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Editorial

Memorial Day a Reminder of What is Really Important

By Summer Bedgood – The world of motorsports, and NASCAR in particular, is filled with fans who dedicate a substantial amount of time, money, and passion into the sport because, well, they love it. Their repayment is the occasional autograph or picture with their favorite drivers or personalities in the sport and the competition on the racetrack. To them, it is their vacation, their escape, and their lifestyle.

However, it doesn’t take much to put things in perspective and no one does this better than NASCAR. With Memorial Day weekend quickly approaching, the solemnity and respect that comes with remembering our fallen warriors is nowhere more apparent than in NASCAR. The sport is already largely patriotic, with many drivers having or working with charities involving the troops and patriotic undertones are apparent in every pre-race show. So it is no surprise then, that a national holiday that is meant to commemorate members of the United States Armed Forces is met in NASCAR with nothing but the best and most genuine recognition.

Several teams, sponsors, and drivers will carry patriotic paint schemes this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Brad @Keselowski and @KevinHarvick are two who will both have patriotic paint schemes on their cars. Keselowski and sponsor Miller Lite will be carrying a stars and stripes scheme, while Harvick and Budweiser will have an emblematic paint scheme with a color pattern that represents the colors from the American flag.

In fact, Budweiser is taking it a step further. Harvick’s paint scheme is representative of the colors that will be on specially marked bottles and cans of Budweiser that are expected to contribute around $3 million to a charity known as “Folds of Honor.” It is a joint effort with Harvick and Budweiser to raise money for the troops and their families.

@ReedSorenson36, @DaleJr, and several others are partnering with their sponsors with either a paint scheme or patriotic campaign meant to benefit members of the United States Armed Forces and their families.

Fitting because this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off a six week long initiative by NASCAR meant to honor the troops. From this weekend at the Coca-Cola 600 to the Independence Day weekend at Daytona International Speedway in July, NASCAR, teams, tracks, and sponsors will participate in patriotic events and carry patriotic paint schemes. Additionally, other themes representing the armed forces and family members will be a part of each weekend in the same time span, with NASCAR hosting a military family at the event each weekend.

Of course, none of the fans mentioned at the beginning find this as a surprise. By now it is expected and standard procedure for NASCAR to participate in events that benefit past and current members of the United States Armed forces. It’s why watching Congressmen and women try and ban any of the military branches from participating in the sport as sponsors is so baffling, when the sport does more than enough to give back.

There is also no wondering where the patriotic undertones of the sport come from, considering that the sport’s roots are in the South where patriotism is more of a religion and lifestyle than an expression. If you don’t have your hand over your heart and your eyes on the flag during the National Anthem, you will face the wrath of a fan base whose loyalty to their country knows no bounds.

With this constant attention on the troops and all they have done for the United States, perhaps that is the best way to put things in perspective this Memorial Day weekend. It seems that every conversation that revolves around racing online concludes in some negative, bitter dispute that ends nowhere and is unproductive. Actually, it feels like fans take the sport too seriously and forget that this is simply just a race. Just a sport. Of course they know that without the troops, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the freedom that they do today and perhaps we wouldn’t have NASCAR at all, yet the constant griping seems to suggest a different attitude.

So while you’re watching the Coca-Cola 600 this Sunday night (or the Indianapolis 500 Sunday afternoon) and are enjoying a most certainly deserved three-day weekend, try and remember the perspective that Memorial Day is supposed to put in place. Someone—no, many people—died so that you could live freely. Is Darrell Waltrip’s “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” really worth your griping? If Jimmie Johnson wins, is it really the end of the world? Racing is an American pastime, and a pretty fun one at that. So shake the hand of a veteran, put your hand over your heart, and enjoy a beverage on behalf of the United States Armed Forces.

And enjoy a weekend full of racing while you’re at it.

EMAIL SUMMER AT summer.bedgood@popularspeed.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Reddit, Dogecoin Wants to Sponsor Josh Wise

Josh Wise has some extra fans on his side in finding sponsorship.

