FONTANA, Calif. -- Whether you believe television ratings, attendance figures or the exodus of drivers from the open-wheeled division to stock cars, one thing is clear: NASCAR's second tier, the Busch Series, has lapped its rivals from the Championship Auto Racing Teams and Indy Racing League circuits.
Recent ratings prove the Busch Series, considered a training ground for the wildly popular Winston Cup Series, has evolved into the second-most popular motorsports circuit in the nation.
For example, the Busch Series race at the Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on March 16 were drew a cable television rating of 1.5 on FX. Six days earlier, the season-opening CART race at Monterrey, Mexico, drew a rating of .53 on the Speed Channel.
According to figures released by Fox and NBC sports, nearly 45 million fans watch Busch Series races on television.
Need more proof?
Casey Mears, Roberto Guerrero, Larry Foyt and Christian Fittipadli, drivers with lineage to open-wheeled racing, are all in the Busch Series. Mears, the nephew of CART star Rick Mears, and Foyt, the son of legendary CART driver A.J. Foyt, are full-time drivers on the junior circuit. Guerrero, a former CART driver, and Fittipaldi, nephew of former CART champion Emerson Fittipaldi, are forming Busch Series teams.
''This is my third year in stock cars, and I must admit that I am quite happy, and I know that I still have to chance to race at the speedway that became an icon for me during my youth,'' the younger Foyt said. ''However, it will be in a stock car (in the Winston Cup Series' Brickyard 400) rather than an IndyCar.''
NEW SERIES ON TRAC: The Team Racing Auto Circuit announced plans Wednesday to run at least 10 races in 2003 at racetracks that already play host to NASCAR Winston Cup Series events.
The new series, which will use cars more familiar to road racing in a stock car format, is supposed to be a way for more race teams and drivers to break into the sport, without the costs of sustaining a Winston Cup Series effort.
TRAC races will be Saturday, while most Winston Cup events are Sunday. ESPN and ABC have expressed an interest in broadcasting the series.
The cars Dodge Vipers, Chevrolet Corvettes and Ford Mustangs will be built by Riley & Scott, a leading supplier to sports car circuits.
Plans call for 10 races involving 30 drivers. Ten cities will have teams of six drivers: three full-time drivers and three replacements. Standings will rank the overall performance of a team, not an individual driver.
The series will require an original investment of $11 million. For that, a team gets $2.5 million worth of cars and haulers, $2.5 million worth of equity in the league and $6 million for territorial operating rights.
The five cities already on the TRAC schedule are Atlanta; Bristol, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; Fort Worth, Texas; and Las Vegas. Each raceway, all owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., will hold two races, although TRAC president Jon Pritchett said it already is looking to expand.
While no dates were announced, it's expected Atlanta will hold races in April and September. The raceway also has Winston Cup dates in March and October.
IRL PASSES ON PENSKE: The Indy Racing League won't allow Penske Cars to manufacture race cars for the open-wheeled circuit in 2003.
The IRL, which was developed as a protest to CART, has lured most of the top teams over to its side. What has attracted teams over to IRL is its premier event, the Indianapolis 500, and its control on costs. Part of that control is limiting which manufacturers can build cars and engines.
''The league appreciates the valuable contribution that Team Penske has made to the IRL during its first season as a full-time participant,'' said Brian Barnhart, IRL vice president.
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.
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