While some people lament the rare weekends off for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – no racing on Easter Sunday! – I actually enjoy them. They provide a good opportunity to really focus on, and catch up with, what’s happening in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS). And believe me, they’ve been busy.
It has been my experience that when the work day is done, most people don’t go out and actively look for more work to do. Yet, despite NASCAR’s new policy of allowing drivers to compete for championships in only one of the top three series, we still see a fairly hefty number of Cup guys regularly racing in Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events. This begs the question, why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they just want to lie on the sofa with a bag of chips and watch “American Idol” like the rest of us?
The answer is two-fold. First, of course, is the fact that while racers race for the pure pleasure of it, they also love to win – headed into the April 22-23 race weekend at Nashville Superspeedway, Cup drivers went to Victory Lane in every NNS race of the season, and in three of the four NCWTS races. The only bad trophy, remember, is the one sitting on someone else’s shelf.
Second, you have to think nostalgia is a factor. The Sprint Cup superstars have a true fondness for these two series, where virtually all of them got their start in NASCAR. While we have become almost inured to seeing the Cup guys hog the checkered flags, one look at the driver standings tells the tale of how competitive these other two members of the NASCAR trifecta really are.
Headed to Nashville, Justin Allgaier held the second spot in the NNS standings. The only thing standing between Allgaier and the top spot was two points and one teammate, Jason Leffler. In fact, the top five, which is rounded out by Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson, are separated by a margin of only nine points.
The battle is equally close in the NCWTS, where Johnny Sauter leads Matt Crafton by only five points. The rest of the top five – Timothy Peters, Cole Whitt and Ron Hornaday Jr. – are all within nine points of the lead. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
Being the second-most popular form of racing doesn’t necessarily mean you are second-best.
Both the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series satisfy the fans’ desire to see the big names; Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are among the regular competitors from the Cup ranks. Sauter, the only non-Cup NCWTS winner prior to Nashville, admits he welcomes the opportunity to compete with, and especially to beat, drivers from the top series.
“Let's face it. Those guys come down and they are almost expected to win. So when we beat them, I think it gets a lot of attention,” he said. “I'm not surprised that we beat them [at Martinsville] and I won't be surprised if we beat them again. You know, we are working just as hard as anybody else.”
Truck and Nationwide Series races are particularly appealing to families because they’re shorter, generally about half the length of their Cup counterparts, packing a lot of excitement into a smaller period of time. It’s kind of like the difference between using up your entire lunch hour savoring a meal at a sit-down restaurant, or going down to the corner and grabbing a burger. Both are tasty, but the experience is different.
Allgaier described it this way: “At the end of the day, the only plan is there is no plan. You just have to go out there and race like there's no tomorrow.”
Back in the ‘80s when we were watching “Bosom Buddies” on television, who would have guessed that the gangly guy wearing the dress and the bad wig – Tom Hanks -- would go on to become one of the most beloved movie stars on the planet? It is rare to get a vivid look at the future, but the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck series offer us just that.
Everything and everyone start somewhere, and particularly in the NASCAR world, it’s a lot of fun – and always exciting – to watch them work their way up through the ranks. We can all benefit from paying close attention to these NNS and NCWTS drivers, because remember -- although today some of us may still be trying to figure out how to properly pronounce names like Kligerman and Buescher, tomorrow we just might be wearing them on our T-shirts.