Wise, who drives the No. 98 car for Phil Parsons Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has the support of a group of fans on the r/NASCAR subreddit who are trying to raise funds to sponsor Wise’s car. They aren’t just raising any kind of coins, however. They are using the cryptocurrency known as “Dogecoin”.

As of now, they have raised over $500 of a $55,000 goal, or 76,611.16648323 dogecoins.

Wise is, obviously, very enthusiastically on board, tweeting, “Wow thanks for the support! Let’s make it happen!”

Wise is currently 35th in points after failing to qualify one

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of four races this season.

EMAIL SUMMER AT summer.bedgood@popularspeed.com

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XFINITY

NASCAR Penalizes Three Nationwide Series Teams

By Summer Bedgood — Three NASCAR Nationwide Series teams have been penalized as a result of rules infractions discovered over the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On opening day inspection, the No. 11 car driven by Elliott Sadler was discovered to have weight attached in an unapproved location. The penalty is P3-tier penalty—a rating system used with a new penalty structure announced by NASCAR at the beginning of the season. As such, crew chief Chris Gayle has been fined $10,000 and placed on NASCAR probation through December 31st. Car chief Todd Bower was also placed on probation through the end of the year. Sadler finished 13th in Saturday’s race.

Meanwhile, the fifth-place No. 9 car driven by Chase Elliott exceeded minimum front height rules in post-race inspection—a P2 penalty—and crew chief Greg Ives was placed on probation through December 31st.

Finally, the race winning No. 22 car failed post-race inspection because the shock absorber exceeded minimum gas pressure (a P2 penalty).   Crew chief Jeremy Bullins was fined $5,000 and placed on probation through the end of the year. Despite the penalty, the No. 22 car is still credited with winning Saturday’s race.

This was the first time NASCAR has used its new penalty structure this season. It is worth nothing that despite having the option to do so, NASCAR did not deduct points from any of the three teams. The teams have not said whether or not they will appeal.

Racing Network: NASCAR Announces Streaming Channel for IMSA, AMA and Home Tracks

The Nationwide Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300. Both Sadler and Elliott will be in Saturday’s race while Keselowski will hand over his driving duties to Ryan Blaney.

Below is the infographic provided by NASCAR used to illustrate how penalties will be assessed during the 2014 season.

Deterrence-Chart-NSCS-main

 

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Categories
Editorial

After Much Complaint the Fox Box Gets Tweaked

By Summer Bedgood – When the Sprint Unlimited aired on Fox Sports 1 last Saturday night, the focus was the race itself. Until the green flag fell, that is.

With Fox Sports 1 beginning their first full season as a broadcast partner of NASCAR (FS1 and FS2 launched last fall as a reinvention of the late SPEED Channel), changes were expected when it came to race coverage. Nuances in graphics and promotions were an expected part of the package, but welcome as long as racing remained on television.

However, one change that had fans rather miffed at the new channel was the placement of the on-screen ticker. The ticker, which had typically scrolled horizontally across the top of the screen showing the full-field rundown, was now placed in the center of the right-hand side of the screen.

At times, this new graphic –referred to as the “Fox Box” — seemed to obstruct the view of the racing. Instead of scrolling through the field, the box flipped through a handful of drivers at time until it rotated back to the front of the field.

Fans were vocal on social media regarding their dislike of the new graphic and bombarded the Fox Sports 1 Twitter and Facebook pages with complaints about the Fox Box. The graphic continued to be used in the two Budweiser Duel races on Thursday night with continued complaints

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from the fans.

On Friday night it appeared Fox Sports listened to its viewers. As the Camping World Truck Series rolled onto the racetrack for their opening race of the season at Daytona International Speedway, the Fox Box had moved from the right-hand side of the screen to the traditional top of the screen. Though the Fox Box still didn’t include which drivers were on the lead lap and the intervals between positions, the leaderboard did show which drivers improved or lost positions from the last time their name was shown on the board.

Though fans still prefer the ticker used in previous seasons, reactions from fans were generally positive and relieved that their voices were heard.

Now we can go back to tweeting about more important things … like fire-prone pace cars, for instance.

