by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.January 17, 2010 4:08 pm UTC No Comments
Front Row Motorsports recently announced Kevin Conway as the full-time driver of one of its two cars, a Ford which will likely carry sponsorship from male enhancement pill Extenze. This announcement made Conway the first rookie candidate for the 2010 season.
Days later, former Nationwide Series owner Dusty Whitney announced that he had purchased a fleet of Dodges from Richard Petty Motorsports, now a Ford team, and would be fielding a car for former Truck Series driver Terry Cook for the full 36-race schedule. Cook, who had been competing in the trucks since 1996, will also compete for the award.
But looking at the press release, Whitney’s quote appears to hint at a start-and-park program for the Truck Series veteran. “Terry did a fantastic job qualifying the #91 Nationwide Car last season and we are hoping for the same qualifying success in our #46 Sprint Cup Car,” Whitney said. This explicit mention of qualifying success suggests that the team will probably pull into the garage after a handful of laps every weekend.
This leaves Conway as the only legitimate candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2010, the first time this has happened since 1996, when Johnny Benson won almost by default. And even then, Conway hasn’t done much with his career – and without his Extenze sponsorship, he wouldn’t even be there.
Granted, rookie classes have always fluctuated from year to year. Consider the influx of open-wheel stars gunning for the award in 2008, compared to 2009, where only Joey Logano and Scott Speed duked it out.
But it appears that the failures of the young guns in the then-Busch Series in 2004 and 2005 may be to blame for the recent shortage – not just the one-year stand of IndyCar and Formula One rookies.
In that time period, Cup drivers were running fewer Busch races, allowing the Cup teams to attempt to develop and groom young talent for future Cup rides. Hendrick Motorsports had Blake Feese and Boston Reid; Roush Racing employed Todd Kluever and Danny O’Quinn Jr.; a slew of “Hungry Drivers” piloted the Evernham Motorsports car. Teams like FitzBradshaw Racing and Brewco Motorsports were developing drivers instead of just hiring Busch Series lifers.
Then something strange and unprecedented happened.
All of these drivers failed.
O’Quinn pops up from time to time in Nationwide races, but most of the drivers have moved on. Joel Kauffman’s career is over. Tracy Hines is back to USAC. Paul Wolfe is now a crew chief.
Worse, most of these drivers were fully funded by major companies. These failures helped instill a fear of committing to young talent in sponsors looking to join the series. Combine that with the oft-cited state of the American economy, and the sport is in trouble.
Fewer and fewer young drivers receive lucrative sponsorship contracts every year, even with the big teams, because these companies would rather only run a Nationwide race or two every year with Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Mark Martin than twenty with Kelly Bires or Brendan Gaughan.
So the owners found another way out: bringing in open-wheel talent that didn’t have rides for 2008. With the modest success of Juan Montoya at Ganassi Racing in 2007, it seemed like everybody with even a sliver of open wheel success was called over to make the jump. Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Michael McDowell, Dario Franchitti, and Jacques Villeneuve all got the call.
None of them won the award, and two years removed, only Hornish still has a solid ride in Cup.
Unfortunately, because race teams are independent contractors, NASCAR can’t step in and try to make these sponsors commit to young talent and the future growth of the sport, instead of the same old talent. If NASCAR attempts to regulate double-dipping in Cup and Nationwide, the timing might kill the feeder series. The teams themselves may or may not try to sell these young drivers to prospective backers, but they can only do so much.
The only stroke of luck for NASCAR right now is that the rookie classes of the early and mid 2000s were so deep, and that many of those drivers will remain in the series for another 10 to 15 years. Between 2001 and 2005, eight future Chase drivers, among them three future champions, joined the series. The 2006 rookie class was the deepest since 1994 in terms of talent, producing three Chase drivers and a few more Cup regulars, and 2007 wasn’t too shabby either, with all eligible candidates still in the series.
But unless teams and sponsors are willing to re-invest in the youth of the sport, we may see the same names and faces again and again, year after year, and the least accomplished rookie classes in Cup history.
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowMay 29, 2009 10:13 pm UTC No Comments
The race was cut to just past half distance and the several rain-caused cautions gave the normal Wall-Bait feeders a break. The walls of Lowes Motorspeedway are mostly clean. But you can’t say that no one hit the wall in Charlotte.
The rain didn’t hide the continued futility of the Amp Energy No. 88 team. The combo of Junior’s, Earnhardt and Eury, had been nibbling at the crash bait for most of the fishing season. This week, the boss bit.
Rick Hendrick has decided that the experiment in NASCAR in-breeding has failed. The cousins Earnhardt didn’t get the job done. Dale Junior has a new crew chief and Tony Junior has….a respite from scapegoat-ism.
Dover will most assuredly see more sheet metal in the wall. But there may not be a bigger hit in NASCAR this year than the one Earnhardt fans have taken so far.
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowApril 20, 2009 8:03 am UTC 4 Comments
Marlin made it to lap 54 before finding the wall too tough to turn down. Smacking the turn three wall brought out the first of six cautions and earned him my Wall Bait award of the race.
My pre-race favorite for the Wallie was Reed Sorrenson, but Reed stayed off the concrete and finished 12th. Nice job in the Richard Petty Racing no. 43.
Next week it’s Talladega Superspeedway. Who’s your pick for the Wall Bait trophy at the Big Track? There can be only one.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc