Woody: Big-Leaguer Swipes Lunch Money Again
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments