- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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Bobby Hamilton Jr. has clearly had a year to forget both on and off the racetrack. But after heading into the offseason wondering if he'd even have a ride in the Nationwide Series for 2008, it appears he'll have one less worry.
A spokesman for Team Rensi Motorsports said Wednesday that an announcement of a sponsor for 30 of the 35 races should be made within a few days. The team will then hope to find sponsorship for the remaining races, or will simply run just 30 events.
A two-car team this past year, Team Rensi will campaign only Hamilton's Ford in '08.
Hamilton just hopes it's a season more rewarding than the one that concluded a month ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Making his return to the Busch Series after a two-season absence, he finished a respectable sixth in points, a result that was highly misleading.
Hamilton posted only three top-10 finishes on the year and led one lap the entire season. His place in the points standings was as much a factor of running the full 35-race schedule as anything, since the series was dominated by Cup drivers.
"It was OK, I guess, we were top 10 in points," Hamilton said at Homestead. "I'm frustrated about all kind of different things. You look at things like sponsors; they don't get TV time enough. You tell NASCAR about it and then, all of a sudden, you get interviews, and then the interviews stop and [the media goes] to the first Cup guy that qualified 29th, crap like that."
The driver mentioned the fact that Team Rensi will field just one Nationwide Series car, while Robert Yates Racing's team for Stephen Leicht is also going out of business. At times, he wonders what the future holds, despite statements from NASCAR officials that the series has a solid future, including a new-style car on tap for 2009.
There is talk of a plan that will keep Cup drivers from receiving points in the Nationwide Series starting in 2009, but Hamilton isn't sure what that will do to help. As he sees it now, Cup drivers have a major advantage simply due to the way things are scheduled.
"They get right out of their Cup cars [from a Saturday practice] and into the Busch car [for qualifying and then the race], and they're all just killing you," Hamilton said. "That's part of it, that's what's dealt to you."
If Hamilton were simply dealing with a lost season, that would be one thing. But his biggest loss came in January before testing even began. That's when his father, former Craftsman Truck Series champion Bobby Hamilton, lost his battle with head and neck cancer.
Things simply haven't been the same for Hamilton Jr. since. And this year, he could have used his father's support a great deal when things were a struggle on the track.
"If I could change it, I would, but I can't," he said. "...You just take what's dealt you and just work with it. That's what we try to do with off-track and on-track [issues]. We haven't had a stellar year by no means as far as finishes, but a ton of 11ths, 12ths and 13ths. If you take away some of those [Cup] guys, you'd have a chance at winning races.
"But at the same time, you have to run against them [in 2008]. I don't know. Whatever's thrown to you, you just try to make the best of it."
That's easier said than done, of course, when it comes to losing a loved one. Hamilton, though, presses on with the same determination that helped his father to a championship as an owner/driver in 2004.
"You ain't got no choice on that one. If I could go back and rewind that one, I would," he said. "Is it supposed to be this way? No. That doesn't sound too fair to me, but no one said [life] is fair.
"But he's not here. Normally, in a lot of circumstances, he could just help walk you through [the tough times], but that don't happen no more. ... I've got several things I could be frustrated about, but you just try to keep your head up and keep digging.
"Every day [that goes by] doesn't make it easier, but you find more and more things to think about other than that. It's just one of those deals, I guess."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.