Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COMMENTARY: Stoddard Has Earned The Right...

Townley has struggled mightily
John Wes Townley will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway, driving for FAS Lane Racing. 

Oh jeez. 

Townley has muddled through a wildly mediocre career in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series’, making 57 starts without anything approaching a Top-10 finish. His best performance – lifetime – was a 14th in Camping World Truck action at Chicagoland Speedway two week ago. Those struggles cannot be attributed to shoddy equipment, as Townley’s NASCAR career has featured stints with powerhouse owners Jack Roush and Richard Childress, both of whom sent the youngster packing when they could no longer keep up with the repair bills. 

In 2008, he ran seven Truck Series races for Roush Racing, crashing three times in those seven events before being handed his walking papers. He also ran three Nationwide races for RAB Racing, crashing twice. If you’re scoring at home, that’s five wrecked race cars in 10 starts, not counting incidents in practice and qualifying. 

In 2009, Townley ran the full, 32-race Nationwide schedule for RAB Racing, and once again proved tough on equipment. He crashed seven times and failing to qualify for six events, finishing 23rd in championship points with a best finish of 16th. 

The 2010 campaign saw Townley and his Zaxby’s sponsorship move to Richard Childress Racing, where he drove the team’s potent No. 21 Chevrolet to an average finish of 22.4 – with one crash-related DNF – in five starts. Even the Zaxby’s money wasn’t enough to fix all the battered race cars, and when Townley was cited for underage possession of alcohol during the Las Vegas race weekend, Childress severed the relationship after just five races. Townley then landed back at RAB Racing, running four Nationwide races at the end of the season with a best finish of 17th. 

After a year on the sidelines, Townley returned to the sport this season with a split schedule of racing in the Nationwide and Truck ranks. His debut was postponed by a preseason DUI arrest, but he eventually got on track to finish 15th at Talladega for SR2 Motorsports, then 20th and 25th at Dover and Daytona for RAB. He has also competed in nine Nationwide events for RAB Racing this season, with an average finish of 20.4. 

Ordinarily, that kind of record will run a driver clean out of NASCAR, not advance him to the headline Sprint Cup Series. But these are trying economic times, and for team owners like FAS Lane Racing’s Frank Stoddard, the struggle to acquire sponsorship and keep the doors open is unrelenting. 

FAS Lane's Frank Stoddard 
There has already been criticism of Stoddard’s decision to roll the dice with Townley this weekend, and much has been made of NASCAR’s latest – and most blatant – example of money trumping talent. That criticism is certainly justified, since in a perfect world, John Wes Townley would be working the drive thru window at Zaxby’s this weekend, not driving in the world’s most prestigious stock car racing series. 

People will say Townley has no business on the race track at Pocono Raceway, and they’ll be right. But if it's your life savings invested in the race team – instead of Frank Stoddard’s – and you are the one responsible for making sure your employees pay their mortgage and feed their children this month, things might seem just a little less cut-and-dried. 

This just in: the world isn’t always fair. Rich kids sometimes get opportunities they don’t deserve; even at the expense of other, more talented candidates who have worked hard for the opportunity. Guys like Frankie Stoddard have to make difficult decisions to survive sometimes, then after doing so, bite their lip and weather a firestorm of criticism from people who have no idea how much is on the line. 

For the record, Frankie Stoddard has spent his entire life in the sport, beginning as a volunteer crewmember at a tiny little dirt track in Vermont and eventually becoming one of the most respected crew chiefs in the sport. He could have remained atop the pit box, cashing seven-figure paychecks and basking in the glory of race wins and titles contended for. But what he really wanted was to own his own race team, and he spent a princely portion of those paychecks to make it happen. 

Like the talented young driver who claws his way to the top rung of the NASCAR ladder, Stoddard made his way to the big-time with hard work, intelligence and guile. Nobody handed him anything, he did it all for himself. Stoddard is taking a tremendous gamble by putting Townley in his No. 32 FAS Lane Ford this weekend. If things go like they usually do, the car will come back a twisted, steaming heap. But if Stoddard is willing to roll the dice, I figure they're Frankie's dice. 

Has John Wes Townley earned a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride? Absolutely not.

But Stoddard has earned the right to put anyone he wants in his race car this weekend, whether we like it or not.

