Sunday, October 14, 2007

A "Clash" of Open-Wheel Drivers!

Several weeks ago, I discussed collective nouns, in relationship to the behaviors of NASCAR Fans. For the last few weeks, I have been watching the news, and the racing by the latest influx into NASCAR by open-wheel drivers. Judging from the reactions I have found on the internet, the only appropriate collective noun would be a "Clash."

Open-wheel drivers have been coming in to NASCAR since the 1960's. If we look back in our history, we will see names like Foyt and Andretti who competed a few times each year. Many of our current, most popular drivers have an open wheel background! Stewart, Gordon, Kahne, Mears, Allmendinger, Yeley, and so on! In recent years, we have also seen Andretti's and Foyt's competing! Even some of our team owners have an open wheel background, as in Ganassi and Penske.

There has been an attitude 'clash' between F-1 and NASCAR for years. They have been battling for popularity with fans. F-1 drivers have called the stock cars boring. NASCAR fans have felt that that Schumacher's comments were reflective of many, that NASCAR was to be largely ignored.

Then, Juan Pablo Montoya entered the scene! While Schmacher was disdainful, Jacques Villeneuve was applauding the move by JPM, but including the following:

However the Canadian doubted many more Grand Prix racers, most of them groomed from infancy in go-karts and European open-wheeled single-seater series, had the requisite skills to follow the Colombian.

"Juan Pablo raced in the States, he raced in ovals so I think it's quite different," said Villeneuve.

Once JPM was deep into NASCAR racing, he discovered that there was a much steeper learning curve. While he won a single race at Sonoma, he even admitted on a Sirius radio interview that he should be expected to win that, but thinks his first oval win will give him credibility. It certainly has not been a cakewalk for him!

My Blog-Buddy, fondly called Lugnut, has quoted many fans on their complaints about the new drivers coming in. Many fans of Elliott Sadler are most upset with Jacques, as the only real issue from JV at Talledega came at the expense of Sadler. On Ray's weekly inteview, JV was verbally lashed, with Ray being just as unhappy about JV's actions as was Sadler.

Then a few short days later, Ray's business partner, George Gillett announces the signing of Patrick Carpentier. Whoopsie, now even Sadler is ok with the influx of the drivers.

IS IT SURPRISING HOW FAST THE INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS ARE COMING IN TO NASCAR? “It is. Seems like they’re all here in one shot, but it’s like that in NASCAR. A couple years ago you had to have a World of Outlaw guy. A couple years before that you had to have a guy that had Busch experience. Now the guys are trying the IRL, CART, Formula One kinda background; it just kind of runs in cycles. I think it’s great for our sport; these guys are all coming over here to be a part of it. They’re coming to the best sport in the world. I think that says a lot for our fans, our sponsors and our teams. So, we’ll have to sit back and see how each one does.”

IS THE MIGRATION OF DRIVERS A RESPONSE TO THE WEAKNESS OF OPEN WHEEL RACING? “I think so and I hope we don’t ever get to that point. If we stay strong, we’ll be fine. Right now we have the highest TV ratings of any other motorsports in the United States. We have the most fans. We have the biggest sponsors. Right here is where you want to be if you want to race in America. Right here is where it’s at and I think these guys know that and they want to come be a part of it, test their feet and see how it is.

HOW DO YOU THINK THE TRADITIONAL NASCAR FAN IS GOING TO REACT TO THE FOREIGN DRIVERS? “That is a good question and I don’t have an answer to that. I know Juan Pablo gets a few boos here and there. That’s cool we have NASCAR fans that protect our NASCAR heritage. But, I also think it’s great for international guys to come into our sport. They’re bringing new fans to our sport, their bringing new sponsor and new people that would maybe were close minded about it before.”

So, now one of the popular drivers at GEM has decided it is great for the sport for the "Clash" to enter NASCAR. I agree with the reasons Sadler has given for them crossing the bridge, but there may a be a few more reason. Perhaps the open-wheelers want to enter our sport because it IS a challenge. Perhaps they are looking forward to interacting with fans. Perhaps, they are wanting to race with the best. Perhaps, they are looking to getting back to driving, rather than pointing a technological marvel. Perhaps, they want to be competitive, rather than following team orders.

And finally, I keep reading how the "Clash" is preventing able drivers from our own sport from progressing and getting rides. Well, let's see, we do have some interesting drivers looking....Mayfield, Nemechek, Marlin, Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace, Stremme. Of that list, the only one who really should be given another chance is Stremme, as he was in equipment that may not have been up to par! The other drivers have been looking for rides in the past, long before the "Clash" arrived.

In my opinion, the Cup drivers who are Busch-wacking are a far greater detriment to the progress of our stock car drivers. When 6 of the Top Ten in the Busch series are Cup drivers, you can be sure that there are many able drivers in the Busch series who are being shut out of rides. In fact, Stephen Leicht, who is losing his job through no fault of his, currently is only able to find a partial ride for next year. And, he is 8th in the points. THAT is a shame!

Also, forcing the new drivers to run a set number of races in other series is patently unfair to the regulars in those other series. The competition in those series is tough enough, without turning them into the playground or training camp of the 'Clash."

I am sure the debate over the 'Clash' entering our sport will indeed continue to see a 'Clash" of opinions.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Cup owners are bringing in the 'open car' drivers to bring attention to their teams. I totally agree that they need to pay more attention to the young guys that are showing up to the track each and every week like Stephen Leight. He has grown to be a pretty good busch car driver. I hope that he finds something real soon.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point the blogger was making about the young guys. Stephen would not have a problem getting a ride for next year, if there weren't so many Cup drivers taking the good seats.

As far as the 'open car' drivers bringing attention to their teams, that is what any team owner wants to have. Any owner that signs a driver wants them to bring notice and fans to the team, so they can get big sponcers.

David said...

Everything's an edge -- and a spoiler -- in this sport.