Influx of open-wheelers short-circuit farm system
Posted: Tuesday December 11, 2007 4:11PM; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2007 4:11PM
As the curtain closed on the 2007 Nextel Cup season, the furor over open wheel drivers turned stock car rookies reached a fever pitch. With Sam Hornish Jr. and Patrick Carpentier, both of whom attempted to qualify for the season's final race at Homestead, poised to join Jacques Villeneuve in next season's rookie class, the migration from some of the more respected open wheel series -- Formula One, IRL and CART -- has reached levels never dreamed of as little as a decade ago.
Their presence, while welcomed, comes with one potential problem for NASCAR's future -- the lack of homegrown talent in next year's rookie class.
For the first time since 1988, none of NASCAR's '08 rookies will have raced full-time in their main feeder divisions the previous season (the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series). Instead, household names, such as two-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, or Kurt Busch or Matt Kenseth -- all of whom gained experience from competing in stock car's lower levels -- are being challenged by the foreign entities of Montoya, Allmendinger and those listed above, whose love for stock cars only begun when the paychecks dried up elsewhere.
How bleak has the future become for NASCAR's once-popular "young gun" set, trying to rise up through the ranks the right way in order to get their shot?
Danny O'Quinn can tell you.
O'Quinn, 22, was the Busch Series rookie of the year in 2006 -- usually a prequel that leads to the stepping stone of Nextel Cup. With one top-five finish and five top 10s, O'Quinn outdistanced veteran John Andretti for the award, seemingly positioning himself as the circuit's next young star.
Instead, he's on the sidelines -- the victim of NASCAR car owners recent obsession to look elsewhere for talent.
"It's definitely been frustrating," O'Quinn said after having run the last race of a limited schedule for underfunded Mac Hill Motorsports -- the only way he's been able to get to the track on a semi-consistent basis. "At the end of the season last year, everything was going really well, and two or three weeks later ... you find out you're not going to be running maybe any this year."
"It's tough, no doubt."
What's made things more shocking in O'Quinn's case is that he's aligned with powerhouse Roush Fenway Racing -- seemingly the best place to be if you're looking for sponsorship money. But no company wanted to take their chances on a youngster in a second-level series, so while Roush's coffers filled with funding for '07 Busch champ Carl Edwards -- also a Nextel Cup regular -- the money never came through for anyone else. The most Roush Fenway could offer O'Quinn in '07 were three handpicked starts in two different cars, with no chance to establish consistency or momentum.