EMAIL SUMMER AT summer.bedgood@popularspeed.com

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Categories
XFINITY

Nationwide Series Future Remains Unknown

By Summer Bedgood – The NASCAR Nationwide Series will only be the NASCAR Nationwide Series for one more year, and fans will then be subject to something they have been resistant to as of late: change. With Nationwide Insurance leaving its sponsorship obligations at the end of the season, the door is now open for a wide range of sponsors to take over the title of NASCAR’s No. 2 series.

Sports Business Daily reports that NASCAR is asking $12 million to $15 million per year for the sponsorship. An additional $10 million in media and activation commitment would bring the hefty price tag to around $30 million a year. If NASCAR has its way, the deal will be in place for at least 10 years.

If you’ve been a NASCAR fan for a while now, you’ll recognize this as a “déjà vu” moment. When the “NASCAR Busch Series” lost Busch as their title sponsorship, we asked the same questions about what the name of the series would be from thence forward. At that time, several different companies were reportedly interested or in discussions with NASCAR, including KFC, Dunkin Donuts, AutoZone, and Subway. In fact, SBJ says Subway was close to a deal before they decided that they weren’t interested.

If we’re being honest, it’s kind of fun to toy with the idea of various companies involved and imagining hearing what is now the Nationwide Series referred to as something else. The “NASCAR Subway Series”, the “NASCAR AutoZone Series.” Heck, there has been some discussions as to whether or not NAPA, who left Michael Waltrip Racing after the Richmond debacle, will decide instead to be a title sponsors of the Nationwide Series.

If remember when Busch first announced its departure from NASCAR at the end of the 2007 season and all the sticklers announced proudly, “I’m still going to call it the Busch Series!” Honestly, though, I thought the NASCAR Nationwide Series rolled off the tongue pretty well. It sounded less like corporate interference and highly similar to that of “NASCAR National Series”, which is what NASCAR’s secondary series used to be called anyways. In fact, unless you see the logo, you might not even think of Nationwide Insurance when you first hear the name.

Actually, the Sprint Cup Series isn’t much different. Though it doesn’t take any imagination to know that the “Sprint” in Sprint Cup Series refers to the cellphone company, the title could also be read as a “sprint to the finish” type of line. It was a very easy transition from the “NASCAR Nextel Cup Series” and, in my opinion, sounded a lot cooler.

The only title sponsor I’ve ever thought sounded a little awkward was the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Though I can speak and write it now without any hesitation, as it has by now become habit, it doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue as easily as the other two series. It doesn’t seem to “fit in” to the NASCAR mold as much as the other two. That’s not to say that I want to see Camping World leave the sport or be replaced, but it was just one of those changes that took a little longer to get used to.

So when it comes to the Nationwide Series, I’m going to hate to see Nationwide leave. They seemed to really embrace NASCAR and its drivers in their television ads, promotions, and the sport itself. They engaged with the fans and the title sponsor of the series seems to be one that even the longtime fans finally converted to. I very rarely hear anyone call it the “NASCAR Busch Series” anymore.

Though it might seem a little selfish, and somewhat ridiculous, to appeal to a sponsor because the name is easier to say, the sponsor will ultimately be the identity of the series. I won’t have any issues with the sport if we get the “NASCAR Subway Series” or the “NASCAR KFC Series”, especially if they engaged with the fans in the way that Nationwide and Busch did. I can’t imagine a company would spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a sport and not do so. However, you have to admit the “NASCAR AutoZone Series” or “NASCAR NAPA Series” would fit the motorsports mold moreso than other potential options.

Either way, though, I hope someone steps up to the plate soon. The sooner we know for sure who the sponsor will be, the sooner I can open up a Word document and type it over and over and over again. By the time 2015 rolls around, I’m determined to have already mastered the new name for NASCAR’s No. 2 series. Bring on the changes.

Categories
XFINITY

Nationwide Finale Leaves Lingering Questions

By Summer Bedgood – The NASCAR Nationwide Series was without a doubt the most exciting championship battle of the Homestead weekend, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering that the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup Series points were all but wrapped up. However, an eight point gap heading into the weekend was still a pretty small margin considering that Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. were equally matched all season.

