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Competition level - NASCAR vs. IRL

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  • Competition level - NASCAR vs. IRL

    On another thread, I made the statement that NASCAR has the best competition in the United States, particularly in terms of driver quality, and was taken to task for it. So, as I promised, I’m here to document this. We’re going to look at it in terms of driver resume’s prior to their ascension to either IRL or NASCAR, and compare their pre-big league credentials. I only listed their MOST PROMINENT achievements prior to the big leagues; for instance, John Andretti had won a CART race, so I didn’t try to document his wins in a Dorney Park modified. We’ll start with NASCAR. I pulled the driver list from the NASCAR Media Guide for 2002:

    John Andretti – 1 CART win
    Casey Atwood – 1 BGN win
    Johnny Benson – 95 BGN champ, 92 ASA champ
    Dave Blaney – 98 WoO champ, 84 USAC S/C champ
    Brett Bodine – 2nd BGN 86, 5 BGN wins, 3 Mod Tour wins
    Todd Bodine – 3rd BGN 92, 13 BGN wins
    Jeff Burton – 9th BGN 92, 15 BGN wins
    Ward Burton – 6th BGN 93, 4 BGN wins
    Kurt Busch – 2nd CTS 2000, 4 CTS wins, 99 SWT champ
    Ricky Craven – 91 BGNN champ, 2nd BGN 93, 94
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 98, 99 BGN champ, 13 BGN wins
    Bill Elliott – North Georgia Speedway track champ (late 70s)
    Jeff Gordon – 4th BGN 92, 5 BGN wins, USAC Mid, S/C champ
    Robby Gordon – 2 CART wins
    Jeff Green – 2000 BGN champ, 14 BGN wins
    Bobby Hamilton – Nashville Speedway track champ (2 times), 1 BGN win
    Kevin Harvick – 2001 BGN champ, 9 BGN wins, 98 WW champ
    Dale Jarrett – 4th BGN 84, 86; 11 BGN wins
    Jimmie Johnson – CORR champ, ASA RoY 98, 8th BGN 01, 1 BGN win
    Buckshot Jones – 7th BGN 97, 2 BGN wins
    Matt Kenseth – 2nd BGN 98, 12 BGN wins
    Bobby Labonte – 91 BGN champ, 9 BGN wins
    Terry Labonte – Corpus Christi Speedway track champ
    Sterling Marlin – 3-time Nashville Speedway track champ, 2 BGN wins
    Mark Martin – 4-time ASA champ
    Rick Mast – 7th BGN 85, 89; 9 BGN wins
    Jeremy Mayfield – 2 ARCA wins
    Jerry Nadeau – 2 FF2000 wins, 2 ARCA wins
    Joe Nemechek – 92 BGN champ, 90 All Pro champ, 11 BGN wins
    Ryan Newman – 2 ARCA wins, 1 BGN win, 99 USAC S/C champ
    Steve Park – 2nd Mods 95-96, 3 BGN wins
    Kyle Petty – 1 ARCA win in 1 start
    Ricky Rudd – IKF Kart champ, 2 late model wins
    Elliott Sadler – 5th BGN 95
    Ken Schrader – 80 USAC Stock RoY, 83 USAC Sprint champ, 82 S/C champ
    Mike Skinner – 95 CTS champ, 16 CTS wins
    Jimmy Spencer – 83, 84 Mod champ, 7th BGN 88, 11 BGN wins
    Tony Stewart – 95 USAC Sprint/Midg/S/C champ, 98 IRL champ
    Hut Stricklin – 86 Goodys Champ
    Rusty Wallace – 79 USAC Stock RoY, 83 All Pro champ
    Michael Waltrip – 83 Goodys champ, 8 BGN wins

    OK, so out of 41 drivers listed, 19 ( or 46%) have won series championships (I’m not counting track championships from Labonte, Elliott, and Marlin, Rudd’s kart titles, or Johnson’s CORR titles, or the number would be higher). More to the point, EVERY ONE of the 41 drivers had won races – normally several of them – before ascending to the top rank of stock car series. There are winners from karts, off-road, sprints, midgets, and even CART represented here. Even the guys normally laughed at, such as Stricklin and M. Waltrip, had climbed to the top of their respective heaps before moving into Cup. Even Kyle Petty, who had but one start prior to running Cup, won that one start.

