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Earnhardt, Johnson, others seeking road course experience

By admin | August 8, 2008

By Richard Allen


Normally I am not a proponent of Sprint Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide Series, but this weekend it makes perfect sense for them to do so.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman are among those who have not exactly been regulars on the second circuit this season but have decided to make a go of it this week. The reason is obviously to gain much needed road course experience.

Those five drivers have combined to make only 21 Nationwide starts in 2008. Burton has had the most Nationwide runs this year with eight while Newman has not competed at all on the series.

Of these five drivers, none has ever been to victory lane on a road course in Sprint Cup competition. Kenseth, for that matter, has never logged a Top 5 on a road course. Junior did win at Watkins Glen on the Nationwide Series in 1999, and Newman did likewise in 2005.

Of all the weekends this year in which the Nationwide Series runs a companion race to the Sprint Cup Series this is the weekend in which it makes the most sense to do double duty. The Cup regulars only get to race on road courses twice per year so any refining they can do will have to help.

Also, on road courses there would not seem to be as great a difference between the two types of cars used in each series as there might be on ovals. And, it just helps drivers get in the mindset of turning right, which must take some adjustment.

Kenseth and Newman in particular may have the most to gain from running the extra miles. Kenseth is currently in 13th place of the overall point standings and Newman also finds himself outside the Top 12 in 15th. Earnhardt, Burton and Johnson are securely placed inside the Top 12 but each would like to add to their win totals, and thus their bonus points, before the Chase for the Championship.

Running in the Nationwide race on Saturday is not going to get any of these five drivers ready for the Formula 1 circuit, but the important thing is, it is going to get them ready for the Sprint Cup Centurion Boats at The Glen.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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