NASCAR wants more international drivers in the field ... How about more road courses first?
This past week, it was announced that Anthony Kumpen, the reigning NASCAR Euro champion is coming to the United States in hopes of furthering his stock car career.
The 36-year-old Belgian has a notable endurance racing resume and will make three starts in the Xfinity Series as part of an initiative to get more Europeans into the top divisions of NASCAR.
Balancing too much and too few
While I believe NASCAR should maintain a majority of homegrown Americans in the field, it's definitely prudent to go out and try to recruit some international flavor. Just don't end up with a situation similar to what IndyCar is going through at the moment where they are desperate for Americans to be more prominent in their primarily North American racing series.
Only four race winners in the history of NASCAR's Cup Series represented countries outside of the United States and one was Canadian Earl Ross. Mario Andretti's Daytona 500 triumph counted towards Italy (he also has dual citizenship in the US).
The other two are actually very recent - Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya who has since jumped ship over to IndyCar and Australian Marcos Ambrose who has gone back home to V8 Supercars. That leaves no international names in the NASCAR Sprint Cup field for 2015 - not one. 63 drivers have started one of the 15 races this year and all are US-born. Xfinity has just one full-time driver from Mexico (Daniel Suarez) and the Trucks have Canadian Cameron Hayley.
Branching outside of this continent would be a bit too expensive for some of the teams, so what would be a viable alternative to attract more Europeans, South Americans, Australians, and even Asians to the sport? Programs similar to what is bringing Kumpen over are a good start, as is the entire idea of a European ladder series.
More road courses will bring in more international stars
But what NASCAR needs more of are road courses. Let's just take the incontrovertible fact that they are without a doubt the best races of the season (more often than not) and focus on the other points I have.
No other professional motorsport has such a focus on ovals as NASCAR does. When you're on the other side of the pond and curious about what is beyond the Atlantic, you're more than likely going to want to stay away from ovals because they aren't what you're know and they seem to be headache for all those unfamiliar who try to get acquainted with them. Even accomplished GP2 driver Stefano Coletti is having trouble adjusting to ovals on the IndyCar side.
And I'm sure watching the likes of Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya struggle for results doesn't make it that enticing either. NASCAR has just two road courses on the schedule. Even with just two, go take a look at some of the names that have dropped by for those events in past years.
Nelson Piquet Jr. (Brazil), Jacques Villeneuve (Canada), Max Papis (Italy), Andy Pilgrim (England), Jan Magnussen (Denmark), Mattias Ekstrom (Sweden), Marc Goossens (Belgium), Owen Kelly (Australia)
The above names are just a handful of those who have competed at Watkins Glen and Sonoma over the past few years. In that group of very well known racers is a Formula 1 World Champion, a Corvette factory driver and a German Touring Car superstar.
A difficult task, but a necessary change
It's difficult to change the Sprint Cup schedule, I know. I'm not ignorant to the stranglehold ISC and SMI have over their respective factions but if they and NASCAR as a whole want this sport to thrive internationally, this is a wise place to start.
Adding more road course events would give more character and more excitement to the Sprint Cup calendar and if past years are any indication, more international flare as well.