Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

We heard those words from Jim McKay every weekend to open the popular ABC sports program Wide World of Sports. McKay passed away Saturday, and we honor him as one of television's sports broadcasting pioneers. Unlike the specialists of today's sports broadcasting, McKay anchored the broadcasts of all the sports, including the Indianapolis 500 and excerpts of NASCAR races. He also anchored the broadcasts of twelve Olympics Games.

McKay was a huge part of our lives while those of my generation were growing up and getting interested in sports. His voice will live in our memories for a long time. Jim McKay was 86 years old.

Brad Keselowski and JR Motorsports experienced the thrill of victory in the Nationwide Series race from Nashville, Saturday. We knew this was coming at some point, as he has shown improvement and an increasing will to win over the last few races. He is one of the more aggressive of the Nationwide Series drivers, and has shown that he doesn't care who is in the car in front of him, he will race hard to beat that car.

This was one of the more exciting of the Nationwide Series races this year, featuring short track style racing on a 1.3 mile intermediate track. There was plenty of beatin' and bangin' throughout the field with the acompaniment of hot tempers. Pole sitter Joey Logano led most of the laps in the early part of the race, only to be taken out as the result of a balk in the field during a restart on lap 88. ("Post-it" note: Biffle is still an idiot).

After taking four tires when many of the other cars only took two or none, Logano's number 20 car had to restart further back in the pack, putting him behind Clint Bowyer. Bowyer had to check up to avoid running into the sliding number 9 car, and it seemed that Biffle tried to take advantage of the situation to try to gain a position or two. Unfortunately, Logano had to move down to avoid Bowyer while Biffle was moving up, and Biffle's car hit Logano's and caused him to spin, causing extensive damage to the front of the #20. Biffle refused to accept fault for the accident, claiming that he was "in the middle." while, in fact, it looked like he was the one who tried to make it four-wide on a track where three-wide is difficult, at best.

"I'll even buy the replay for him and send it to him," Biffle quipped. Maybe he should look at the replay himself, first.

For a while, it looked like it would be a fuel mileage race, with the teams trying to conserve fuel, but an incident involving the lapped car of Brad Coleman brought out a late caution with 12 laps to go. With 10 laps to go, Keselowski restarted in third position behind Clint Bowyer and David Ruetimann. Having declared before the race that he would do anything to win the Gibson guitar that serves as the trophy for a Nashville win, Keselowski quickly dispatched Reutimann and soon caught Bowyer. He made a clean pass of Bowyer with four laps to go, and then checked out on the field. The rest is history. It was Brad Keselowski's first victory in NASCAR's upper tier, the second victory of the year for JR Motorsports and for a Nationwide regular driver, and the third this season for a Nationwide only team, Braun Racing being the only other winner in that category with Kyle Busch's win at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Series points leader and Cup regular Clint Bowyer felt the agony of defeat in the race. After declaring before the race that the only thing he was afraid of was finishing second, he was saved from that fear by David Stremme, another Nationwide Series regular driver. On the last lap, Stremme uncerimoniously moved Bowyer out of second place to finish second himself. The Nationwide drivers had decided that it would be their night, and they proved it. Bowyer then made a Denny Hamlin-like statement about Stremme, saying, "That is why he is in the Nationwide Series."

So, if the Hamlin and Bowyer insist that the series is for second-rate drivers, what are they doing there?

This brings me to a short rant. The series was conceived in 1982, as the Busch Series, and was to serve as an outlet for the talent that, for one reason or another, couldn't run full time in the Cup series, as well as providing a shorter, cheaper, and more accessable version of top tier NASCAR racing to the fans. Although Cup regulars, such as Bobby Allison and Dale Earnhardt sometimes raced in the series to fill the field, they were not full time in the series, and were not supported by their respective Cup teams. After ten years as a top tier series with its own identity, the original intent somehow got lost. Cup teams began using the series as a bun-warmer for talent they had discovered in other racing series, such as USAC, IRL:, ASA, and ARCA. It lost its status as a top tier series and became just another developmental series.

The series was never intended to be the little league, and it shouldn't be. It is supposed to be a top tier series along with the Truck Series and the Cup Series. With that being said, I would like to propose a solution that would help get the series back to its original intent. The solution is simple.

Except in cases such as drug abuse, trying to form a union, eligibility for a certain type of track, or rules violations resulting in suspensions, NASCAR has never dictated to the owners what drivers they can hire for their cars. That is the way it should be, because NASCAR sanctions the tracks, not the teams. However, what they can do is limit the number of teams an owner can field in a weekend. NASCAR, in other words, could limit all the owners in the top tier to four teams only among the three top tier series. That is, if Roush-Fenway, for example, wanted to run in all three series in one weekend, they would be limited to two teams in Cup, one in Nationwide, and one in the Truck series, rather than the nine teams they are running this weekend. Teams could run up to four teams in one series on a given weekend, but they would not be allowed to run teams in any of the other series. The Cup teams would, as a result, be discouraged from competing for the owner's points championship in the Nationwide Series. This would even out the field in the technological aspects, and allow the Nationwide teams to compete only amongst themselves for the owner's championship, which would, in turn, attract more sponsors and even better talent from the real developmental racing divisions and organizations. Problem solved.

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