The race as a whole was not bad either. Though most viewers probably turned on the race with high expectations, we didn’t see the dull parade laps that many expected to see at an intermediate track like Homestead. Surprisingly enough, despite the fact that drivers like Kyle Busch and eventual race winner Brad Keselowski were in it, the race was still competitive.

If you’re like me though, when the checkered flag fell at the end of the race, you were left wanting more. There was an empty feeling surrounding the race, even as yellow smoke wafted out from underneath Dillon’s tires on the frontstretch.

Perhaps it was the 12 lap caution period that left me feeling that way.

As the final race of the NNS came to a close, a multi-car crash ensued off turn four involving Regan Smith, Mike Wallace, Jeremy Clements, and Bryan Silas. The crash left a ton of debris and fluid on the track that would obviously require a lot of clean-up. So you would think the natural reaction from NASCAR would be to throw the red flag in order to not waste laps under caution during the championship race, right?

Apparently not, because NASCAR continued to allow the laps to wind down, even delaying the restart several times in order to allow the clean-up crew to continue to get the track clear for the drivers. What would have been a fifteen lap sprint to the finish was now a five-lap dash.

Dillon finished 12th while Hornish finished eighth. That four position gap wasn’t enough for Hornish to win the championship and Dillon would ultimately hold a three point lead over Hornish once the race was over.

Would the result have been any different had NASCAR called a red flag and allowed a restart for, say, 12 to go? If I’m being honest, probably not. Hornish had a terrible restart and lost several positions over the course of five laps. It’s entirely likely that Hornish could have lost even more positions had there been more laps and the championship points spread would have been larger.

It’s also possible that he could have gotten his stride back and picked up a couple more positions. It’s possible that Dillon could have gotten passed. Heck, forget the championship. It’s possible that we could have gotten to see a more exciting battle for the race win. Not that it wasn’t exciting, of course, but the possibilities are endless.

The point is that we don’t know what would have happened, and that is what was most frustrating. I know that last Saturday wasn’t the first instance this season where NASCAR allowed them to run under yellow for longer than they should have. It doesn’t matter. Fans should be able to see as many green flag laps as possible. It’s why they invented the green-white-checkered procedure and eventually added two more attempts. Though I know the purpose of the red flag is more to be a courtesy to the clean-up crew than the fans, if the clean-up is going to take longer than a normal caution period, why not just red flag it?

It’s interesting how often this “100% rule” continues to backfire on NASCAR, and I saw several references to that rule on social media as this hyper-caution-period debacle ensued in front of us. If they want drivers to give it all they’ve got, shouldn’t they do everything they can to make sure that they have the opportunity to do so?

If NASCAR doesn’t want drivers manipulating the outcome of a race, then they shouldn’t do so either. And I don’t think you can make a solid argument that allowing them to continue running down laps under yellow was anything but a manipulation of the race, whether deliberate or not. NASCAR would be wise not to let it happen again.

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XFINITY

Wide Open Championship Battle Heading Into Homestead

By Summer Bedgood – Kyle Busch won the Nationwide Series race. You may not have even watched the race and you probably already knew that. It’s almost a guarantee that if Busch is entered in a Nationwide Series race, that he’s the one who is going to win the pole and, more than likely, the race. In fact, he’s won from the pole nine times this season, and there is only one race left!

Oh yeah … one race left. That means someone is going to win a championship!

And it won’t be Busch. Though Busch very well might lead the team to an owner’s championship next week—there are only four points separating the No. 54 team from Penske Racing’s No. 22 team with Penske currently holding the advantage—Busch is not eligible for a driver’s championship because of his tenure in the Sprint Cup Series.

In fact, the Nationwide Series driver title is very close in and of itself and is equally important to those who are running for it. At the end of the Phoenix race on Saturday afternoon, as Busch was running away with the race, two drivers were already setting themselves up for potential championship runs next week.

Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. are first and second in the points, respectively, and are separated by only eight points.   A third-place finish by Dillon and a fifth place finish by Hornish was reason enough to show how closely contested these two already are, and why they are the two that will be gunning for a championship in Homestead next weekend.