    FUDGE FACTOR – Several of the drivers listed are listed with their number of BGN wins. I was unable to come up with the exact numbers of wins PRIOR TO Cup, so I only listed wins for drivers who had theirs predominantly before they landed in Cup. For instance, Mark Martin’s 40-plus BGN wins weren’t listed, because 90% of them came after he got the Roush ride. Same with others like Rusty Wallace and Kyle Petty. So, SOME of the BGN wins listed above may have come from “cherry picking” activities, but I will stipulate that this would be much less than half. I pulled most of the NASCAR information from the NASCAR media guide, and most of the IRL information from Indyracingleague.com.

    The bottom line is that, in terms of “competition” among the best drivers from nearly every racing discipline in the United States, Cup has it – in spades.

    OK, now let’s look at the IRL drivers’ resumes. We’ll use the TITW entry list for a starting point, and add in the Foyt drivers, since they’re solid but didn’t participate.

    Jaques Lazier – 95 FV champ
    Helio Castroneves – 4 Lights wins
    Sam Hornish Jr. – 1 Atlantic win
    Arie Luyendyk – 84 Super Vee champ
    Gil de Ferran – 3 F3000 wins
    Greg Ray – SCCA FA champ, 3 Atlantics wins
    Scott Sharp – 91, 93 Trans Am champ
    Buzz Calkins – 1 FA win
    Jon Herb – no wins
    Jimmy Vasser – 6 Atlantics wins
    Felipe Giaffone – 1 Lights win
    Bruno Junquiera – 2000 F3000 champ
    Robbie Buhl – 92 Lights champ
    Kenny Brack – 96 F3000 champ
    Laurent Redon – 95 French F3 champ
    John De Vries – no wins
    Alex Barron – Atlantics champ?
    Eddie Cheever – 2 Group C wins, 132 F1 starts
    Tomas Scheckter - 2 F3 wins, Formula Opel Champ
    George Mack – kart champ, no wins
    Buddy Lazier – 88 AIS champ
    Billy Boat – 95 WS midget champ, 12 USAC wins
    Anthony Lazzaro – 99 Atlantics champ
    Scott Mayer – no wins
    Donnie Beechler – 9 USAC wins
    Eliseo Salazar – 3 IMSA wins

    So, we have 11 champions out of 26 drivers, or 42% - roughly the same as NASCAR. Not bad. Of course, two of those champions were Brack and Junquiera, who were two of the three CART one-offs and not full-season competitors. Removing Vasser, Brack, and Junquiera from the equation, we have 9 of 23 for 39% champs. But, what changes the stats is to compare the number of drivers who have won races in full-size cars (again, karts not counting). Of the 26 drivers, 6 (or 23%) were unable to take a checkered in any feeder series, anywhere. Again, removing the “CART three,” we have 6 of 23, or 26% non-winners. In fact, Jaques Lazier was unable to score a win in AIS, but was able to beat an IRL field last year! The fact is, a good chunk of the IRL field got spanked pretty regularly in feeders.

    The other major difference is that, with most of the NASCAR drivers, I was able to selectively list their most significant accomplishments. Nearly all of the listed IRL drivers have their ONLY accomplishments listed, so depth of resume is questionable, too. BTW – for drivers that ran in CART prior to the IRL, I listed their pre-CART achievements.

    More to the point, feeder champions in NASCAR are able to advance to Cup. Of the Busch champs since 1990, the only one not to get a full-season bid in Cup was Randy LaJoie – and that was a personal choice by Randy. By contrast, of the champions of Lights, Atlantics, USAC sprints, USAC Midgets, and Silver Crown since 1995, only Tony Stewart, Alex Barron, and Anthony Lazzaro have gotten full-season shots in the IRL. And, we haven’t even dug into multiple feeder champions, number of race wins, or quality of feeder competition.

