Nationwide Rolling Toward Tough Times?
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
NASHVILLE – As Sprint Cup interlopers continue to raid NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series, scooping up prize money and sponsorships, the question arises:
Can the series survive?
“I don’t see the doom and gloom at this juncture, but our antenna is up,” says team owner Gary Baker. “Right now we’re seeing full fields but it’s going to be interesting to see what the car counts are at some races down the road. I suspect some teams will be in trouble.”
Baker, who along with partner Mike Curb are in their second full season as owners of Baker Curb Racing, last year were forced to make personnel cuts. They also lost their driver and crew chief.
“It’s the challenge of challenges,” said Baker, who has been involved in racing for three decades as a driver, track owner and team owner. He is increasingly frustrated over having to battle long odds in every race – including Saturday’s Nationwide 300 on his home track of Nashville Superspeedway.
Baker said he would like to field a second car in addition to the one driven by Jason Keller, but sponsorship is not available – because Cup teams have siphoned them off.
Baker said that if the situation continues unchecked, some Nationwide teams will be fighting for survival. A stale economy combined with the growing Cup dominance has dealt the Nationwide series a double blow.
“It’s certainly not getting any easier,” Baker said.
Cup drivers have won all five Nationwide races this season and 94 of the last 110 dating back over three years.
Cup drivers have dominated the Nationwide championship standings for more than a decade, and this season is starting out no different: Cup regulars Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are already pulling away from the pack.
The good news for Nationwide teams is that Saturday’s race is the season’s first stand-alone race (no companion Cup event) which means the field won’t have its usual flood of Cup double-dippers.
The bad news is that the five Cup drivers who are entered are formidable: Edwards, Busch, Joey Logano, David Ragan and Michael Waltrip.
Edwards has won three Nationwide races on the 1.3 mile concrete Superspeedway, while Busch has captured two of this season’s five events.
“At least there’s not 22 Cup guys entered, like there has been in some races,” said Keller who is 9th in the standings, 259 points behind Edwards.
“But even though it’s a stand-alone event we still have to beat guys like Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. If we catch them a little off their game, and we’re on ours, we’ve got a chance.”
Baker said, “While we like a challenge, it can be frustrating. Do we look at it as if we’re second-rate (to the Cup drivers)? No, we don’t. But it is frustrating to look at the incredible budgets of the No. 60 (Edwards’ car). If we had the budget of the 60 car we could kick them in the teeth. But I’m a realist, and at times that frustration gets pretty great.”
While the hill is steep for Nationwide-only teams, Keller said he has extra motivation this weekend: the race is on his team’s home track.
“The pride factor is enormous,” he said. “You appreciate how important it is to race well in your team’s hometown.”
Superspeedway vice president/general manager Cliff Hawks makes no apology for structuring most of his media advertising and promotions around the Cup stars.
“Drivers like Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are among the biggest names in the sport,” he said “They attract a lot of attention wherever they go and fans enjoy watching them race. We try to give our fans what they want, and it’s clear that they like to see these big-name drivers.”
Hawks said he sympathizes with Baker’s plight, but added: “Gary and I are on opposite sides of the business. He’s in the competitive end and I’m in the promotional end. I can understand the issues he had to deal with, but from my standpoint I have to look at the star power that the Cup drivers bring to a race. Star power is very important.”
Baker said he has lobbied NASCAR for help, perhaps limiting the number of Cup drivers in a Nationwide race, but with no luck.
“We have had discussions,” he said, “but do I think any action will taken in the foreseeable future? No.”5 Comments