PHOTO: Kevin Conway is just plain awful and doesn’t deserve a spot in NASCAR’s top levels. Am I wrong? (Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)
-by Justin St. Louis
It’s been a slow week here in the northeast. We’ve got a feeling that there will be a few more of those in the next, oh, six months. But there’s something that’s been eating away at me all year. It’s time to talk about it.
Kevin Conway is a waste of space on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series grid. That’s all there is to it.
Conway is 31 and is in his first season of Sprint Cup racing. He started out winning motocross, kart, and Legend car races before moving to Super Late Models, where he had — according to his official biography — “four top-five finishes in his first five starts in the very competitive Big 10 Series” at Concord Motor Speedway in North Carolina. He then moved to ASA for a partial season, picked up a USAC Ford Focus Midget win at South Boston Speedway, and dabbled in ARCA, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and the K&N Pro Series West. He also served eight years as an instructor at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Conway landed sponsor Extenze in 2009 and made a dozen Nationwide starts for three different teams before securing a Cup ride with Front Row Motorsports in 2010. He made 21 starts for Front Row before being fired and subsequently sued by Front Row for non-payment of sponsorship money, and is now in a race-to-race deal with Robby Gordon Motorsports for the rest of the year.
While he usually finishes between 30th and 35th — because he beats the “start-and-park” cars and those involved in wrecks or suffering mechanical failures — Conway is consistently the slowest driver in the field during races, and has an unbelievably horrible average qualifying position of 40.2 through 27 starts.
Conway did not attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 because he was not yet approved by NASCAR to run the 2.5-mile track, and on Thursday night failed to qualify Gordon’s car for Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte.
Following his qualifying run on Thursday, Bob Dillner of SPEED tweeted this comment made by Conway:
Kevin Conway after DNQ: “I just don’t understand why a team w/this good of equipment and great motors and great cars can stink so bad.”
My theory: The problem is between the seat and the steering wheel.
In Conway’s “big-league” stock car career combining all NASCAR and ARCA numbers, he has 57 starts to date. His best five finishes, in order, were 13th in an ARCA race at Atlanta in 2002, seventh in ARCA at Charlotte later that year, fifth in a K&N West race at Auto Club Speedway in 2004, eighth in a K&N race at Irwindale in 2006, and 14th in the Sprint Cup Series at Daytona this July.
Those are his best five finishes over a stretch of eight years, and two of them aren’t even top-tens. Those, again, are facts.
These are also facts: In the 8th-place finish at Irwindale, Conway was a lap down. In the 14th-place finish at Daytona, only 25 cars were running due to a massive wreck that Conway and other backmarkers avoided; finishing in front of Conway that night were Reed Sorenson, Mike Bliss, Scott Speed, Robby Gordon, and Steve Park, for example.
Some more facts: Conway drove seven Nationwide races for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Z-Line Designs team in 2007, with three crashes and a best finish of 20th, one lap down, at Auto Club. That same season, the No. 18 car saw drivers Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart, and Brad Coleman compile five top-five finishes and eight top-tens. Coleman had a pole at Talladega and top-five finishes at Kentucky, Milwaukee, and Watkins Glen, Almirola had a pole at Daytona and a fourth-place finish at Charlotte, and Stewart finished fourth, seventh, and 11th in his three starts.
Four top-five finishes at Concord Motor Speedway and a win in USAC’s fourth-tier division does not a great driver make. Nor does it entitle someone to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride.
Extenze wanted a commercial, and they got one with Kevin Conway. Sales numbers for Conway/Extenze souvenirs are encouraging, and people cheer for the guy because the sponsor gimmicks are salacious and devilishly fun. What’s worse is that Conway will win the Rookie of the Year title this season simply because he’s the only rookie, and the title “CUP ROOKIE OF THE YEAR” is exciting and gives him something more to throw around on his oh-so-extensive resume.
In his tenure at Front Row, Conway was so bad that the team had to rotate the number on his car between 34, 37, and 38 while simultaneously relying on Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland in the other two cars afloat, just to keep Conway and Extenze in a car that was inside the top-35 in owner points and guarantee them a starting spot in every race.
Robby Gordon was so hard up for cash this year that he left his No. 7 seat for Conway to bring Extenze with him — lawsuit and all — into the ride. After five DNFs in six starts with RGM, Gordon finally got back in the primary No. 7 and put Conway in the part-time No. 07 car.
Without a bevy of owner points to fall back on, the 07 doesn’t have the luxury of a provisional, meaning it’s all up to the driver. The result? With Conway in the car for the first time, the 07 has failed to qualify for the first time.
Here’s what I’m getting at: Kevin Conway is an embarrassment to the sport. Anyone can sit in a race car and drive. My mother could do it. Hell, I did it for five years.
But it takes talent to be fast, and it should take a lot of talent to deserve a ride in Cup.
The following winning Vermont drivers had more wins in 2010 alone than Conway has had in his entire stock car career: ALL OF THEM.
I mean, seriously. What is the problem here?
I don’t have an answer. I just know that what’s happening is wrong.
AROUND THE REGION:
Time to take a look at the Vermont racing scene from the past week…
ACT Late Model Tour: Brian Hoar of Williston finished second at Waterford Speedbowl on Sunday with Joey Laquerre of East Montpelier fourth. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., of Hudson, N.H., was the winner. Hoar was the series champion for the seventh time.
ACT Tiger Tour: Tony Rossi of Peacham won the season finale at Riverside Speedway last Saturday. Tom Therrien of Hinesburg finished second, followed by Bradford’s Derrick O’Donnell, Brendan Moodie of North Wolcott, and Eric Badore of Milton. Jaosn Bonnett of St. Albans beat Therrien by one point for the series championship.
Big Daddy’s Speedbowl (Rumney, N.H.): Kevin Chaffee of Orange was Saturday’s Sportsman Modified runner-up behind Chris Donnelly.
Modified Racing Series: Ascutney drivers Dwight and Joey Jarvis finished 12th and 23rd, respectively, at Seekonk Speedway on Sunday. Jon McKennedy of East Chelmsford, Mass., was the winner.
Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Brett Wheeler of Northfield finished third on Sunday, with Jeremy LaCoss of Lyndonville eighth. Lorin Vear of Waterford was sixth in the Street Stock race with St. Johnsbury’s Doug Duprey ninth and Billy Hennequin of Morrisville tenth. Brendan Gray of East Thetford was third in the Youth Daredevil race.
Waterford Speedbowl (Waterford, Conn.): Nick Sweet of Barre won last Saturday’s Allison Legacy Series event with Emily Packard of East Montpelier fourth.
Saturday, Oct. 16
Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. — 12:00pm (Fall Challenge)
Sunday, Oct. 17
Riverside Speedway, Groveton, N.H. — 1:00pm (Frost Bite Enduro 250/PASS Sportsman finale)
Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. — 12:00pm (Fall Challenge/Modified Racing Series/Northeast Mini Stock Tour)
Modified Racing Series: Sun., Oct. 17 — Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. (12:00pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sat., Oct. 16 — Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C. (ABC/7:30pm)
Pro All Stars Series: Sat., Oct. 16 — Newport Speedway, Newport Tenn. (5:15pm)