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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