Team owners aren't fond of drivers that crash. Team owners aren't fond of drivers that don’t win. Team owners aren't fond of drivers that just aren't performing up to standard and aren’t bringing anything to their company.
That’s why being Nationwide Series driver John Wes Townley is hard.
Townley is only his in second full year of competition and first with team Richard Childress Racing, driving the No. 21 Zaxby’s Chevrolet. The 20-year-old will be the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy, that he's doing his best, and it hurts when he sees what people write about him, mostly criticism.
However, it isn’t unexpected.
Townley has been the butt of many jokes around the NASCAR world. From fans and media alike, they don’t make light of all the races that he’s either crashed in or run poorly. In fact, earlier this year he even picked up a new nickname, Chicken Man, a pun on his sponsor.
Last season when giving SB Nation writer Jeff Gluck a glimpse into what it was like to be John Wes Townley, he revealed, “There’s something I’d really like people to understand, but no matter what I say, it may or may not change it, but I’ll go ahead and say it,” he started off.
“When it comes to people making comments about anyone coming into a new sport and learning in their first year, it’s tough not to criticize because it’s so publicly broadcast,” he said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to ask yourself: What do you love? And the first time you did something, how did that work out for you?”
He then added, “It’s alright to have some time to learn, as long as you better yourself from it in the end.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Townley's learning. Last year he failed to qualify for six races, had 10 DNF’s (Did Not Finish), and was 23rd in points by season end. Many tried to point out that it was due to equipment and people, he needed to get with a better team in order to show many that he wasn’t that driver.
When he came over to RCR this year he brought his sponsor with him, not surprising since it’s the company his father owns and co-founded. That opened up more doors for criticism from those saying he only had a ride, and continues to have a ride because Daddy pays the bills.
Through the first five races of the 2010 season Townley showed that maybe it was equipment when he started qualifying up front and running solid during the race. However, he still hasn’t been able to put together the whole package, he has no top five and no top ten finishes, and an average finish of 22.3.
He sat 17th in points as the series hit the Phoenix International Raceway this past weekend.
On Friday during the NNS first and only practice session for the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200, Townley once again crashed his Chevy. It was a hard hit just 17 minutes into the session. The team was forced to pull out a backup car and a few hours later it was reported that Townley was being replaced by RCR teammate Clint Bowyer.
Following that announcement rumors began to circulate because ESPN’s Jamie Little reported during a later broadcast that Townley had been fired from Richard Childress Racing. No one was able to confirm or deny it as the story changed from one thing to another.
When the NNS went on air later that night the speculation continued about Townley’s future. Former Sprint Cup crew chief Andy Petree may have said it best, RCR isn’t used to having to repair so many cars, they’re used to winning races and championships, and that “I’ll be very surprised if we see Townley back in the 21 car.”
A lot of people would, however they also know that it’s highly unlike since his father’s company is the one on the hood of the car. What would it mean for them?
On Tuesday RCR scheduled to meet with Townley to discuss his future, after already announcing that he would not be in the car for this weekend's race at Texas. However, sources are saying that Townley is not being fired, instead things are being evaluated.
For Townley whether he returns or not it’s a make or break situation.
If he gets another chance he needs to step it up bigger than he already has. Everything is at his disposal to win races and be one of the more serious contenders each week in the NNS. It’s almost a parallel to the situation that Casey Mears found himself in last year.
Mears too was a driver at RCR in the Sprint Cup Series, and he too couldn’t seal the deal and eventually lost his sponsorship. That in turn made him lose his ride. He’s now working with an up-start Sprint Cup team that has only qualified for two races - one with him behind the wheel, the other with Scott Riggs - that just recently announced they would only be running a partial schedule.
If these two drivers can’t get the job done in Childress equipment, what other team is going to pick them up and put them in their car? We’ve already talked about Townley’s habit of bring the car back in multiple pieces, it won't be a selling point.
If John Wes Townley has the talent and Richard Childress Racing has the cars, where does everyone go from here?