For those who would like to see NASCAR’s Nationwide Series be something more than mostly Cup Lite, there was a bit of encouraging news last week.
Independent Nationwide car owners Robby Benton and Brack Maggard, the guys who pulled off a major upset when they won at Montreal this past season with Boris Said driving their No. 09 entry, appeared to have gained much of the stability they’ve been seeking. Their RAB Racing team has signed veteran Kenny Wallace to drive their car, which will be a Toyota next year. And that manufacturer alliance also means they’ll have more resources to pull from, including some possible information sharing with the Nationwide teams owned by Wallace’s brother Rusty.
Plus, there are sponsors already in place for many of the upcoming races, something RAB often didn’t have this past season.
The latest step comes on the heels of a season where Benton and Maggard recovered – but struggled in doing so – from the loss of their primary sponsor from 2009. Back then, Georgia-based Zaxby’s was sponsoring the car and John Wes Townley, the son of Zaxby’s co-founder Tony Townley, was doing the driving.
But Zaxby’s and the Townleys took their money to Richard Childress Racing, leaving Bentonand Maggard to regroup. The team started the season with veteran Scott Riggs as their driver. In an interview back at Daytona in February, Riggs said that when he was first contacted by RAB, he expected to find a team in disarray. Instead he saw a shop with well-prepared race cars and owners with a real feel for the sport.
But the 2010 season for RAB was one in which there was little stability. The team used 14 different drivers, including Townley again for a bit.
Still, there was the victory at Montreal, making Benton and Maggard the first independent owners to win a Nationwide race since David Gilliland won in Clay Andrews’ Chevrolet at Kentucky in 2006.
Now comes more stability. The popular Wallace has competed in more than 800 events in NASCAR’s top-three divisions, including 488 Nationwide Series starts with nine wins, 10 poles, 63 top-five and 159 top-10 finishes. In 2011, he can become only the second driver in series history to reach 500 career starts.
“I’ve been nervous since the final 2010 Nationwide Series race at Homestead trying to find the right fit for next year and now I can finally sleep at night,” Wallace said in a team release. “My goal was to find a team with whom I could be competitive, and I believe I have found that with RAB Racing. I’m ready to go for 2011. I have known Robby [Benton] and watched him grow his team for the past few years.
“The relationship with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) is huge and will allow me to be able to work with at least three other Toyota teams, including my brother Rusty [Wallace] and gain valuable information that will help us with the Nationwide program at RAB Racing next year.”
Benton, who like Maggard once drove in the ARCA series, said in the same statement that he’s proud to be moving forward.
“We’ve made significant changes at RAB Racing over the last few months in an effort to elevate our program,” he said. “Our alliance with Toyota, the relationship we have with TRD and now adding Kenny to the mix, will bring some depth to our program.
“It also helps tremendously having a driver with Kenny’s notoriety. People love him, and hopefully we’ll be able to reinvigorate his fan base.”
Sponsors include the University of Northwestern Ohio, Federated Auto Parts and Family Farmers, a coalition of corn and soybean farmers, but the car is currently unsponsored for 18 races.
“We have a lot going on within our marketing department right now,” Benton said. “I feel pretty confident about having all 34 races sold before the Daytona event in February.”
Rick Minter is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1991 covering motorsports as well as serving as a bureau chief. From 2000-2008 Minter focused on racing exclusively, traveling the NASCAR circuit as the paper’s motorsports writer. Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.