SPARTA — When it was announced NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series would be using the Car of Tomorrow full time in 2008, many Nationwide Series regulars breathed a sigh of relief.
Gone, they thought, were the days when Cup regulars routinely filled their fields and collected the majority of wins. With no key car knowledge to be gained, the extra effort would hardly be worth it.
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But despite the difference between the two cars, the presence of Cup regulars has remained steadfast on the Nationwide circuit this season.
Turns out, those who thought the Cup drivers were just in it for the expertise underestimated their competitive nature.
“I just really like racing,” said Cup star and defending Nationwide champion Carl Edwards. “Most of the drivers out here started racing because we wanted to race. It wasn't a lucrative endeavor so ... to be able to race in another series is fun.
“I do it for fun because it's definitely not helping me with the COT at all. They're just so different.”
Edwards was one of five Cup regulars in the field for Saturday's Meijer 300 along with Cup points leader Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and David Reutimann.
Although Nationwide regular Brad Keselowski earned the latest series triumph at Nashville last weekend, Cup drivers have accounted for 13 wins in 15 races this year.
“You know, it's kind of like why not (enter)?,” said Bowyer, who leads the Nationwide standings. “Most of the time we're there anyway.
“Time off is a big issue, people like a little bit of time off. But for me, I'm a racer, I've got an awesome team and it's another opportunity to go out and have fun.”
Count Nationwide driver Brad Coleman among those who are less than shocked at Toyota's overwhelming success this season.
After struggling through its first season in the Cup and Nationwide Series a year ago, Toyota has been the dominant player on both scenes this year with five Cup wins and 10 Nationwide wins to date.
While many were quick to criticize the manufacturer's slow learning curve a year ago, Coleman knew the resource-rich operation wouldn't be at their foes' mercy for long.
“When they came in last year, I knew they were sandbagging a little bit,” said Coleman, who is scheduled to run seven Cup races this year in a Toyota for Hall of Fame Racing. “In the truck series, they were a little slow the first year, but ... by the next year they were winning championships.
“They're probably going to win a Cup championship this year. They're stepping up their program big-time.”
Pitino starts race
NASCAR is used to having drivers that invoke strong reactions, but the most polarizing figure at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday might have been the race's honorary starter.
University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino had the honor of signaling the start of the Meijer 300 by waving the green flag Saturday evening.
Pitino famously guided the University of Kentucky to a national title in 1996.
“We'll be honored to welcome coaching legend Rick Pitino to Kentucky Speedway for our Meijer 300 event,” Kentucky Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Mark Cassis said. “His success both on and off the court has been earned and well-documented.”