Interestingly enough, it is Hornish that has a victory and Dillon who has yet to make it to Victory Lane, yet Dillon is leading the points. The potential for a winless Nationwide Series champion is widely apparent and could very well come to fruition, but in no way would a championship be undeserved for either driver.

Dillon, for instance, despite his lack of trips to Victory Lane, has 13 top fives and 22 top 10s this season and an average finish of 8.7. Even more amazing is that Dillon only has three finishes outside of the top 20 all season. In a points system that rewards consistency as aggressively as it punishes poor finishes, Dillon’s ability to follow through and finish races—did I mention he only has one DNF?—is reason enough for Dillon to be worthy of a championship this season.

That’s not to say that Hornish isn’t equally deserving. As mentioned before, Hornish’s trip to victory lane is more than Dillon’s win total this year and he is one of only three Nationwide Series regulars to make it to Victory Lane this season.

Hornish also has better statistics when it comes to his finishes. He has 16 top fives and 24 top 10s and an average finish of 9th (slightly less than Dillon’s average). Looking at those statistics, it is difficult to tell why Hornish isn’t the one leading the points.

As we take a look at his finishes outside of the top 10, though, we begin to see a bigger picture painted. Though Hornish has only had two DNFs all season, he has four finishes of 25th or worse. Where Hornish actually lost the lead, after having lead it for seven consecutive season, was with two consecutive finishes of 17th earlier this fall, whereas Dillon finished sixth.

As you can see, both have been equally matched most of the season, but especially so as of late. So what are their chances heading into Homestead?

For Dillon, he only has one Nationwide Series start in Homestead and he finished fifth. Hornish, on the other hand, has five previous starts with one top five and two top 10s. So both now how to drive at Homestead in Nationwide Series cars.

However, if you extend that experience level to the other series both drivers have raced in, the picture gets a little fuzzier. Hornish has four starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series without one finish in the top 10 and a dismal average finish of 26th. Perhaps that is not surprising to some considering that Hornish’s Sprint Cup Series career was rather lackluster, but does it leave room for concern for Hornish for the race this weekend?

Dillon, too, has some experience at Homestead outside of the Nationwide Series, but his previous starts came in the Camping World Truck Series. Dillon has two starts at Homestead in NCWTS competition. He finished 31st in one race and 10th in 2011 when he won the championship.

Though the Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series titles are both wrapped up, the Nationwide Series leaves plenty of room for excitement and not just between the Cup Series regulars for the owner’s points. Hornish has never won a championship at the NASCAR level and Dillon is looking to win a Nationwide Series title before moving up to the Cup Series. As it stands, it will be the most exciting championship battle all weekend.

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XFINITY

NNS Owners Battle Hits Phoenix with Busch, Keselowski

By Summer Bedgood – When you think of Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski, you don’t necessarily think first of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Despite the fact that both are incredibly successful in the NNS, both are still full-time championship caliber Sprint Cup drivers. And they have had their run-ins with one another.

Despite that, their respective teams have utilized their talents to help bolster their NNS programs, and to great success. The two of them have combined for a total of 17 victories in 31 races this season, and there are only two races remaining. As one can imagine, this would have quite an impact on the points.

Even though both Busch and Keselowski are ineligible for driver points, their wins and respective finishes can be used for owner points in their respective rides. For instance, the 54 car in the NNS has been driven by four different drivers this season: Busch, Joey Coulter, Drew Herring, and Owen Kelly. Though Busch is the only driver to have won any races, the total points accumulated from all of the drivers all go towards the No. 54 JGR car.

The same can be said for the No. 22 Penske Racing team. Four drivers have also shared time in that car, and three of them have gone to Victory Lane. Though none of them were eligible for driver points, owners receive points no matter who is in their car.

Enter Texas Motor Speedway, the third race from the end of the season. The No. 54 team entered the race with a four point advantage over the No. 22 team, and the teams’ main stars were both entered in the race. Keselowski and Busch both knew the stakes were high and had their sights set firmly on Victory Lane, something that shouldn’t have been too difficult on either of them.

