DAYTONA BEACH, FL - Greg Sacks, driver of the #13 TBA Dodge, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona 500 on February 13, 2005 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Veteran's Advocate
That's what I dubbed myself last night, following a heated exchange on Goin' Wide, a Blog Talk Radio podcast dedicated to the NASCAR Nationwide Series which is hosted by my dear friend Suzy - though last night we sounded and interacted like bitter foes.
The catalyst for all the shouting and arguing and temporarily bent feelings was the announcement that Greg Sacks, former Winston Cup competitor and 1985 Firecracker 400 champion, would be driving Dale Earnhardt Jr's #88 Chevrolet in the July Nationwide event in Daytona.
Personally, I found the news exciting. Sacks, who's career came to an effective end after a horrific crash at Texas in 1998, was always a guy I kind of liked. That he was going to get one more shot to go for glory with a competitive car at a track that requires your most basic racing skills to utilize that competitive car - holding the throttle wide open until the handle goes away on the July-baked surface, at which point you begin to lift - was something I frankly saw as the makings of a great story.
Not everyone saw it that way.
"He's too old!" "He hasn't raced in a few years!" "You could put a young guy in there and let him develop, that's what this series is for, right?!"
The dissenters had their right to their opinion, and I had the right to mine, which was that they took that great story I just mentioned and dumped a truck full of manure onto it. Its only for one race, it isn't like Greg is taking a full-time ride away from somebody.
Then I realized that I am the dissenter here.
In this day and age, the popular opinion when it comes to the Nationwide Series is that the circuit is for driver development and just driver development. The Kevin Harvicks, Denny Hamlins, and, yes, Greg Sackses of the world should stay out, this is a circuit for the likes of fresh-faced Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, and Colin Braun.
Allow me to introduce you to the Veteran's Advocate, NASCAR Nationwide Division.
I think it is the right of a veteran driver who races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to moonlight in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the Automobile Racing Club of America, Cockroach Racing Unlimited, or any other racing series they darn well please. Drivers have moonlit since the early days of auto racing, and the overused to vomit-inducing levels analogy that the New York Yankees don't go play Triple A ball anywhere doesn't apply here. Auto racing, simply put, doesn't have the structure of other sports, allowing its participants that freedom.
I also think its every bit a veteran Sprint Cup driver's right to hop in a Nationwide car and go head-to-head in a hard-fought trophy dash with anybody running that particular afternoon or evening. Bowing over to let the kids play up front isn't the way they roll, and they shouldn't. Its a race, by God, they should try to win it. Otherwise they have zero business being there.
It's every bit Kevin Harvick's right, when Trevor Bayne is in the way, to get him out of the way.
And it's every bit Greg Sacks' right, as a guy who maybe only won a single Cup race and did so before the aforementioned Bayne, Allgaier, and Braun - and me, for that matter - were born but is a capable driver nonetheless, to slap his company on a car (he is the co-founder of the company sponsoring his entry and nine other races for the #88 car) and get one last shot at glory in exchange, regardless of what his critics, most of whom probably never watched him turn a wheel, have to say on the matter.
Is driver development important? The post-2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year classes, especially this year's, should confirm that resoundingly.
But the notion that, by running and winning a Nationwide race, the likes of Kevin Harvick are taking opportunities for someone else to develop is ludicrous. Sure they may be taking a trophy away, but nowhere does "contending for wins" apply as necessary to driver development.
The idea of driver development is just that: develop the driver's skills. Whether he's running up front or whether he's running 10th behind a slew of guys who's race weekend is just getting started, he's still going to learn those things.
And who better to learn them from than the guys that, if they can hack it and can make it to the Cup level, they'll be racing with for the bulk of their careers?
Contrary to the whole "second coming of the young guns movement" mentality, the veterans, even a big dog like Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards, have every right to jump in a Nationwide car or any car and go at it. That's racing and that's how its always been. If the kids and their partisans can't handle that, simply put, tough.
This isn't tee-ball.