For those out there that follow stock car racing’s development ranks, there’s exactly one place one should not look if trying to handicap the 2012 Nationwide and ARCA title races:
Victory lane at the Michigan International Speedway.
Seem counter-intuitive? On paper, it sure should, seeing as how both series will be contesting races in the Irish Hills this weekend. But a closer look at the stats reveals a decade long trend of irrelevance for the one race of the year each series runs in the backyard of the Big Three.
In the last 10 years, only two eventual ARCA champions have found victory lane at Michigan (Frank Kimmel in 2005 and Ty Dillon last year). Looking closer though, each of these seasons marked title races that were far from competitive; Kimmel took the crown by 425 points over Joey Miller in winning his sixth consecutive championship, while Dillon coasted to a 340 point victory over Chris Buescher. This year, even with Brennan Poole on a two-race winning streak, the top 5 in the standings are all within 100 points of each other.
As for the Nationwide Series, there’s even less of a correlation. Brad Keselowski was the only Nationwide champion of the last decade to score a victory in NASCAR’s Brooklyn, and when one looks at the track record for Nationwide Series regulars (the only drivers eligible to win the title anymore), it gets bleaker. Cup drivers have scored eight consecutive race wins at MIS…not since Kyle Busch in 2004 has an NNS regular found victory lane.
Taking a look at the track itself, this utter irrelevance of an MIS win in the historical picture for these two series is less surprising. Michigan is a track that has long been singled out in the ARCA ranks for drivers running limited development slates in big name rides (Steve Wallace, Billy Wease, Casey Mears and Reed Sorenson come to mind, having driven for outfits such as Penske, Ganassi and RWI), and vulnerable to Cup dominance on the Nationwide Series side. After all, combining the big-time horsepower of a Cup-backed team with the double amount of seat time one gets running double duty at an intermediate oval is about as strong a recipe for winning as they come.
The schedule compounds this, as both series only contest one race a year at Michigan and have for some time; the Nationwide Series has never hosted two events at MIS in one season, while the ARCA Series hasn’t raced twice at MIS since 2006. And furthermore this year, the repave is only going to compound things further. New asphalt means rock hard tires, limited notes and limited track time…except for Cup regulars, that is, who have tested at MIS this week, don’t run ARCA and will enjoy twice the seat time if they’re double dipping.
It’s perhaps consistent though that a win at Michigan is seemingly inconsequential for pursuit of a championship, be it ARCA or Nationwide. The Big Three are no longer the only game in town for minor league stock car racers; Toyota won the ARCA title in 2009 with Eddie Sharp Racing, Sheltra Motorsports ran Toyotas in several races winning the crown a year later, and Toyota has scored two of the last three manufacturers’ championships in Nationwide competition, along with Kyle Busch’s 2009 driver’s title. This far into 2012, Toyota leads the Nationwide Series in wins with five, and leads the points in a partial schedule with Brennan Poole in the ARCA ranks.
Besides, manufacturer involvement outside of Cup racing has diminished in a great capacity. Outside of Turner Motorsports, one would be hard-pressed to name a single operation out there that has manufacturer backing to the point they can build their own race cars; indeed, the modus operandi for nearly every independent NNS operation still racing today is not to build cars, but to by them. Drop down to the ARCA level, and the ties to manufacturer become even less pronounced; as previously mentioned, Patrick Sheltra won the 2010 championship driving three different makes over the course of the season (winning in both a Dodge and Toyota), while Venturini Motorsports has fielded both Chevrolets and Toyotas thus far in 2012, with Ryan Reed slated to race a Ford today.
The math adds up. In a racing community where the Big Three are less significant a player, the track less significant a fixture on the schedules, and the on-track competition all but slanted to the part-time big gun, the likely 2012 champion of both the Nationwide and ARCA Series will have to wait at least another week to taste victory.
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