When Austin Dillon crossed the finish line to capture the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday/Monday evening he became the 13th different driver to win in a car number 3. That might come as a shock to some people as all of the commentary post-race left the impression that only Dale Earnhardt EVER drove a car numbered 3. Turns out 78 other drivers have driven with the number 3 on their car, it just is that Earnhardt has the most starts and wins with the number. Continue reading “The Number 3”
It’s unfortunate that life has a way of derailing things and you’re left to look at what was and think of what could have been. This ‘what if’ game is one I play often when it comes to NASCAR. If this or that happened, what would have been the immediate impact/result and what would have been the long term result? Continue reading “Irvan Was On Cusp Of Greatness”
Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix.
Beyond those four drivers there are a few more veterans who might be shut out of the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, making a landscape of drivers whom diehard fans know, but the casual fan might not. David Reutimann, an eight year veteran has been let go from BK Racing and it’s not looking good for him securing a new ride. Dave Blaney, with 16 years, has said he will focus more on sprint cars than the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. And signs are not good that Travis Kvapil, a nine year veteran, will have a ride in 2014 either.
There always comes a time in NASCAR when it seems the whole landscape shifts to a new crop of stars. In the late-80s drivers like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough got out of the way for the new crop. That crop included Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin among others.
Those drivers have slowly retired along the way, handing off the baton to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and others. With rides being at a premium in the Sprint Cup Series, this will be the first time in a very long time we will have a deep rookie class coming into the season. That comes at the cost of veterans who have been hanging on, for good or bad.
This rookie class has, officially, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett. Unofficially Justin Allgaier should be joining them in the Phoenix Racing entry and most recently it looks like Alex Bowman should as well with BK Racing.
While it is unfamiliar times for some NASCAR fans, this time should be embraced with excitement. While we wish all the veterans can hang on, I for one believe it’s time for change and to get new faces into the sport.
After Kyle Busch took home his 12th Nationwide Series win Saturday the desire for fans to have NASCAR step up and do something has never been greater. Now, by doing something, I don’t mean baring Kyle Busch from running anything but Sprint Cup Series races. I believe new rules need to be in place to, at least, even the playing field.
Having Sprint Cup Series drivers drop down into the lower series is nothing new. The very first Nationwide Series race run in 1982 was won by Dale Earnhardt. The problem we are seeing now versus in the past is the number of races being run by Sprint Cup drivers in the lower series.
During his days of running, Earnhardt ran a max of 14 races in a single Nationwide Series season. Mark Martin, who was the all-time leader in wins for the series before Busch came along, never ran more than 15 races in a season after 1989.
There’s a few factors to why some drivers run more than others. For a while it was because they would run for both titles, in Nationwide and Sprint Cup. NASCAR squashed that with their ‘pick only one series for points’ rule, which has been in place the last three years. That has at least deterred some drivers from running the full-season, but they still run a high number of races.
Another reason is the power of sponsorship. Some sponsors only want Cup level drivers for their potential to win. They also have the ability to resonate with the fans; but they don’t want to pay the higher costs of sponsoring them in the Cup Series. Therefore, they choose to sponsor in the Nationwide Series. I can understand them wanting to get the most bang for their buck, but there needs to be a better way.
Third is the high number of companion races seen between the series. Traveling across the country used to be a discouragement for most drivers, so they would only run in the races that synced up with the Sprint Cup Series schedule. Now with air travel how it is and most Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series races being paired with a Cup race, it is even easier for drivers to justify running them.
There are two adjustments I would like to see NASCAR change in the current climate. One that will never change because it is too radical; and another which could come eventually down the road. The radical idea is to put a ban on Sprint Cup Series teams from operating Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series teams. The gap between the haves and have-nots of those series is staggering, which comes from the Sprint Cup owned organizations have full access to everything they have. That might not be an option for smaller budgeted teams who might only have a few cars in inventory.
The more realistic idea is simply put a limit on the number of races a Sprint Cup Series driver can run in a lower tiered series. I’ve struggled with the exact amount, but it should be a sliding scale. If you finished in the top-25 in Cup points the previous year, you can only run a max of 10 Nationwide Series races. If you finished below 25th you can run up to 20 races. Anything below that and there’s no cap. The idea of the sliding scale is if a driver isn’t that good (thus needs practice) or is in a situation where they might get released, they still can go to the Nationwide Series without penalty. Respectfully, I would adjust the Camping World Truck Series to 5 and 10.
Taking away the potential to earn points was supposed to help drivers monitor themselves. Unfortunately, this is another case where NASCAR will have to step in and police the situation due to fans getting upset over the domination of these races by Sprint Cup Series drivers.
There is nothing official for the 2014 season, but all reports indicate that Austin Dillon will be driving a number 3 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This would be the first time that the number has run since Dale Earnhardt died in a last lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
The mere idea of Dillon running the number has been met with mixed responses from fans. One half say it’s time enough for the numbers return, the other half are opposed to the idea of using the number. In my opinion, it’s time to bring the number back.
The shock of Earnhardt’s death made it natural for owner Richard Childress to go in another direction for the rest of that year. Coping with a driver’s death is done in different ways by teams.
When Davey Allison died in July of 1993, team owner Robert Yates decided to skip the next race, but keep the #28 on the car. This came at the urging of Allison’s family. The same was done when Alan Kulwicki died earlier in the same year. Kulwicki was also the team owner, so the team was looked after by Felix Sabates until a buyer could be found, but also kept Kulwicki’s #7 on the car.
In 2000, Sabates was unfortunately put in the position once again as the direct team owner. Kenny Irwin, Jr. died during a practice crash at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Sabates owned team withdrew from that race and the next week had re-branded the car from #42 to #01. It wasn’t until 2003 did the #42 reappear, which came after Chip Ganassi bought a majority stake in Sabates’ team.
Petty Enterprises had to endure the same situation as Sabates when Nationwide Series driver Adam Petty also died a practice crash at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The team did not change the number, 45, but rather team owner Kyle Petty (also Adam’s father) decided that only he would be the only driver of a car with a number 45 on it. That was the case from then until the tail end of Petty’s career in 2007 and 2008 when he had Chad McCumbee fill in for some races.
It all comes down to how a team can cope with something that might be a constant reminder of a fallen teammate. For Childress and his team, the scar was large and painful for a very long time after not only losing a teammate, but a dear friend.
In Dillon, they have a driver who grew up with the number (Dillon is Childress’ grandson) and understand what it means to his father and fans. While he’s not Dale Earnhardt, Dillon will represent the number with respect and I think having a #3 back on the track will do a lot for fans to finally be able to get over the loss of a legend.