NASCAR: Nationwide forges on
CONCORD ó Despite a reeling economy, NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series is in better shape than many expected and encouraged by what’s ahead.
A recent announcement that fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his role as owner of JR Motorsports, got sponsorship for a second entry has helped. So has news that Roger Penske found backing to run ARCA champion Justin Allgaier for the entire season.
“At the end of last season, it was all doom and gloom,” said former Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace, now a team owner in the Nationwide Series, fielding full-time rides for son Steve Wallace and Brendan Gaughan.
“That was real good news about Junior … and Roger,” he said. “Then you’ve got Tony Stewart running the Nationwide race at Daytona for Rick Hendrick, and both of my teams are fully funded for the season.
“Things just aren’t as bad as they seemed a while back.”
The top-tier Cup series has seen changes since last season, with several team mergers and other operations selling out or cutting back
But despite dire forecasts that Nationwide fields may fall short of the standard 43-car lineup as the season goes on, series director Joe Balash said.
“From what I’ve seen so far, with the number of teams that are going to run limited schedules, I think our car counts will end up being pretty similar to what they were last year,” he said.
“I think there are some Nationwide teams, though, that have run on lower budgets than obviously some of the Cup teams have in the past.”
Not everybody is so optimistic.
Series regular Mike Bliss said the car count may begin to decline after the first few races if everything doesn’t fall into place just right.
“I think there will be a lot of teams going into the new year still trying to court sponsors and, hopefully, something happens,” Bliss said. “Halfway through the year is always when you see that guys can’t keep on going.”