Race Weekend Central

Nuts for Nationwide: Did You Notice? Nationwide Series Ponderings

Since I didn’t have an in-depth feature this week, I thought I’d switch it up a bit. So what better way to do that than to give the Nationwide Series coverage just like that of the Cup Series? Here’s a special edition of Frontstretch’s Did You Notice?…a Nationwide Series edition.

Did You Notice? The absolute mess that the Top-30 rule has made of the Nationwide Series field? Fans saw these problems as early as, well, the last time the Nationwide Series hit Fontana, when the failure of the No. 5 team to show locked MSRP Motorsports’ No. 90 car into the field. Later that weekend in qualifying, despite outrunning that same No. 90 car, the full-time No. 40 team of Key Motorsports got sent home in favor of a perpetual start-and-park. Fast forward to this weekend entering Fontana, and the Top-30 rule is perpetuating even more start-and-parking. Just look at three teams currently locked into the field:

  • JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 car lost their sponsor after the summer race at Daytona, but have been forced to keep running their car in an S&P effort to keep their locked in spot in the field come 2010… because they know full well how hard sponsorship hunting for NNS teams is right now without having to race into the field. So, to keep their future alive, JTG Daugherty has worked out a deal that has MSRP Motorsports’ crew spending as much time in the No. 47 garage as in their own Nos. 90 and 91’s stalls. After all, when the sponsorship dried up, a number of JTG’s crew guys ended up at MSRP… because the business of start-and-park is booming.
  • K-Automotive’s No. 26 car spent a good chunk of the 2009 campaign having to race its way into the field, until Michael McDowell came aboard and finally got the team locked into the Top 30. Since then, the No. 26 car has scored a number of top-10 finishes and has put a distance in the points standings between themselves and the Nos. 09 and 89 so that they’ll be comfortably locked in at Daytona next February. So, with no real incentive to keep the No. 26 car racing, they’ve started start-and-parking the No. 26 car more often than not (Kevin Conway did run the distance last weekend at Kansas), letting McDowell instead run the No. 96 car the distance. Saavy business practice, no doubt, but is this really an advantage the Top-30 rule should be providing?
  • NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 car has taken the exact same approach as the No. 26 in recent weeks, choosing to stop going the distance because they have a comfortable cushion between themselves and having to do knockout qualifying every weekend. By the numbers? The No. 87 hasn’t run the distance since Bristol in mid-August.

In sum, the Top-30 rule has forced a longtime Nationwide team to outsource S&P operations to keep their own sponsorship search alive, while allowing two other teams who have locked themselves in to coast through the rest of 2009, pocketing checks and not racing. That’s not an indictment against those teams… again, such a practice makes business sense. But to have rules in place encouraging race teams to do this stuff is just mind-boggling. Only in NASCAR.

Did You Notice? That when JTG Daugherty needed help to keep their start-and-park effort on track, they turned to MSRP Motorsports? How ironic that one team that is co-owned by broadcaster Brad Daugherty turned to a team co-owned by broadcaster Phil Parsons for assistance.

See also
It's Not a Sport, It's a Business: The Start and Park Phenomenon Threatening NASCAR's Future

Guess that explains how a number of JTG’s old No. 47 crewmen got a job over at MSRP. But moreso, doesn’t this whole thing seem a little wrong? Having some of the most influential persons in the sport working together to take three spots in the field and do nothing with them? It’s hard to word it, but this whole deal seems a bit… fishy.

Did You Notice? That Jeremy Clements is now running the No. 0 car for JD Motorsports and the car isn’t start-and-parking? That’d be because Clements’s own No. 50 car ran the No. 0 at Kansas and will at ACS Saturday. Clements has told Frontstretch that JDM is paying entry fees for the team and has essentially worked out a deal for the No. 50 squad to run their number, allowing JD to keep the No. 0’s status as a full-time contestant of the NNS slate.

The deal is for select races, not for the rest of 2009, but Clements will run the No. 0 entry at Lowe’s Motor Speedway next week. Fontana was not a race that Clements and his team had planned to run originally, but the team figured “hell, we’re halfway out there already, might as well go on out” according to the driver. Clements has told Frontstretch that the team plans to contest the full 300 miles on Saturday.

Did You Notice? That after only one race in the No. 26 car after announcing a deal that was supposed to last the remainder of 2009 and through 2010, that Conway and his Extenze sponsorship have moved on already to another car (they’re listed in the R3 Motorsports No. 23 on the Fontana entry list)? It’s not because of a previous commitment, that’s for sure… the No. 26 car has a big TBA listed as its sponsor for the weekend

And a partnership between the No. 23 and No. 26 isn’t the likely answer… even if such a partnership does in fact exist, it’s hard to imagine that K-Automotive would allow the one sponsor in their camp to go to R3 Motorsports’ only entry.

So what happened? Is it a case that some over-eager person wrote a press release that just went too far? Or is it possible that the same marketing skills that allowed Conway to land this sponsorship deal also allow him to quickly land a more lucrative ride elsewhere? I don’t have any insider information regarding Conway or these teams, but I do know very well just how valuable a driver with a sponsor is these days… and I don’t have a hard time seeing a team like R3 Motorsports stepping in and one-upping a fellow small-time team to land such a driver.

What’s more, I don’t have a hard time seeing Conway in yet another ride by season’s end, ExtenZe on board.

Did You Notice? That Tony Raines is 13th in Nationwide Series points, by far the best season at any level of NASCAR racing that Front Row Motorsports has ever had? And it’s not the first small-time team that Raines has done this with either… remember back in 2003 when he qualified for 35 of 36 Cup races with BACE Motorsports despite having no sponsorship, even contending for the win at Rockingham in November of that season?

It’s a damned shame that this guy gets next to no TV coverage or press, because if there’s any driver out there that deserves a second shot at Cup, it’s this guy. Granted, he had his shot at Hall of Fame Racing, but take one look at that team’s performance since Raines left and tell me that the driver was the problem.

Did You Notice? That when Mike Bliss takes the green flag this Saturday at Fontana, he will do so in his sixth ride of the season? Just look at his progression since being released from Phoenix Racing:

Watkins Glen – MSRP Motorsports’ No. 90
Michigan through Atlanta – NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87
Richmond, Kansas – Key Motorsports’ No. 40
Dover – CJM Racing’s No. 11

This weekend, it’s into the cockpit of the No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports entry for Bliss, who if nothing else has to be applauded for his resourcefulness in keeping himself in a ride since his release (driving for Joe Nemechek for free, staying in the same house as much of the Phoenix Racing crew that he was released from at Dover, etc.) The real question is though… how has this guy not landed a full-time gig with any of these teams?

Sure, Key Motorsports has a full-time driver, but what about NEMCO, who has proven able this year to run the distance with or without sponsorship? Or CJM, who came as close to victory as they ever have with Bliss driving?

The first team to realize that a guy this good is on the market is going to make some noise in the NNS come 2010, mark my words.

Did You Notice? That despite drawing only 15,000 people for their February race, the Nationwide Series will still tackle the Auto Club Speedway twice in 2010? Guess that whole attendance thing doesn’t matter when it comes to Cup shows needing companion races to fill the weekend.

Though considering the troubles of the Nationwide Series to field even 30 competitive cars and the snore-inducing racing at ACS, maybe 15,000 wasn’t such a bad turnout after all.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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