KANSAS CITY, Kan. — John Prine once sang, "Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore."
Not that it ever would, by the way. But it’s nice to wave a flag, show your pride in your country, sing the national anthem at sporting events and participate in the process that determines the future of America.
Not even Prine would suggest that your flag decal will prevent you from getting into heaven.
Many NASCAR drivers are nice guys, which is particularly appreciated by those of us who write about stock-car racing for a living. But liking someone and thinking he (or she) is a fine driver are separate issues. Being a nice guy might even give a driver a shot at making it in NASCAR, but it won’t keep him there.
It also helps to make good commercials.
NASCAR fans are a sentimental lot, and they often get upset when a nice driver gets fired. Results are what define staying power, however.
For every Jimmie Johnson who worked his way up through the ranks, building career momentum and developing into a champion, there are at least five who become relegated to the dust bin of history, leaving us occasionally to wonder whatever happened to Blake Feese or Tyler Walker or Nathan Haseleu.
There’s some truth to the notion that some of them don’t get much of a chance, given the current state of the economy and the utter dominance of Sprint Cup drivers who compete in the Nationwide Series because a) they are successful; b) they sell tickets and boost ratings; and c) sponsors like drivers who are successful because they tend to sell more of their products.
Does this Cup domination stunt the growth of young drivers? Almost to a man, they say no, right up to the point where they lose their rides and head for the aforementioned dust bin of history.
But the facts say yes.
Justin Allgaier, one of few Nationwide Series "specialists" (it’s hard to call them regulars when Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Paul Menard are "regulars," too) to win a race this year, is in danger of falling through the ever-widening cracks in the system.
Predictably, the reason is that sponsorship is running out. Allgaier, to borrow that frequent cliche of the unsettled, is "looking at options." He seemed to be the lone breakthrough of the season, the only young driver about whom it could conclusively be said that the future was bright.
The problem Allgaier now faces is that of finding a team strong enough, whether in Nationwide, Sprint Cup or even Camping World Truck, to provide him with a chance to shine.
It’s not going to be easy.
Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston Gazette in North Carolina since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog, http://nascar.rbma.com, features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.