Will somebody please explain to me this new trend of Formula One drivers coming over to try and race stock cars?
Over the course of this past week, Nelson Piquet Jr., Mika Salo, and Jarno Trulli have all been announced to test with NASCAR teams in hopes of potentially securing rides for 2010 and beyond.
Piquet Jr. is fresh off of the Crashgate scandal that rocked Renault F1. For those not in the know, Piquet Jr. was recently fired as Renault's second driver, behind Fernando Alonso. He then came out with information about a race in 2008 in which he deliberately crashed his car to help Alonso win. Former team boss Flavio Briatore was banned indefinitely from all FIA-sanctioned motor-sports as a result, and if Renault does anything to compromise the integrity of Formula 1 in the next two years, the team will be banned from F1 permanently.
His snitching left him damaged goods in F1, which has historically been dominated by team orders; Piquet hopes to secure a Truck Series ride in 2010. He'll be testing with Red Horse Racing alongside Vitor Meira, an IndyCar Series driver who injured his back in this year's Indianapolis 500 and hasn't raced since.
Meira, for the record, isn't contemplating a NASCAR career. He's just trying to get back in the saddle and run some laps. His IndyCar team, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, doesn't have the resources to run him at their season finale at Homestead this weekend.
Salo and Trulli both have links to Toyota's F1 team; Salo was one of the team's drivers in its inaugural season in 2002, and Trulli has been with the team since the last two races of 2004. Unsurprisingly, they're both testing with Toyota's original flagship team, Michael Waltrip Racing. They'll be running at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida, the week before NASCAR's season finale at Homestead next month.
Rumors continue that Toyota will back out of F1 soon, leaving Trulli without a ride. With many of the new teams on the grid next year expected to be backmarkers, Trulli likely considers NASCAR a better option. Salo has been looking to run a Nationwide Series schedule for a couple of years now.
The question is, why?
Sure, sports car racing may not be as well-funded or popular as NASCAR or F1, but it'd be a much better fit. The types of companies that sponsor sports car teams are the ones more concerned with the racing itself than the marketing, and thus are more concerned with the best drivers. If these drivers are concerned with winning championships, that's their best bet. The glory of Le Mans is also an enticing factor in deciding to run sports cars.
Of all the open-wheel drivers to make the switch in disciplines, only one has seen any measure of success, and that's Juan Montoya. But Jarno Trulli is no Juan Montoya. Hell, Nelson Piquet Jr. is no Jarno Trulli, either — at least Trulli won a race in F1.
That's right, one race. And that's the grand total of victories that those three drivers have accrued in F1. What makes them think NASCAR is going to be any easier?
It seems obvious to me that this latest open-wheel experiment is not going to work. The only way Piquet will ever be successful in a race car again is if he rejoins his father's team in GP2, and Salo and Trulli would make much better sports car drivers. And quite frankly, they deserve better than failed attempts at driving stock cars. I don't think anybody wants to add their names to the list of disastrous experiments: Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, the early stages of A.J. Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr.'s NASCAR careers... need I say more?