Filling The Void

NASCAR's efforts to revitalize the troubled short track racing world got a shot in the arm this year with the creation of the Busch East and AutoZone West divisions.

The two regional touring circuits were among the last ones standing when the sanctioning body decided to streamline its grassroots racing efforts. NASCAR eliminated the four regional "super late model" circuits - the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and Northwest tours - which had been mismanaged down to only a shadow of their former selves.

NASCAR put its focus on the next evolution of what was known as the Grand National divisions, splitting the country in two and creating a pair of circuits with identical rules.

Chief among the new concept was the introduction of the composite body-style car as well as a spec engine, both introduced to lower the initial cost of fielding a team.

With a solid schedule in place for both tours, including a couple combination events when East meets West, the new Grand National era embarked on its maiden voyage in 2007.

So far, it's been a success.

Healthy car counts have been reported on both tours with this past weekend's combo events at Minnesota's Elko Speedway and the new Iowa Speedway drawing 40-plus entries.

An exciting crop of future stars is also being developed with several top notch NEXTEL Cup operations using the series as a place to develop drivers.

That was once the job of the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series, but NASCAR's second and third divisions don't have that cache for a variety of reasons any longer, mostly ruined because of the high costs and Cup teams' dominance in each.

Hopefully that won't trickle down to the new Grand National level, where names like Joey Lagano, Sean Caisse and Jesus Hernandez have excelled and caught the eye of many as possible Cup drivers of the future.

There's also a television package for these two tours, but it's unfortunately on the little-seen HDNET, which does feature high definition telecasts with some great production values.

The events are run on a tape-delayed, edited version about two or three weeks later on SPEED. But in the network's usual dumb fashion, they're buried in the middle of the day on Wednesdays, rather than airing when people could actually see some good racing say in a prime time slot during the week? Can't lose more exciting episodes of "Unique Whips" or "Chop Cut Rebuild." Or heaven-forbid less Rutledge.

The stock car ladder used to start at the weekly tracks, move to the ASA, then up to the Busch Series and eventually into the NEXTEL Cup Series.

But things have changed dramatically in just the last five years.

With the demise of the ASA National Tour and the Busch Series' evolution to Cup Lite, the road to the top had a few potholes.

Hooters Pro Cup and the two new Grand National circuits seem like the new stopovers for talented young drivers to work their way to NASCAR's premier division.

It's exciting to see such a huge void finally being filled.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2007

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