Column: Open-wheel drivers invade NASCAR

Published 6:50 am Friday, October 12, 2007

By Staff
The influx of open-wheel drivers into the worlds of NASCAR and stock car racing continued this week.
Canadian Patrick Carpentier was announced early in week as Scott Riggs' replacement in the No.10 at Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Riggs recently moved to the CNC Haas camp in either the No. 66 or No. 70 team.
That announcement brings the number former open wheel drivers that will be competed full-time in NASCAR next season to three. The other two, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti, are employed by Chip Ganassi. Several other IRL or F1 guys are contemplating the move to the "taxi cabs." Sam Hornish, Jr thinks he wants to driver full-time for Penske, but he is having trouble making races, having not qualified for the last several races.
Jacques Villeneuve, who qualified well and held his own at Talladega last week, is a virtual lock to compete full time in the No. 27 for Bill Davis Racing next season. And Scott Speed, a Red Bull athlete, is toying with the idea, having spent time in the garage at Talladega last week.
Why the global invasion? It's pretty simple, to be the best you have to beat and compete with the best. The most talented drivers on the planet race on Sundays at places like Martinsville and Atlanta. The levels of competition combined with the tremendous amounts of money that these guys are making now are the drawing factors. Before long, there will be more Indy 500 winners in NASCAR than in the IRL.
Some hard core, old time fans might not like the influx of these drivers, but get used to it. This is the 21st century NASCAR. By the way, how would you like to hear Junior Johnson pronounce Carpentier? That would be a hoot.
Michael Waltrip made his own major announcement Friday. As expected, Dale Jarrett is done as a full-time driver at the conclusion of this season. He will only compete in seven events next season, the first five races, the Bud Shootout, and the All Star race. David Reutimann will move from the No. 00 unsponsored car to the UPS Toyota starting with the sixth race. The idea is for Jarrett to use his champions' provisionals to get the car in the top 35 before Reutimann takes over.
Waltrip will continue to drive the No. 55 NAPA car and he will hire a new driver to pilot the No. 00. Names being linked to that ride are Jeremy Mayfield and David Stremme.
Just as big as the drivers' announcement was the announcement that Waltrip has taken on a equal ownership partner.
Robert Kaufmann is now co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing Holdings. Kaufmann is an investor originally from New York, but now lives in Europe. Maybe this is what Waltrip needs to get his company competitive. We'll see.
Jeff Gordon proved why is among the best ever last Sunday at Talladega. He became the all time winner in restrictor plate races by going to the front on the last lap to win the first race at Talladega in the COT. In the process, he leapt back in the lead of the Chase, nine points behind Jimmie Johnson. It looks to be a three man race now, with the two Hendrick drivers and Clint Bowyer. Tony Stewart, in fourth position, is 154 points behind Bowyer in third.
Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway is the next stop on the schedule. Anybody pick Jimmie Johnson to win this race? Johnson's history at this track has been unbelievable. He has won five of the last nine races here. Casey Mears won the 600 mile race last Memorial Day, but my pick to win, and tighten up the points race is Tony Stewart.