Thursday, July 10, 2003

Series' reminder: We are NASCAR, too

Winston Cup, Busch series overshadow the Craftsman Trucks

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bobby Hamilton, the veteran driver who has raced at nearly all levels of NASCAR, recalls interesting signs earlier this year at a race at Darlington Speedway as he headed for his Craftsman Truck Series team garage.

"The signs said 'Craftsman Truck Series' one direction," Hamilton said. "And 'NASCAR' the other direction. Well, we are NASCAR."

That's what Hamilton and other NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers want fans around the nation to know. NASCAR is more than just Winston Cup. The Craftsman Truck Series is sanctioned by NASCAR, just as the Busch Series and Winston Cup circuits are. The Craftsman Trucks rank third in stature.

"They have the same problem with the Busch Series," said NASCAR spokesman Owen Kearns, who added that many casual fans tend to attribute the NASCAR name only to Winston Cup level racing. "Branding (the Craftsman Truck Series) as part of NASCAR is important."

The Craftsman Truck Series got some help this year and for years to come by agreeing to a four-year television deal with Speed Channel that will make CTS races the premier event on the channel. In years past, the trucks were broadcast on ESPN, where they were overshadowed by other sports. The Speed Channel will show 16 CTS races this season, including Saturday's Built Ford Tough 225 at Kentucky Speedway.

Next season, NASCAR will be forced to advertise the name of its top series heavily when Winston Cup becomes Nextel Cup. That may further notify fans that NASCAR is more than just Winston Cup-level racing.

Most fans, however, are just getting used to the Craftsman Truck Series. Winston Cup has been around since 1949, and the Busch Series, originally the NASCAR Sportsman Division, got its start in 1950. Not only do the trucks look completely different than the cars, but NASCAR did not begin racing them until 1995. Now the series has become an integral part of the development of Winston Cup drivers who often jump to the Busch Series or Winston Cup. In fact, Kentucky Speedway has yet to have a defending champion return to race the truck race, because champion drivers tend to move up quickly.

"People just get confused," said Brendan Gaughan, second in the truck standings. "The question I get asked the most is, 'Do you want to get to NASCAR?' They are confused and think it's only Winston Cup. My first response is usually, 'Yeah, I'm trying to get to Winston Cup.' Some days, though, you try to take the time and educate fans that we are part of NASCAR. Nextel will help us. Maybe people will realize that NASCAR is NASCAR and not just Winston Cup."


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