    Now, I know that this will make a lot of people do an angry knee-jerk. Let me assure you that I only want the best for the IRL. What we’ve got isn’t it. The point is not to build Cup up, or tear the IRL down. It’s to illustrate the difference between a primarily talent-based driver selection process, and a money-based selection process. It ties back to Fueler’s “what if” thread, and also, honestly, to the spanking the IRL got at Indy last year.

    Discuss if you want, attack me if you must, but don’t EVER say that I don’t try to back up my opinions with facts and stats…

    [ February 08, 2002: Message edited by: Racewriter ]
    "It was actually fun, because you're back fully driving again in these trucks. Ninety percent of the tracks we go to in the IRL, you're flat-out. I was having to lift off the corners some here." - Buddy Rice

  • #2
    To me, Open Wheel drivers will always have bigger cahones. Something about heading into a corner 3 wide at 200+ MPH just puts them up above the rest.
    "I was riding on the Mayflower when I thought I spotted some land" ~Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

    A rampart is a bulwark!

    Comment


    • #3
      Interesting thesis, RW. The only real problem I have with it is the conclusions you've drawn. Not the conclusions themselves, necessarily, but the attempt to make something SUBjective, such as your interesting opinions, seem like something OBjective, which explains the 'statistics' you've offered.

      I tend to agree with tim_racefan above, who mentions the cojones it takes to steer an Indy car into a corner at 200+. I haven't seen the HVPTA boys do much of that.

      To me, all the folks you've mentioned are champions of something, and some of the young talent that has begun to emerge, like Jaques Lazier, now has a decent CHANCE and has decided to take advantage of it.

      If what you're attempting to say is that the drivers of one series are better than those of another, that's a nice opinion, but a fairly unsupportable one. It's obvious the skillsets are a bit different (unless you're someone like Tony Stewart).

      But thanks for offering the data. It's pretty interesting.

      Comment


      • #4
        If you are going to count GR's FA championship, then you have to count Jaques Fv national championship (1995).

        The IRL is doing good. Can it get better? Yep. Has it gotten better each year? Yep.

        The IRL is now the sanctioning body that determines the rules in openwheel racing in the US. That this is occuring in just 6 years is pretty good. **** it's great.

        I'm happy with the IRL. How bout U.
        Terrible moderators can destroy great forums

        Comment


        • #5
          Perhaps it would be better to compare crossover wins. Cart driver wins in Cup..Irl driver wins in Cup. Cup driver's wins in openwheel.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by jl:
            <STRONG>If you are going to count GR's FA championship, then you have to count Jaques Fv national championship (1995).

            The IRL is doing good. Can it get better? Yep. Has it gotten better each year? Yep.

            The IRL is now the sanctioning body that determines the rules in openwheel racing in the US. That this is occuring in just 6 years is pretty good. **** it's great.

            I'm happy with the IRL. How bout U.</STRONG>
            I'm happy to count Jaques' FV title, but I didn't find it on the IRL website. I'll edit the post.

            However, I will say that equating those "club" titles with a BGN or All Pro title is a bit of a stretch, but hey, those are the rules I set up. Thanx.
            "It was actually fun, because you're back fully driving again in these trucks. Ninety percent of the tracks we go to in the IRL, you're flat-out. I was having to lift off the corners some here." - Buddy Rice

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by jl:
              <STRONG>If you are going to count GR's FA championship, then you have to count Jaques Fv national championship (1995).

              The IRL is doing good. Can it get better? Yep. Has it gotten better each year? Yep.

              The IRL is now the sanctioning body that determines the rules in openwheel racing in the US. That this is occuring in just 6 years is pretty good. **** it's great.

              I'm happy with the IRL. How bout U.</STRONG>
              Well said!
              IRL, Champcar and F1 fan

              Comment


              • #8
                RW:

                DaveL can tell you for sure, but the cream of the Lights/Atlantics crop, as it were, is in CART.

