On Friday night I watched the Speed TV Network’s tribute shows on soon to be Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Richie Evans. As I watched the recollection of these two racing greats rise through the ranks of NASCAR on short tracks around the country it caused me to consider that such was what had been the original purpose of the sport’s support divisions. But this began to change when television and the tracks wanted more to sell their advertisers and patrons. Thus, there came to be more and more two race weekends throughout the schedule.

In 2012, 28 of the 33 scheduled Nationwide Series races will serve as support races for the top series. Thirty years ago when veteran drivers such as Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, L.D. Ottinger, Tommy Ellis, Tommy Houston and Butch Lindley raced against up and comers like Dale Jarrett, Phil Parsons and Rick Mast, there were only ten of the 29 Busch Series races on the same track during the same weekend as Winston Cup events.

What the movement toward the Nationwide Series serving as a companion series to Sprint Cup has effectively done is to provide an arena for the larger, better financed teams with their drivers who once had the ability to draw in major sponsorship money to crush their smaller competitors. In other words, the Nationwide Series has become a hobby, or playground, for the rich and powerful at the expense of the smaller teams.

Friday’s announcement by RWI should have come as a surprise to no one. A team such as that would never stand a chance under any circumstances but once the economy weakened with the system that is currently in place, they were doomed.

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Topics: Articles |

11 Responses to “Demise of Rusty Wallace team illustrates the loss of purpose for the Nationwide Series”

  1. zhills fan Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 5:09 am

    The truck series has replaced the nationwide series as the only alternative to the cup series for up and coming younger drivers. I’d just as soon as watch it as a cup race. It’s about the right length in time.

  2. The Mad Man Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 9:13 am

    The Truck Series is a pretty good way to check out up and coming talent and it provides a lot better quality action than do Cup & Cup Lite. If they kept the Buschwackers out of both NNS & the Truck Series, they could both go back to what they were intended to be. A way for potential Cup drivers to gain experience and notice of Cup teams.

  3. Russ Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Rich, again a good article. My only comment is that, in my opinion, they created the double weekend to justify the increase in ticket fees. And/or purely to increase the take at the till. We used to go to the World 600 every year, walk up and pay $20. Now ?

    Once again, Nascar/ISC/SMC created the issue with their lack of long range strategic planning. Unfortunately they are still making a lot of money but there are a lot of people in the unemployment line because of them.

    Regardless, in my opinion the big question is which dies first NWS or Trucks.

  4. Kevin Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 10:21 am

    NASCAR needs to consolidate their 3 National Touring Series into 2. Get rid of the Nationwide series. The CWTS currently serves the model the old Busch series used to. Development and retirees. There isn’t enough sponsorship to run three series, nor is their enough interest from the fans for three series to exist. Eliminate one of the series, sponsors will then be free to move up or down, and mediocre talent will have to head to their local short tracks to drive.
    The Nationwide series has pretty much gotten to the point where it is a 2/3 preview into Sunday’s show. It isn’t necessary. Lose it.

  5. mr clause Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Rich, glad to see that someone else see’s that NASCAR itself is what is killing the NWS. I was a part of the LMS then Busch series and it was a stand alone series that made fans and believers. Every racer you mentioned made a contribution to the series and it’s continued growth. When NASCAR took that series away from South Boston, Langley, Richmond, Three pines, Hickory, etc, etc, they determined its fate. Nascar has no grasp of it’s fans like’s or of the long term future of the sport in general. It all became dollar signs instead of racing. What NASCAR refuses to see is that us older fans came to cup with our local drivers. We came to cup but never gave up on what we loved before cup. NASCAR will never again be what it was and sadly what will be lost first is the NWS and the trucks. They threw away the past and now have the future in jeopardy. Sad indeed!

  6. midasmicah Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I’ve been calling this series “cup light” for 3 or 4 years. The series has become irrelevant. I don’t even watch it anymore. Way to go nas$car.

  7. Chris Fiegler Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Will Steve Wallace race in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012?

  8. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    As much as the NASCAR Booster in me told Rusty don’t do ownership, but, I feel that there aren’t new openings in Nationwide Ownership and I hope and pray real drivers, not Krusty the Klowns fill my seats.

  9. jerseygirl24 Says:
    January 9th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    So true, Rich. I used to enjoy watching the Busch races or getting to them when I could. Now, it’s all about the Sprint cup drivers crossing over - that’s what we get on TV and the sponsors have followed suit in only wanting to sponsor the “names”.

    As a result, I don’t watch it much of TV and seldom go to see the races in person. I do like the truck series - even if that has been contaminated by so many cup drivers in the last few years too.

    I agree that NA$CAR and the tracks created this monster by wanting to squeeze as much money from the fans as possible. The tracks that only wanted to sell a “package deal” for a lot of money drove a lot of fans aways, too.

  10. Steve Says:
    January 10th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    If we got rid of the Nationwide series, the truck series would be the new “Cup Lite” and all the races would be companion events. Because Nascar is worried about the greenback more than the racing, that’s exactly what will happen.

    Nascar and many fans have the beleif that the NW series would not last if the Cup guys weren’t involved. I think the series is going down the tubes BECAUSE they are involved.

    Its all very sad and Nascar will feel the real impact when Cup stars like Stewart, Junior, Gordon all retire. There will be nothing in the talent pool to replace them.

  11. Russ Says:
    January 11th, 2012 at 8:16 am

    There will always be someone to take the place of the retiring stars. It will just take more effort by the PR guys to make them the next hero.

    Nothing that a like money and effort wont fix. The circus will roll on and never miss a beat.