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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Morgan Shepherd, Brian Keselowski are good surprises in predictable Nationwide series

When the year started in the Nationwide Series, and it became known that both Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch would complete full series runs in both Cup and Nationwide, there was little doubt among fans of the sport that this once exciting series would once again become a playground for Cup stars battling for titles they don’t need … and Busch or Edwards would become the Nationwide champ.

But if you look a little further down in the standings, there are stories worth following in the series. It appears some Nationwide drivers will at least provide some competition for the Cup interlopers, most notably Brendan Gaughan, Rusty Wallace’s new driver this year, and the young but impressive Justin Allgaier, who looked at times like he had a car that could win on Saturday in Vegas.

Then there are the underdog success stories that serve as inspiration for anyone considering an attempt at a full season in this series. Most notably, the nearly 70-year-old Morgan Shepherd and the up-and-coming Michigan-based driver Brian Keselowski are both achieving a level of success that makes it hard to believe they’re doing it with just a handful of family and close friends.

Prior to the season starting, Brian told me his goals were to shoot for top 15 finishes, make all the races and reach the top 30 in the point standings so he’d be guaranteed a spot in future races. After three races, while he still has a couple more weeks where he’ll have to qualify on speed, Keselowski has lived up to those expectations, having gotten finishes of 25th, 29th and 19th. At Vegas this weekend, he managed to stay out of trouble on a day it seemed half the competitors forgot how to drive and a record number of laps were run under yellow.

The most amazing statistic: Brian sits 23rd in points, just one position (and exactly 1 point) behind his brother Brad, who drives a car that is fully sponsored, is tended to by a garage full of mechanics, and is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick. Meanwhile, Brian has almost no sponsor support and went down to Daytona to start the season with just his father, his uncle and a few guys working for them. He may not be running in the top 5, but just reaching this level is an impressive achievement for Brian. If he can manage to make the next two races and stay clear of trouble, he’ll get that guaranteed starting spot and be able to breathe easier on qualifying day the rest of the year.

Not too shabby, I must say.

Meanwhile, an even bigger success so far this year is Morgan Shepherd, who was racing cars long before Brian Keselowski was even born. He is a former Cup star who was born in 1941, yet still has the racing bug and has no plans of quitting despite his advanced age. He also operates his own team, with a little help from family and friends, but nowhere near the support the big teams have each week. If you walk by his area in the garage, you’ll usually see his head under the engine, not an employee. That’s how it goes when you only have a few people working for you.

So where did Morgan finish Saturday in Vegas? -- 13th. That follows up a 19th place finish at California. In the points, he has climbed now to 19th place. Even if he struggles the next couple weeks, he’ll still have a shot at making the top 30 and getting that guaranteed spot. When Shepherd starting running in the series, many thought he was content to just ride around and relive his glory days. But this year has shown that Shepherd is no slouch on the race track, even though he’s racing against competitors up to 50 years younger than him. He is not just making laps … he’s battling just as hard as everyone else on the track, and working harder than all of them back in the garage.

Everyone should take the time to root for drivers like Shepherd and Keselowski in the Nationwide Series, as it gives you something to do besides watch Cup drivers like Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards dominate in a series where they really don’t belong. These underdogs put everything into their race teams, and it’s a very good thing when they finally achieve some solid results despite the odds they face.


Anonymous Richard in N.C. said...

I enjoyed your article, especially about Morgan - glad to see he's getting some recognition. However, there's a lot more you could have said about Morgan, like his rollerskating and the Cup drivers like Tony S. and Kevin H. who have given him a hand out of respect for all he's accomplished. Thank you.

March 2, 2009 at 7:24 PM 
Anonymous Trenton Green said...

my dads half owner and the shops in my back yard. Brian and Bob and the rest of the workers work from 9 am to ussauly 6 or 7 pm and anyone that says racing isnt expenseve they are wrong .

April 3, 2009 at 8:45 AM 

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