Nationwide Series goes full speed into next season

Published 11:11 pm Wednesday, January 21, 2009

By By MIKE HARRIS, AP Auto Racing Writer
CONCORD — Despite a reeling economy, NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series is in better shape than many expected and encouraged by what’s ahead.
A recent announcement that fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his role as owner of JR Motorsports, got sponsorship for a second entry has helped. So has news that Roger Penske found backing to run ARCA champion Justin Allgaier for the entire season.
The top-tier Cup series has seen changes since last season, with several team mergers and other operations selling out or cutting back. There has been some of the same in the Nationwide series, which struggled with a dearth of sponsorship even before the economic crisis.
But despite dire forecasts that Nationwide fields may fall short of the standard 43-car lineup as the season goes on, series director Joe Balash said Tuesday.
Not everybody is so optimistic.
Series regular Mike Bliss said the car count may begin to decline after the first few races if everything doesn’t fall into place just right.
Balash said NASCAR is going ahead with its plan to get a new Car of Tomorrow ready for the 2010 Nationwide series, a move that could add a substantial initial cost to the team budgets.
The sanctioning organization introduced a new car in the Cup series with a part-time schedule in 2007, then raced the car through the entire 2008 season to mixed results.
Drivers have complained that the new Cup cars, bigger and boxier in the name of driver safety, are too heavy for the tires and hard to keep balanced. But most of the initial uproar over the CoT died out as the drivers and teams came to the realization that it was here to stay.
Harvick drives for Richard Childress Racing. The Kevin Harvick Inc. team also plans to run one car full-time in Nationwide, as well as two trucks in the third-tier Camping World Series.
Balash said NASCAR will work with the Nationwide owners to ensure that the introduction of the new car does not cause undue hardships.
Balash said he can hardly wait to get to Daytona next month and get the 2009 season under way.