Name change secondary to big names

Jane Miller

As the Busch Series celebrated its champions this weekend, talk turned not only to the series' new sponsor, Nationwide, but to the ongoing debate on the number of Cup drivers racing in NASCAR's No. 2 series.

Busch, or Nationwide, regulars have become resentful of Cup drivers dominating their events. Cup drivers say they enjoy driving racing on Saturdays and want all the on-track experience they can get during a weekend.

It's a thorny issue, one which NASCAR chairman Brian France says will be addressed, possibly as soon as 2009.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage weighed in on the subject Thursday, saying: 'If the Nationwide Series wants to run in front of big crowds, on national television and run for big purses, you have to have names people recognize and want to see.

'The people in the Nationwide Series need to decide if they want to be a major-league series like they are now or go back to being a minor-league series. If they want to be major league, they have to have names that will cause people to buy tickets and television networks to broadcast their races.'

BACK TO BUSINESS:

Never has a preseason IndyCar test ??gotten so much national attention.

Dancing With the Stars champ Helio Castroneves got back in a race car Thursday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, followed by cameras from various entertainment news programs tracking his every move.

While it's great that there is such interest in Castroneves, which will in turn bring more attention to the series, it's a little creepy to see his personal life splashed all over the news on a daily basis.

This is going to be an interesting season.

Castroneves is winding up some DWS business this weekend and will join the tour for a few dates before getting back to racing business full-time.

The IndyCar season starts March 29 at Homestead.

WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT:

Speaking of drivers' personal lives, here's a happy announcement from the John Force Racing camp.

NHRA rookie of the year Ashley Force became engaged on her 25th birthday, which was Nov. 29. Her fiance is Danny Hood, who is familiar to fans of the family's reality show, Driving Force. Since he will soon be part of the family, Hood has been hired by JFR.

RETIRED AGAIN:

Kenny Bernstein is stepping away from driving duties for the third time in his career, making room for Tommy Johnson Jr. to join his Funny Car team.

Johnson lost his sponsor at Don Prudhomme Racing and was given permission to look for other opportunities.

According to nhra.com, Bernstein was only planning to drive one more year anyway, and when Johnson became available, he decided to make the move a year early.

CHILI BOWL ON TV:

One of my favorite events of the early season is the Chili Bowl, a multi-night Midget extravaganza in Tulsa, Okla. Last year's race was won by Tony Stewart, and entrants include well-known names from many racing series.

This year's Jan. 12 finals will be broadcast live on HBO pay-per-view, similar to the Prelude to the Dream telecast from Eldora Speedway this summer.

Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. Write her at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3207 or e-mail jmiller@pjstar.com.?