Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction From Stock Car Racing’s Development Ranks

FACT: Trevor Bayne Will Run a Full NNS Schedule in 2012

Anyone remember the last time a legitimate championship contender driving for a powerhouse organization in one of NASCAR’s national touring series was on pins and needles week after week, trying to put patchquilt sponsor dollars together to keep the campaign going?

Think back to 2009 and Todd Bodine. Despite winning the season opening race at Daytona and sitting first in points after a runner-up finish in Fontana the following week, Bodine and team had to rely on a 25th-hour sponsorship package to race Atlanta. Another top-five finish and before long Bodine and crew had signed a multi-race deal with Copart.com that kept the No. 30 team on track all season, producing another checkered flag at Texas.

The championship didn’t happen that season, but the pieces were in place, the momentum was there, and Bodine blitzed his way to the crown the following year with 20 top-10 finishes in 25 races.

Back to the present, one Trevor Bayne saw his 2012 aspirations saved the middle of this week with the signing of Lally Horse Stables to keep his No. 60 on track for the weekend’s festivities at Bristol. Like Bodine, Bayne’s season has gotten off to a fast start with consecutive top-10 finishes slotting the Tennessee-native fourth in points.

The momentum is definitely there for Bayne to be marketed as a winning car and a contender for the ultimate crown, as it was for Bodine three years back. And like the name Bodine, the name Bayne carries weight to it. After all, Derrike Cope has made a decades-long career on the back of that one race win.

Assuming the price point stays reasonable in the house of Roush, there’s way too many similarities between this situation and Bodine’s a few years back to think that Ford’s flagship is going to let their promising talent sit on the bench another year. A championship will be a tall order against the best RCR, Penske and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have to offer, but Bayne will be there for all of it, contending or not.

FICTION: Brian Scott Will Win in 2012

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has a pretty solid record of hosting coming out parties for young drivers; Kyle Busch scored his first career top-five finish only three races into his first full-time campaign back in 2005, while Justin Allgaier’s top-10 result at the track in 2009 signified his arrival on the NASCAR scene following an ARCA title the season before.

That script was primed and ready to play out again this past weekend for one Brian Scott. Top six in both practice sessions and starting fourth on the grid, Scott was audibly confident that last Saturday was the day he delivered on more than the sponsor dollars he brought to Joe Gibbs Racing a season ago.

The story that played out was not Busch’s of 2005 or Allgaier’s of 2009, but more of Scott’s 2011. Show speed, fall back a bit and then find trouble on the track. This time, it was almost the midway point that saw Scott lose his car in turn 4 when a passing Bayne sucked the air off his machine, leaving an over-correction to slam the No. 11 into the turn 4 wall.

The wreckage, the disappointment, it was the story of 2011. And despite having far less competition to deal with in 2012, including in his own stable, 2012 has been more of the same thus far for the Nationwide Series’ Idaho regular. Expect the goose-egg in the W column to do, well, the same.

FACT: Rockingham’s Open Drivers’ Meeting a Big Deal … and the Right Move

Andy Hillenburg has absolutely bent over backwards the past few seasons trying to draw fans back to the Rockingham Speedway. And in a move that he declared part of making the Rock’s upcoming Truck Series race “as fan-friendly as it can be,” the track owner has announced that a race admission ticket will grant fans access to the garage for the drivers’ meeting prior to the green flag.

Already this year NASCAR has taken steps forward with making this event more accessible, having broadcast it to the fans in the stands at the Daytona 500 last month. But opening the Rock’s long garage and allowing the fans to pack in and take part in the meeting is a fantastic move on Hillenburg’s part.

Though those that have been to more than one drivers’ meeting are aware that they amount to little more than celebrity introductions and a video-game rendition of the track, there are countless race fans out there that have never gotten to experience the meeting. For the majority of those (hopefully many) fans that will be at the Rock next month, it’ll be something very new. That the track has thought to do something innovative for the fans is laudable enough.

The fact that they’re opening the garage area and an element of the competition to any race fan with a ticket is even more so. Those that have been clamoring for a return to the Rock are the same ones that clamor for a return to the past, before the garage area became as regulated as a military base. Here’s to openness. And here’s hoping the ticket sales match just how good a race weekend this one is shaping up to be.

FICTION: 15-Year-Olds Are a Good Thing for ARCA Short-Tracking

While Cale Gale was busy thrilling the hometown Mobile crowd by winning last Saturday’s ARCA race at the track, Venturini Motorsports set a record by fielding a car for 15-year-old Erik Jones, who upon taking the green flag became the youngest driver to start a race at that level. Jones qualified in the top five and ran up front for much of the afternoon before a clutch problem during pit stops forced the team behind the wall. Jones finished 29th without incident.

Jones’s debut race in a national touring series was by no means a disaster…Brent Sherman running Cup at Bristol this was not. But the question really does need to be asked … what exactly is ARCA trying to accomplish by allowing 15-year-olds to contest their short-track races?

Truth be told, running top five in a Venturini-prepared ARCA car isn’t all that big an accomplishment, it’s more something to be expected. And yes, Jones proved completely able to run fast laps in the heavy, former Cup and Nationwide cars contested by ARCA competitors.

But speaking as someone that’s a firm supporter of NASCAR’s age restrictions, this seems like an unnecessary move for ARCA. Not because of a lack of a talent or a risk to competitors, but simply because ARCA, like NASCAR, is a national touring series. In terms of stock car racing, it is the opening act, but it is still the big stage.

To green-light having drivers that by their age inherently do not have proven history at their local bullrings, that inherently can not say they’ve seen a thing or two of the true craziness that this form of motorsport brings to the forefront every time the flag is dropped, really takes away from the idea of a national touring series as a whole.

What’s more, especially at the ARCA (and to a less extent the lower NASCAR level), good equipment will take just about any driver a long way regardless of talent level. Want to open the door for more ride-buying and less time proving one’s self? Open up a form of racing that essentially puts drivers in NASCAR-style equipment on NASCAR sanctioned tracks or their equivalents.

Again, none of this is a knock on Jones as an individual or a driver. He just happens to be the (baby) face of a larger issue that ARCA has opened up for the 2012 season.

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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