Photo Credits: AP Photo


  1. Golf clap...well put

  2. Looking at the bright side, at least the fans asking for more wrecks will get them!

    I understand that you have to do what you have to do to keep the doors open, but no one is forcing that team to go to the track every week either. If the Wood Brothers can be reasonably successful (only about 120 points behind FAS Lane with half the starts) running a partial schedule, why don't more teams follow suit? My hope is that if we abolish the top 35 system that more teams will not try to overexert themselves to HAVE to run a full season and focus on quality over quantity.

    My .02 at least.

    1. If you don't go to the track every week, there is absolutely no income. It's tough to run a business on no income.

    2. True enough, but there is no one putting a gun to their head to field a Cup car either. Not sure why everyone who turns owners feel it's always necessary to field a Cup operation that is never competitive when the opportunity is there to run Nationwide or Trucks. The answer there is probably a lack of an ability to turn a profit down there (See Germain Racing and KHI) which is something NASCAR should address. If the only way to be cost effective without a sponsor is to show up on Sunday's and start and park rather than develop a team through the existing tier system that is a pretty clear commentary on how bad the existing system is.

      I agree with the below comment on how in the world JWT got signed off to compete this weekend.

      Disagree about a revenue sharing idea though since even top organizations are struggling to turn a profit (i.e. Matt Kenseth with Roush, Kahne at Hendick and Newman with SHR)

    3. My opinion is that the man who pays the fiddler gets to call the tune. If Frank Stoddard wants to field a Cup team, it's his money. You and I have no business telling him what he can (and cannot) do with it.

    4. Agreed. Just a sad state of affairs that these are the economic times we live in.

      At least the world wised up to the Kevin Conway scam.

  3. I typed my comment & then cleared it before posting. I'm conflicted over your final sentence & choosing the right way to respond. NASCAR has apparently certified JWT to race Cup. And like it or not as you say, Frank has hired him to run Pocono. But in a subsequent post, how about some sharp words towards this pitiful committee of NASCAR who has approved drivers such as JWT for Cup and the Cope twins for Nationwide. That is the process flaw here - not Stoddard's decision to take the money and run.

  4. Anonymous3:10 PM

    And this is why baseball has revenue sharing between the haves and the have nots. NO OWNER should ever be put into such a position that he (or she) puts it all on the line because an absolute failure has a man with a sack of gold following him around. And until NASCAR figures out a way to help the bottom 23 every week get more revenue to buy better stuff to put them in contention, all you're going to get is the tams with the most money winning every year. And the standings prove my point, season after season after season.

    Along with a myriad number of other problems NASCAR faces, making the sport competitive without changing the rules every week is the most daunting. And one day NASCAR will figure it out.

    Still a very gruntled fan

    Doug from NJ

  5. Anonymous5:25 PM

    This is the exact thing that makes this "sport", or entertainment, so different from any other. No other sport will allow anyone to buy their way into the most elite top tier. No stick and ball sport, no Olympic sport, no PGA event. No other sport has teams that begin the game, then after a few minutes refuse to finish, ie start and parks. We dont get to see the best competition,or competitors. It is sad to think we pay to see drivers "entertainers" buy their way into the top racing tier.

    1. How do you explain sponsor exemptions in PGA and LPGA golf, where the event sponsor gets a number of spots to give away to players it wants in the field?

    2. Anonymous4:44 PM

      The the sponsor exemption in Nascar would be best defined as the top 35 rule.

    3. I disagree, Mark Cuban is a perfect example. If you have the money you can buy it.

  6. Anonymous7:18 AM

    While I'm pleased for Frank Stoddard, I wonder when John Wes Townley's father is going to realize he's just enabling his son to continue being a failure.

  7. Michael in SoCal10:54 AM

    I think toomuchcountry nailed it on the head... Frank Stoddard, as the team owner, can designate whom he wants to drive his car. It is Nascar's RESPONSIBILITY, as the sanctioning body, to ensure that the drivers are qualified to drive in the respective series, and to that effect, maybe they should publish some minimum qualifications for doing so, including possible a set number of top-20 finishes in a lower tier series before getting moved up a division. JWT has no business driving a Sprint Cup Car.

  8. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Frank Stoddard knows the fans and writers are going to criticize him no matter what he does. With that in mind why shouldn't he take the check and put the kid in the car?

  9. Michael in SoCal - by that standard NASCAR should never have given Danica Patrick a competition license.

  10. Anonymous6:53 PM

    And JWT crashed on his first practice lap. At least this thing will end before someone gets hurt.