Unfortunately for Busch and JGR, the spread between the No. 22 and the No. 54 would be much bigger at race’s end. Busch blew a right rear tire on lap 110 and would finish 26th with a four lap deficit. Meanwhile, Keselowski would go on to win the race, leading 106 of the 200 laps.

Those two opposite ends of the spectrum saw the four point advantage the No. 54 had over the 22 switch to a 26 point margin between the 22 and the 54 with the 22 back on top. With two races left in the season, it will take the same sort of bad luck from Keselowski for Busch to be able to make up the difference this weekend in Phoenix.

And, yes, both drivers are racing at Phoenix this weekend and both drivers know how to win. Busch has one win there in the NSCS and an astounding five in the NNS, including the spring race earlier this season. Keselowski has two top fives and three top 10s in eight starts in the NSCS and seven top fives and eight top 10s in the NASCAR NNS.

With those statistics, it appears Busch has the advantage. However, as last weekend in Texas proved, all it takes is an ill-timed error or a smidgen of bad luck for championship hopes to take a nosedive. Keselowski and Penske Racing might have the advantage heading into Phoenix, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy to keep Busch and JGR at bay.

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XFINITY

Nationwide Schedule Offers Little Surprises in 2014

By Summer Bedgood – The 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule was released a little over a week ago, with little in the way of surprises. The schedule will showcase 33 races for the third consecutive season, and no new tracks were added to the schedule, nor were any taken off. A few shifts did take place, however. Darlington Raceway is a month earlier on the schedule. The spring Texas race will be run one week earlier. The Darlington and Texas races were moved so that they could coincide with the Sprint Cup Series race. One of the Iowa Speedway race dates will move from June to mid-May. Finally, the Chicago race will move back to a Saturday night event.

Despite the fact that there are only a few standalone events and that most of the schedule consists of companion events with the Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series schedule presents a variety that it’s alternatives in the Sprint Cup Series are sorely lacking. The Nationwide Series schedule has five different tracks and a total of ten dates at tracks that are either a mile or under with Phoenix, Bristol, Iowa, Richmond, and Dover each holding two spots on the schedule. Though that is not necessarily much different than the Cup Series—the Cup Series has at least one date at all of those tracks except for Iowa—the Nationwide Series has a shorter schedule, yet they still have more tracks that would be considered a “short track” or at least close to it.

Where the Nationwide Series schedule really shines, though, is the amount of road courses on the schedule. While the Sprint Cup Series schedule showcases a total of two road course races per year, the Nationwide Series schedule makes room for three with Road America, Watkins Glen, and Mid-Ohio on the schedule. These races arguably provide some of the best races on the schedule, the way that short track races used to be. It is not uncommon that “beating and banging”, “bump and ran”, and “temper tantrums”—concepts that are generally used in short track racing—are used in conjunction with a road course race. The Nationwide Series has utilized these great races to their full potential, though a few more on the schedule would likely not be objected by anyone who watches the races every weekend.

While the other 20 racetracks on the schedule are over a mile, NASCAR has attempted to create somewhat of a diverse schedule in the Nationwide Series just as they have in the Truck Series. The addition of a dirt track race this season as well as the first road course race in 13 years were some of the best decisions NASCAR could have made for the series.

However, the Nationwide Series schedule is in place to more closely represent the Sprint Cup Series and exists as a developmental series for that purpose. So don’t expect an Eldora to make an appearance on that schedule anytime soon. Still, though, when drivers are expected to showcase their talents, it makes sense that they are expected to do so on a variety of tracks.

On the flip side, there is still much more work to be done. Ten short track races on the schedule is good in concept, but a few of those tracks barely qualify as short tracks because of their layout. For instance, Dover is seen more as a small cookie-cutter than as a large short track. As aerodynamics continue to make clean air and track position more important than car handling and speed, tracks like Dover don’t present the kind of great racing that they used to. NASCAR still has work to do in both the balance of the schedule and the aerodynamics of the car.

With that said, the 2014 Nationwide Series is a good start to expanding NASCAR’s horizons back to the basics. The schedule is unique, while also remaining diverse, though admittedly it is still a little heavy on the intermediate tracks. That appears to be a trend that will continue for a long time to come, unfortunately. However, if NASCAR can work to spread out the ratio of shorter tracks to intermediate as the trend seems to be in the Nationwide Series and continue to do so, maybe all three series will truly reflect a balance on the schedule.

