As NASCAR has struggled through the last year, and teams have closed up shop leaving drivers without a ride, I had to ask myself why more out of work drivers didn’t make the jump to a lower series?
At the risk of alienating people, I’ll refrain from specifically naming any drivers I think could stand to make a move, but I think the situation poses some real questions.
Is it demeaning to move down? Is it really better to run a start a park in the Cup Series? Is it better to run in the back? Is it better to not make races? I think the answer to all of those is no.
As diverse as the driver list could potentially be I think they easily fall into two categories: (1) the older driver who just isn’t as strong as he used to be; and (2) the younger guy who was rushed into the top series. Both are clinging to what remains of their moment in the sun, not realizing there could be better opportunities elsewhere.
Look at the cases of the drivers who have made a move back to a lower series and been successful. Ron Hornaday spent one full season in the Cup Series and several more in the Nationwide Series. Since returning to the truck series full time in 2005 Hornaday has won 19 races and one championship. He’s revitalized his career.
Or how about Mike Skinner? He spent seven-ish full time seasons in the Cup Series, five with Richard Childress. In 2004 Skinner returned to the truck series with Bang! Racing (which eventually became part of Bill Davis Racing). Since that time Skinner has won 12 races.
The two above aren’t alone either. How about Ted Musgrave, Jack Sprague, Brendan Gaughan, or Johnny Benson? Does anyone find anything shameful in them stepping away from the Cup Series? Absolutely not.
Even this season we saw Johnny Sauter and Aric Almirola find opportunities in the Truck Series.
Sauter, after five full seasons in the Nationwide Series made his move to the Cup Series with Haas CNC in 2007. After a tough year, Sauter was dropped at the end of the season and spent 2008 bouncing around NASCAR. He found a permanent home this season at ThorSport Racing. And you know what? Johnny looks like a guy who’s undergone a rebirth. He’s consistently running upfront now, and even captured his first ever Truck Series win a couple of weeks ago at Las Vegas.
When #8 team ran out of money earlier this year, Almirola was out of a ride. Committed to finding something he was in the garage every weekend. Billy Ballew gave Almirola a part time schedule in one of his trucks and he’s run well.
I guess what I’m saying is, there is no shame in admitting your career has run its course somewhere. When that happens find something new and adapt to your situation. And you never know, that move could just catapult back to the top.