                Which makes sense - they're CART feeder series, not IRL feeder series.

                What will be interesting to see is how the successful drivers from IRIPS get treated.

                Myself, I'd like to see Infiniti fund a year for the IRIPS champ in the IRL, as a second car to a team like Dreyer & Reinbold, if they're unable to get a better ride elsewhere.

                But I'm not sure if that's the right attitude, or not.
                http://motorsportsblog.blogspot.com/

                Comment


                • #9
                  'wrench...I would disagree with the cream of the CART feeder series being only in CART. They have an advantage in the Indy Lights grads, but as far as Atlantics go, the IRL isn't doing too shabby. Barron and Lazzaro were very good Atlantics Champs (Barron as a rookie?) unable to land anything in CART. Gidley and Rice are two deserving drivers that should at least find something for the 500 to drive. Also, Rocky Moran, Jr. is an up-and-comer getting his shot at the IRL. Hornish won a race in his rookie season and was rookie of the year.

                  And Giaffone didn't win a Lights race? I thought he got one in the midst of the Dixon/Bell/Mears title fight in 2000.

                  But, I agree with most of what is said above. The IRL does need some stronger resumes in the line-up.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by W_Version:
                    <STRONG>And Giaffone didn't win a Lights race? I thought he got one in the midst of the Dixon/Bell/Mears title fight in 2000.

                    </STRONG>
                    Not according to his bio on Indyracingleague.com. I tried to check Indylights.com, but it has ceased to be. There is a page there saying the stats will be on CART.com's feeder series page, when they get it done. Giaffone does list top-five finishes, but no wins, which was a strong suggestion that there weren't any.

                    I did assume that drivers would have put victories on Indyracingleague.com. BTW - it's a lot tougher to get bio information on Indy and open-wheel guys than stock car guys. The IMS PR department should be looking at that.

                    BTW - Your Hornish example raises an interesting point. Sam was only able to beat an Atlantics field once, and not finish top-five in points. BUT, he was able to win three IRL races, and the title. Does that suggest that Sam is a breakout talent? Maybe - I think that he just might be.

                    Or, does it say that the competition was actually tougher in Atlantics? Think about it - there are some drivers (J. Lazier, Giaffone, Hornish) who have been much more successful in IRL than in feeders. Food for thought...

                    [ February 08, 2002: Message edited by: Racewriter ]
                    "It was actually fun, because you're back fully driving again in these trucks. Ninety percent of the tracks we go to in the IRL, you're flat-out. I was having to lift off the corners some here." - Buddy Rice

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Sam only spent one year in Atlantics.

                      This is why I'm curious as to why people like Tom Kelley didn't look at Buddy Rice.

                      If an Atlantics ROY is out there kicking your butt, wouldn't an Atlantics CHAMPION be a good way to keep up.

                      But no, he goes with Team Skud Missle.
                      http://motorsportsblog.blogspot.com/

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I sure hope Rice gets a ride.
                        IRL, Champcar and F1 fan

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          RW NASCAR has a what 30 year continuing history? Tons of $ and lots of feeder series options. IRL is 6 years old. Why compare? I like watching IRL. I like watching NASCAR. I pay affordable prices for IRL races. Never been to a NASCAR race on my on dime. Too much money. I get tired of "Who's the best?" talk. Build the fan base, increase the race count. The money and "best " drivers will follow.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by gforce:
                            <STRONG>Perhaps it would be better to compare crossover wins. Cart driver wins in Cup..Irl driver wins in Cup. Cup driver's wins in openwheel.</STRONG>
                            But then you would have to compare whether a it was worth leaving one series and going to another series. In that comprison, CART and IRL aren't even in the same ball-park.

                            There's a reason the traffic is one way. Here's a clue, take a look at the stands and the TV ratings.
                            DVR . . . . Life is too short to watch commercials.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Maddog:
                              <STRONG>IRL is 6 years old. .</STRONG>
                              But it's foundation is arguably the oldest and greatest race in the world. No excuse.
                              DVR . . . . Life is too short to watch commercials.

                              Comment

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