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XFINITY

Danny Efland: NASCAR’s Underdog

By Summer Bedgood – Don’t you just love a good underdog story? I know I do. There is a reason that some of the most beloved, successful movies involve an underdog beating the big guns and becoming the hero. Sports are especially good at providing underdogs to cheer for and underdog movies involving sports are especially enjoyable. Think Rudy, Rocky, and The Karate Kid. You’ve probably seen all three and love them for that very reason.

If you’re reading this, you are one of two things: A NASCAR fan or a lover of underdog stories. Most likely, you are probably both. You were excited for Jamie McMurray to win at Talladega because he hasn’t been in Victory Lane for a while. When David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1-2 at Talladega in the spring, you smiled at their fortune.

However, underdogs don’t always have a happy ending. They don’t always get their moment to shine in victory lane. Some just show up at the racetrack, barely noticeable and hardly worthy of some sappy music underneath the credits.

Meet Danny Efland. If you’re a diehard NASCAR viewer, you’ve probably heard of him. You probably know he’s been around a while. Efland has made at least two starts in one of NASCAR’s three national series every year since 2007. So why don’t you know very much about him?

Despite 73 NASCAR national series starts, Efland has never had a top 10 finish. In fact, he has never finished higher than 13th in any race and has an average finish of 30.2 across both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

That’s because the team he drives for—MAKE Motorsports—is largely underfunded. Though he only considers himself to be a part-time employee of the organization, he still spends enough time at the shop that he could be considered full-time.

“I find myself at the shop trying to meet deadlines enough to where I’ll go ahead and consider myself the second full-time employee,” he said.

That’s right. Two full-time employees at a NASCAR level race shop. Compare that to the likes of Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing where their employees stack into the hundreds.

This season, he has also raced for Johnny Davis Motorsports and Mike Harmon Racing in the Nationwide Series. He has run in additional races for MAKE Motorsports in the Truck Series this year, along with Eddie Sharp Racing and Chris Fontaine’s team.

Not exactly high profile race teams. In fact, they are underdogs of the highest definition.

2013 has not been an easy year, either. One DNQ in Trucks and four in the Nationwide Series shows the lack of speed that teams like this have in the series, despite the fact that Efland has success in other racing series.

Efland, for example, has six South Carolina State Championships, five National World Karting Association championships, and has won many other races, championships, and recognitions that match that of probably any other driver you can name. He’s no slouch in racing and he attributes much of his racing success to some wise decisions made by his father in the early stages of his career.

“My dad brought a lot of experience with him into the early years of my racing,” said Efland. “He made better decisions even when I was five or six years old, he made good decisions of which karts we needed to buy or race, which engines, who to buy tires from and that sort of thing. He led me in the right direction and it didn’t cost us a lot of money. In other words, being a middle class family, we made it affordable to race and to win.”

So why the struggle in NASCAR?

“Unfortunately, everything boils down to money these days,” said Efland. “Racing is no different. It’s a business. You’ve got to watch your cash flow and sponsorship has a lot to do with that.”

Efland made his debut in NASCAR with underfunded teams, and has struggled to get out of that rut with his team.

Sponsorship and funding have been a problem for Efland, MAKE Motorsports, and the other race teams for a while now, as the gap between larger and small teams seems insurmountable. Though the teams have had companies like Flex Seal, Defiant Whiskey, and A-1 Bail Bonds on their cars this season, they aren’t the full-fledged sponsorship deals that you will see on the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, or Brad Keselowski. Those sponsorships range into the millions of dollars, with merchandise, appearances, and various other tie-ins to maximize the exposure for the company.

For Efland’s teams, it is much, much different.

“Right now, we’re trying to sell primary sponsorship on our car at a cheaper rate, hoping that we can evolve that into one day having a quality team that has the value of $100,000 a race,” said Efland. “I guess what I’m comparing it to, if you look at Joe Gibbs Racing, we’re asking about 25 percent the value that they’re asking their sponsors for per race. That’s kind of cheap right now. We’re selling ourselves cheap.”

