|Townley has struggled mightily|
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