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Pros and Cons: Winston Cup Runneth Over

May 03, 2000|DARIN ESPER

When NASCAR Winston Cup drivers compete in lower level NASCAR series, criticism crops up in various places.

Mark Martin has drawn the bulk of it, with four victories in five NASCAR Busch Grand National Division starts this year, but Martin is not the only Winston Cup regular to compete at lower levels.

Matt Kenseth led 30 laps of the Auto Club 300 Busch series race at California Speedway, including the most important lap for a driver to lead--the final one.

The Pontiac Wide Track Grand Prix 200 NASCAR Winston West series race Saturday at Fontana was a good argument in favor of the Winston Cup drivers participating in lower-level races.

Johnny Benson and Ken Schrader were involved in the bulk of the 24 lead changes in the Winston West Series race, with Benson winning.

Winston West regulars Bill Sedgwick of Acton and Jerry Cain of Canyon Country said the presence of Benson and Schrader was positive.

One of the arguments against NASCAR drivers participating at lower levels is that it robs the regulars in those divisions of starting spots and points opportunities.

Another argument is that it is akin to sending a Class-A baseball player out to face a big leaguer.

Benson and Schrader made the 100-lap Winston West race exciting for the fans who stuck around, and not at the expense of the series regulars. They dueled and diced their way around the track, with most of the lead changes taking place near the start-finish line.

Winston West regulars Brendan Gaughan of Las Vegas and Jason Small of Bakersfield had opportunities to lead, and Gaughan received racing lessons from Benson and Schrader in the last eight laps.

Gaughan had the lead coming off a caution period with eight laps remaining, and Benson passed him as soon as racing resumed. Gaughan raced side-by-side with Benson through the second turn before Benson took over for good.

There was one more caution flag before the race ended, and Schrader blew past Gaughan on that restart with two laps remaining.

Benson speculated that Gaughan might have missed a shift on the lap-93 restart, and Gaughan later confirmed that was the case.

Both Gaughan and Small looked at the experience as a chance to prove that they could keep up with the big leaguers.

Kenseth looked like he was going to run away with the Napa Auto Parts 500 Winston Cup race Sunday, leading 119 of the 250 laps. Jeremy Mayfield, who took his second Winston Cup victory, did not lead until 25 laps remained.

Mayfield's performance in working his way through the field from last place, after his car developed an oil heating problem in the early going, was exciting to watch, but how many people actually saw what he was doing?

Schrader uses Winston West races as a practice opportunity, since the series uses the same chassis as the Winston Cup series but less-powerful motors. He has six victories in 14 Winston West races, including two at California Speedway.

Participating in the Busch race paid off for Kenseth, who finished third Sunday. The same can't be said for Benson's and Schrader's participation in the Winston West race, as Benson finished 23rd and Schrader 24th in the NAPA 500.

Busch series cars have a two-inch shorter wheelbase, and make less horsepower than Winston Cup cars. According to Busch series rookie Ron Hornaday Jr., who counts the Winston West as a stop on his journey through the NASCAR ranks, the Busch Series cars and Winston West cars are distinctly different.

"Busch cars are quicker and lighter, and behave totally different than a Winston West car," Hornaday said.

Sedgwick, who struggled with handling problems, summed it up best.

"I only saw them once, when they came past me."

*

Benson's team had 108 points taken away by NASCAR officials and crew chief James Ince was fined $10,440 for equipment violations, but the victory was allowed to stand.

Ince was penalized under Section 12-4-A in the NASCAR Winston West Series rule book, which reads: ". . . . actions deemed by NASCAR Officials as detrimental to stock car/truck racing or to NASCAR," and for a violation of Section 12-4-Q, which reads: "Any determination by NASCAR Officials that parts and/or equipment used in the event do not conform to NASCAR rules. . . ."

*

Bryan Herta of Valencia dropped out because of gearbox problems on the 44th lap and finished 20th in the Rio 200 Sunday at Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway in Rio de Janeiro. Herta was driving a Reynard-Honda for Walker racing in the second of two appearances filling in for rookie Shinji Nakano, who is recovering from head injuries suffered in a crash March 31 at the Milwaukee Mile. . . . Troy Rutherford of Ojai finished sixth in the 30-lap Sprint Car Racing Assn. main event Saturday at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, won by Richard Griffin of Silver City, N.M. . . . . Will Perkins of Hesperia won the 30-lap sprint car main event Saturday at Ventura Raceway. Tom Stephens of Ventura captured the 30-lap street stock main event and Frank Woodward of Ventura won the 20-lap pony stock feature.

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