As Efland explains, there are certain steps you have to take to get that kind of sponsorship that also lends itself to a “can’t win” situation. A catch-22 if you will. In order to bring a sponsor to the table, you want to have good results. But those good results aren’t going to come unless you have the right amount of money to buy speed.

“It really is a catch 22 and that’s been my biggest struggle in the seven years that I’ve been in the Nationwide Series,” Efland said. “I’ve been with a few different teams this year and been fortunate enough to work with MAKE Motorsports, and they’re no different than me. They face the same challenges that I have over the last seven years.”

Still, Efland shows up at the shop every day, working on the cars and trucks with any of the volunteers and team owners who show up on a given day. And, oftentimes, he’s right alongside his team when it comes to the “other” business in racing: selling.

“You’ll find me turning wrenches as much, if not more, than anybody else on the team, so that’s the kind of guy I am,” said Efland. “But sometimes you’ve gotta throw on the tie and the suit and go out and be a salesman and convince these guys that by bringing them on board, we’re going to improve the quality of our race team.”

Selling a team is not any piece of cake, though.

“Bringing in a sponsor involves a couple of different things,” he explained. “One, you’ve gotta make a contact. You can’t just write an e-mail and then send it to the marketing division of any old company. You have to have a contact established within the company. You have to make sure they know who you are, what you’re doing. Then, the most difficult thing is to tell them is, hey, the reason we’re out here struggling to run 20th to 25th each and every week is strictly because of the finances. By bringing you on board, we’re going to make sure we prove the quality of our race team to get you maximum exposure for the value that you’re putting into this sponsorship. It’s difficult. It takes a salesman. Mark Beaver (team owner) does a really good job with the sales side of things. At times, I feel like I do pretty good at it, and at times I don’t.”

Still, the team’s end goal is to go racing. It goes without saying they want to be as successful as possible, which is difficult with the way things are in NASCAR. After all, how are they going to compete with teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing when they don’t have the speed or funding to do so?

Sometimes the question is raised as to whether or not NASCAR can do anything to help these teams. If they are the sanctioning body and want a competitive, even playing field, people like Efland must want them to step in and help out.

Then again, perhaps they already have.

“If anything, I would say, looking at the history of the sport, NASCAR has constantly improved the playing field,” said Efland. “In other words, look at your finishing results, just pick any year, say Darlington, this year’s Darlington race and then look at it 35 years ago, and tell me how many laps the leader won the race. He probably had at least two or three laps on second place. This year, you could probably count it in seconds. Less than ten. So, the playing field has leveled out. It’s given smaller teams more opportunity to run up front. And it’s put more driver into it. I think it takes more talent of the driver nowadays than it used to. And some people would argue that, but of course I’m a driver and I see it one way and some other people might see it another way.”

With that said, Efland doesn’t expect NASCAR to do the work for him nor does he expect a sponsor to just fork out the money. He expects to have to earn it and hopes that one day all of this hard work will pay off.

“I don’t see things happening overnight, but I’ve always wondered, ‘Hey, what if I got a chance to go and drive Kevin Harvick’s Nationwide car or Kyle Busch’s Nationwide car?’” he wondered. “Would I be able to run as fast as they do? No, not right off the bat. But I think that if you gave me a few races, I don’t know how many it will take, but I know you’ve got to have experience. You’ve got to learn how to drive one of those cars because they’re going to drive different than what I’m used to. But I think I could adapt and eventually run just as well. Of course I think I could beat them. I wouldn’t be a racecar driver if I didn’t. But I also am realistic about it and I know it would take time.”

For now, his underdog status remains in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. They’re scraping by for lead lap finishes and will take whatever the sport throws at them. Meetings continue behind closed doors, those wrenches keep turning at the shop and, for the foreseeable future, those engines will continue firing.

And, maybe one day, the ultimate underdog story will finally come to fruition with Danny Efland in the winner’s circle.

EMAIL SUMMER AT summer.bedgood@popularspeed.com

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