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Minor Leagues, No Place for Major Leaguers

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Let’s look at our favorite national past time. NASCAR racing. Let’s also compare it to all of the other predominate sports in the national spotlight. There is one factor that makes it unique, but not necessarily better… Should Nextel Cup drivers be able to race Busch races?
Dale Jr. won the Daytona 500 and the Busch race in 2004. That in itself is an incredible feat, but is it necessarily fair? I don’t want to discredit Little E for what he accomplished, but at what cost? Not a cost for his team, or a cost for his sponsors. He obviously made all that money back. But a cost to the future of the sport. How often do you see Roger Clemens go from playing in the World Series and then the next weekend he goes and plays in a Minor League game? Never. How often do you see a Torry Holt or Michael Vick go from a primary game in their NFL career to the next week playing in Arena Football? Never. How often did you see The Great One play for the Stanley Cup and then go and play for the IHL for a couple of games to keep his game on track and keep his skills sharp? Never. How often do you see Kobe Bryant play in the European League to keep in shape and on top of his game? Never. How often did you see Pele compete against school kids in the playground? Never.

Why is it that only in NASCAR, you can reach the pinnacle of competition and still be able to go back in time and regress, by being able to race in minor leagues? I am not in any way diminishing the Busch League, but I am stating that is the league that fuels Nextel. If these drivers don’t get a chance, they won’t necessarily make it in the future, no matter how good they are. Money drives this sport. That is a fact. If you don’t place high, or better yet, win, you don’t make your money back. Having said that, if you have pros that come into minor league sports and take all of the winnings, as well as possible point standings, then how will these rookies ever have the opportunity to re-fuel this sport in the future? Let’s face it. NASCAR is a dangerous sport. People have injuries, problems and worst of all, deaths. This is one of those sports that needs to have people waiting in the wings, ready to go at a moments notice. Call it the Marine Corp of the racing world.

There are a number of Busch car teams that have to go home week after week due to the fact that Nextel Cup drivers took those starting positions, not giving those drivers a chance to grow, learn or compete in a league that these pros have already progressed past. Why then is it allowed for these accomplished drivers to compete week after week in duel events? Well, there are many proponents that say it is a way to get extra practice laps on a track. Let’s stop there. Practice laps. Well my opinion on that is if you have made it this far, if you need extra practice laps, then you don’t need to be where you are. Granted, there are constant changes to the rules and car setups, but if you haven’t moved on to the point that you can make those adjustments as a team, then you are not qualified to be a Nextel Cup driver.

The other item that people continue to bring up is the ability to win more money. Well, the average salary for a Nextel Cup driver (even those who suck) is at least a 6 digit number. How many of us can say we make that kind of money? That is salary alone, not including race winnings and contention sponsors. That’s as bad as Tom Glavine protesting the baseball commission in the freaking walk-out, stating that he didn’t know how he was going to pay for his children’s college. If you make a 6 figure salary and can’t figure out how you can pay for general living expenses…you have other problems than your job. I’ll take that problem any day.

Who is the worst of all of this? Well for years it was Mark Martin. Martin would go week in and week out racing both races, becoming one of the winningist drivers in Busch. But at what expense? He himself decided in 2003 to give up Busch to focus solely on at the time Winston Cup. This in itself proves that by splitting priorities can cost you the championship in the premier league. Maybe that’s why Mark has yet to win a big league championship. I don’t know of anyone who can say Mark Martin is a bad driver, but he has not ever won the big show. Is it because he was always so split with his focus, or because his card was never dealt? That is a question for Ms. Cleo. I will never claim that I have that answer.

Is Dale Jr. starting the same trend to suffer the same fate? If he continually splits his attention to these other leagues, is he ever going to finally win the big one? Only time will tell. Definitely he has the skills. He is truly an incredible driver with great instinct. He is definitely his daddy’s child. But you never saw Dale Sr. racing in the Busch leagues after he made it to the show. Maybe that helps enforce the importance of realizing where you are and respecting that you have made it and giving others the chance to do the same.

I was in Marne Michigan, at an ASA race. Johnny Benson was doing a celebrity showcase and showing up back at his home track for a one race deal. That was a different experience. He was coming back to his local area once a year to give the fans something to cheer for, but week in and week out, competing for the Busch (while saying you are not) is where it complicates things. Loyalties are said to be with Nextel, but yet, there are drivers who continually pursue racing every Busch race they can to get experience. If that’s the case, stay in Busch until you are ready to move up to the big league. Minor Leagues are no place for Major League players. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

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About Christopher Smith

A long time fan of NASCAR, he attended his first race as a kid in 1979 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the World 600. Christopher watched Darrell Waltrip drive his way to victory and from that day forward hes been hooked. As president of RubbingsRacing.com, Christopher launched the site in 2000 and in the past decade, it has grown into a NASCAR-accredited web site hosting multiple podcasts, dedicated writers and race coverage at the majority of NASCAR-sanctioned events. Christopher is an official member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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