Tony Stewart’s not trying to destroy NASCAR. He just wants to rattle its cage.
The new racing series announced this week by the former Cup champion and former crew chief and owner Ray Evernham, is potentially troublesome for stock-car racing’s premier series.
It’s not every day you see a rival racing series start up with a prime-time weekend slot and a network agreement up front. Stewart and Evernham, along with key industry and marketing people backing them up, have pulled off what could end up being a coup.
At the very least, we’re looking at a possible Senior Tour in the making.
They’re calling it the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) and they’re planning a short summer series of Saturday night races on smaller tracks across the country, all live in a two-hour time slot on CBS. Evernham’s going to build a special car designed just for SRX, identically prepared cars based on stock-car models but without any branding.
Some have compared this to IROC, but this is nothing like IROC.
That was a classic racing series initially on road courses but eventually on NASCAR tracks as part of a NASCAR weekend involving racers from various forms of motorsports, all in their prime..
This is, according to Stewart, a series for older, established drivers who just want to race some more, drivers like Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, retiring Jimmie Johnson and an assorted number of Indy-car drivers such as Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya. No word from Junior’s wife yet.
You can see this becoming a real headache for NASCAR.
Evernham said he will design cars to run short to medium-length tracks, dirt and paved, that will not require big speeds. He wants the emphasis to be on the drivers, not the cars. And he thinks it will appeal to a certain kind of racer.
“You know, drivers retiring and being out of the sport so young, we think there are guys who still want to race, still can race, but just don’t want to run 200 mph,” he told the Associated Press.
Stewart insists on comparing it to IROC:
“I always liked the IROC Series back in the day and even before I was old enough to be a professional race car driver,” he said. “I looked at that as the cream of the crop.. When I got invited to run IROC, it was a huge honor. You were part of an elite group of drivers.”
Again, this is not that.
This sounds a bit like a traveling road show of big-name drivers who miss the sport and the spotlight, sort of like the late George Jones driving around Nashville in a convertible because, as he told somebody on the road one day “I needed the attention.”
This is a blatant move to divert the attention away from the established racing series and possibly embarrass them. The races will be shorter with no under-funded teams with unknown drivers. This is an all-star race with some of the biggest names in racing driving on the same weekends as NASCAR and the short tracks scattered around the country.
This is more than they’re letting on. This is a hostile takeover during a pandemic. The next phase of planning will involve the lifeblood of NASCAR itself — sponsors.
That’s why this will ultimately hurt stock-car racing and its shaky relationship with its fans. For the first time ever, there will be a choice.
And then will come the howling.
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