Milka Duno Getting A Ride is What’s Wrong in NASCAR
I’m sure that you’ve heard the big news from early this week. No, not about the Army National Guard cutting both their NASCAR sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and their IndyCar sponsorship of Graham Rahal following this season. I’m talking about the news about Milka Duno signing a deal to drive in “select” NASCAR Nationwide Series races for RAB Racing (though very few details were provided).
Naturally, the team hyped up the signing as much as they could. One of my favorite lines from the team’s announcement on their website include calling Duno a “multiple race-winning driver” which, while technically true is rather laughable when you look into how she won (I’ll go over those wins shortly).
You have to love though how RAB Racing talked about Duno running IndyCar and ARCA over the last few seasons… with no mention of her results from either of those endeavors (I’ll give you a hint… they’re bad. Really, really bad).
Hyping up a 7th place finish in the points in a series such as ARCA, where only 8 drivers (including 79-year-old James Hylton) ran every race is pretty laughable, especially when that 7th place points finish was still behind someone that missed a race. So she got a pole at Talladega… and then crashed and finished 29th.
In 47 ARCA starts, she’s managed 4 lead lap finishes: 1 at Talladega in 2011, 1 at Toledo in 2011 (where nearly 80 laps- 39%- of the race were run under caution), 1 at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2012, and the rain-shortened 2013 Kansas race. Not exactly impressive. But even a 4-for-47 record in ARCA beats her IndyCar record, where she has a grand total of 0 lead lap finishes in 43 races. That’s right, 0. Not a single one. Hell, in IndyCar she even garnered the distinction of getting put on probation because she was a hazard on track. That’s not a joke (though it should be): Milka Duno was so slow in her one full IndyCar season that series officials put her on probation for being too slow.
Even Milka Duno’s Victories in Sportscars Sometimes Somehow Feel Like Losses
“But wait!” her supporters say. What about her 8 wins in sports car racing? Surely, those have to be worth something! Well, okay. She garnered 8 victories between the old Grand-Am Series (3) and the American Le Mans Series (5) in a combined 64 starts between 2000 and 2004. She went 3-for-44 in Grand-Am while going a more impressive 5-for-20 in ALMS. But let’s look at those wins, shall we?
Grand-Am. I’ll start with the more impressive victories. 3 wins, 2 in 2004 and 1 in 2005. In 2004, while teamed with Andy Wallace, Milka Duno managed to win both races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2005, teamed with Wallace and Jan Lammers, Milka Duno was part of the race-winning team at the 6 Hours of Mont-Tremblant. I actually will give Duno some credit here, as you have to be at least somewhat competent to run endurance races in a sports car and be competitive. So she had a flash of competence behind the wheel a decade ago. Congrats! That really doesn’t make up for the 9 seasons between her last victory and now, full to the brim of all of her awfulness does it?
ALMS. You would think that 4 wins and 6 podiums in 7 starts in the 2001 season would be impressive. It is, to a point. Let’s break down Milka Duno’s 5 ALMS victories. First up, the 2001 season.
For 2001, Milka Duno co-piloted an LMP675, in a class that only had more than 3 entries in one of Duno’s “victories” at the Petit Le Mans season finale. In the X-Factor Grand Prix of Sonoma, Duno and her co-pilots, John Graham and Didier de Rodiques, won their class… which had 1 entry. This sort of sets the tone for the other victories.
At the Grand Prix of Portland, the trio scored another class victory. At this this time they had competition, when a second LMP675 was entered.
At Laguna Seca, Duno and Rodiques teamed for a 3rd class victory, ahead of two more LMP675 entries. To make this truly Duno-esque, the class victory came via an overall finish of 26th out of 29 entries while competing only 48 of 120 laps…. Yeah.
Again though, I’ll give her some credit when it comes to the two victories at the Petit Le Mans in 2001 and 2004, as those actually take some competence to achieve.
So Who is At Fault Here?
While it’s easy enough to blame RAB Racing- and since they’re the ones that agreed to the deal, they certainly share the majority of the blame. But if the Nationwide Series-only teams had a hope of competing against the Cup stars that run 20+ races a year in Cup equipment with Cup crews manning the cars every week, maybe teams like RAB Racing wouldn’t have to resort to signing drivers of Milka Duno’s “quality” (and I use that term very loosely) just to make sure that their bills were paid.
NASCAR can share in this blame, since they absolutely refuse to make a rule that limits Cup drivers from running in Trucks/Nationwide. No one is calling for an outright ban (at least, no one competent), but instead many fans are simply asking for a restriction on how many races a driver running for Cup points can run in Nationwide/Trucks in a single season. A limit of 10 races is more than fair, and would mean that a team like Joe Gibbs Racing could still have their car that uses just Cup guys in the majority of races, while limiting just how dominant these teams would be. No one would complain if Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, or Joey Logano still ran 7-10 races a year. But when Cup teams with Cup drivers are dominating (although yes, this year, JR Motorsports is doing really well as a not-exactly-a-Cup-team-though-they-definitely-have-a-Cup-team-affiliation team), it becomes more and more difficult for the less fortunate independent teams to pay the bills.
NASCAR cut the field to 40 cars a couple years ago in hopes of limiting the start-and-park problem and increasing the quality of Nationwide fields, and that move has so far done very little to actually fix anything, except to create short fields.
The Bottom Line
As long as teams like RAB Racing are unable to compete for wins in Nationwide, and are struggling to pay the bills that are associated with simply maintaining some semblance of competitiveness in the series, more deals like this one with Milka Duno will happen. And when these things happen, no one really wins. Unfortunately, talent gets cast aside for who can bring the biggest check to the team.
Just wait for the uproar if Duno somehow qualifies on speed for a race (assuming some deal isn’t made for her to be locked into the field… *shudder*) and then takes out a driver competing for a race win or, even worse, the championship. If the uproar over Morgan Shepherd wrecking Joey Logano at Loudon a few weeks ago was loud, Duno wrecking a championship contender when she doesn’t belong on the track will cause an uproar that can be heard in space.