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Woody: Big-Leaguer Swipes Lunch Money Again

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 17 2010

Brad Keselowski won the Nationwide championship as full-time Cup drivers rolled on in the series. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

At the start of the season I wondered which Sprint Cup major-leaguer would dominate the second-tier Nationwide Series and (as usual) steal the little guys’ lunch money.

The verdict is in: Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski won in a romp, officially tying the bow at Texas Motor Speedway a week ago. It was over long before that. The only challenger in sight was fellow Cup driver Carl Edwards, and he a mere spec on Keselowski’s rearview mirror.

A third Cup superstar, Kyle Busch, turned the Nationwide Series into his personal play-pen by winning an incredible 12 races in just 28 starts. We can only imagine what Busch would have done had he elected to really get serous and run the full schedule.

Ah, the drama.

Once again NASCAR’s second-tier series became a playground for the rich and famous.

If the Cup raiders were simply winning close battles with their Nationwide counterparts, the series could live with that. But they’re winning the championship year after year with uncontested blowouts.

No stand-alone Nationwide driver was in contention from the opening bell, leaving already financially-strapped teams to fight over the Cuppers’ crumbs and leftovers.

And the perennial question is posed: How long can the series survive like this? Dover Motorsports has folded two tracks in two years in the Memphis and St. Louis areas because their lower-division races weren’t “financially viable.” (In other words, they weren’t drawing flies.)

Another Dover track, Nashville Superspeedway, continues to struggle with dismal Nationwide attendance, and area fans are holding their breath hoping the ax doesn’t fall here next.

What’s the answer? I’m not smart enough to know. Apparently neither is NASCAR. The folks

Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch has taken 12 checkered flags in the Nationwide Series this year. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

who run the show don’t live in an insulated bubble down in Daytona. They’re aware of the track closings. They see the sea of seats. They hear teams gasping for air. But they seem powerless to do anything to do anything about it.

In defense of NASCAR, nobody else has come up with a workable solution. Simply telling full-time Cup drivers to take a hike probably wouldn’t work.

Cliff Hawks, VP/GM of Nashville Supespeedway, says the Cup drivers help sell tickets to his two annual Nationwide races. He says fans enjoy seeing the stars come out, and without them, beleaguered attendance would plummet further.

Down on the track it’s a different matter. Nashville-based Baker Curb Racing is typical of most Nationwide-only teams – it is struggling to make ends meet.

The Cup raiders not only siphon off the cream from every race purse (Keselowski, Edwards and Busch each will pocket over $1 million in Nationwide dough this year) they also absorb vital sponsorships that the second-tier series needs to survive.

What’s especially frustrating for Nationwide drivers is that they don’t believe they are playing on a level field.

“It’s the whole team concept,” says Bobby Hamilton Jr., who has experienced life in both the Cup and Nationwide series. “Granted, the Cup guys are talented, but they have a huge advantage with superior equipment, personnel and other resources. I’ve always felt like I could compete with them driver-against-driver, but I have no chance team-against-team.”

No chance. That’s a painfully-candid admission for a racer. But it’s also painfully true. For several years a stand-alone Nationwide team has had no chance to win the championship. Unless something drastic should develop, that won’t change.

Sometime in coming weeks we’ll learn which Cup drivers plan to run the full Nationwide schedule next year, and the speculation will begin: which major leaguer will win NASCAR’s 2011 minor league title?

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 17 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Steve says:

    The Nationwide/Busch series back 10 years ago didn’t have problems with attendance when there were no Cup regulars regularly in the field. Why now would the series suffer if Cup drivers were removed? Are the tracks expecting 100,000 people to these NW races? Don’t count on it.

    These tracks need to understand that more people are staying home because of the Cup guys in the field. It used to be a series where we could follow the development of future stars and NW veterans show their stuff on Saturday as a prelude to the Cup race on Sunday. It also gave us a glimpse of the future of the Cup series. Now its just a joke of a series. Something needs to be done or the Cup series will be suffering in the long run with a lack of talent when guys like Stewart, Gordon, Burton retire in a few years.

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    Larry, my friend, I don’t want Nashville’s Racing Scene to crash faster than that of the Mayflower’s of the Old Baltimore Colts and If I was in the track promoting business, I’d make sure Nashvillians have a good place to work and race and enjoy their hard fought dollars from the ARCA Supercars to the Weekly Races and the Big Bad Sprint Cup because I want some of that Kentucky Vibe back and not in the Supercars or the East Cars Exclusively.

  • Mary says:

    For years I’ve thought it was unfair for the big shots to be in
    Nationwide almost fulltime and should not win championships….
    This is a race for guys starting out, maybe not a lot of money, with no chance to win……sure they say it’s good experince, so ok, let cups race maybe 5 times a year…I used to enjoy this race, don’t watch anymore…..Sad the way racing is today…