Despite Economic Issues, Top Notch Drivers Are Given Top Notch Rides
Many complaints float around about the current state of NASCAR, especially in the Nationwide Series. Start-and-park teams and Sprint Cup Series drivers invading the series are among the problems race fans see with the series.
One issue that had recently plagued the series was the lack of young talent coming up through the ranks.
Sponsorship—which has been hard to come by in every series—is scarce, and talented Nationwide Series regulars are losing their rides while Sprint Cup Series drivers continue to win races and dominate the points.
In fact, three well known and talented Nationwide Series drivers were left without job security for next season: Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, and Brian Scott.
Allgaier has been a development driver for Penske Racing in the Nationwide Series since 2008 and is the highest ranked Nationwide Series only driver, mixed between Sprint Cup Series drivers like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch. Allgaier won his first career race earlier this season at Bristol Motor Speedway, has eight top fives, 19 top-10s, and two poles thus far this season.
You would think sponsors would be competing for a spot on Allgaier’s No. 12 Dodge, right? Not necessarily. Verizon announced in September that they wouldn’t be returning to sponsor Penske Racing’s program next season and Allgaier was told he was free to explore other options. In other words, he was out of a ride.
On Friday, Turner Motorsports—formerly Braun Racing—announced its driver lineup for the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series, and announced that Allgaier would be driving their No. 31 Chevrolet Impala with a sponsor to be later determined.
“For me, in a time of somewhat uncertainty, you always hope for the best opportunity and I feel like that I’ve landed in a great opportunity,” Allgaier said. “I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun next year, and we’re hopefully going to have the results to back that up.”
While the ride isn’t with an organization with Cup Series level equipment like Penske had, Turner Motorsports is probably the next best opportunity for Allgaier.
Allgaier finished 13th in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway while teammate Keselowski went on to clinch the 2010 Nationwide Series championship.
Meanwhile, Trevor Bayne was another top notch talent driver left without a ride (and sponsorship) partway through the season. After running the first 28 races for Diamond-Waltrip Racing, Bayne was replaced by Martin Truex Jr. and his brother Ryan. Bayne was almost immediately picked up by Roush Fenway Racing and has run the last five races with the team, sometimes with a blank hood. Bayne is making his Sprint Cup Series on Sunday with Wood Brothers Racing and is expected to race a full schedule with RFR in the Nationwide Series next season.
Bayne finished 12th in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and currently sits seventh in the standings, the next highest ranked Nationwide Series only driver besides Allgaier.
Brian Scott was a driver that lost his ride when Steve Turner took over Braun Racing just a short time ago and was out of a ride following the Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway. Like Bayne, Scott was picked up by another team within a week and has driven for RAB Racing in the last five races.
On Saturday, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Scott would be a part of their 2011 lineup and that the 22-year-old had signed a two-year deal with the team beginning next season.
In an economy where stars like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are having issues finding sponsorship, it’s encouraging to see lesser known talents like Allgaier, Bayne, and Scott being put in good equipment where it’s likely we’ll see them continue to succeed.
Bottom line: There may be a lot wrong with the state of the sport right now, especially in the Nationwide Series. And there are a lot of people that—sometimes rightfully—worry that someone’s pocketbook can determine your ability to get a ride more so than your ability to wheel a racecar. However, money can’t buy talent and good equipment doesn’t always equal good finishes. And while there are capable drivers still without a full-time ride, this might just be a step in the right direction.