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The Frontstretch Five: Ways to Effectively Limit Cup Drivers in Other Series
(Credit: CIA)

The Frontstretch Five: Ways to Effectively Limit Cup Drivers in Other Series

Welcome to the Frontstretch Five, a brand-new column for 2014! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers, and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things, and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy has five ways NASCAR could compromise on the issue of Sprint Cup Series drivers running in other series.

Stenhouse earned two Nationwide Series championships before moving to the Cup Series. Did Cup Series drivers help or hurt his development? (Credit: CIA)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned two Nationwide Series championships before moving to the Cup Series. Did Cup Series drivers help or hurt his development? (Credit: CIA)

It’s a fine line NASCAR is walking with drivers participating in multiple series. On one hand, there is a group of fans  that does go to Nationwide or Camping World Truck series races to see what the  Sprint Cup stars will do, and there is a benefit to the young drivers in those series when they have the chance to race the best in the sport. On the other hand, it does get tiresome when the same Cup drivers, with more money and experience than their series-regular counterparts, win the lion’s share of the races, and many fans have said that they have lost interest and no longer watch those series because of the predictability and the Cup drivers taking over. What, then, is NASCAR to do? It’s clear they don’t want to ban drivers from other series, and maybe they shouldn’t do that. But there are some ways that the trophy-hunting could be reduced.

1. Last-place prize money.

Last-place money in the Nationwide Series is a pittance. It’s even worse in the Truck Series. Last week at Mid-Ohio, 39th-place Roger Reuse netted $11,475 after succumbing to transmission issues early and finishing last. In the CWTS race at Michigan, Caleb Roark finished a bottom-of-the-barrel 29th and won $8,750 for his efforts. (Comparatively, Kyle Larson won more than $80,000 for finishing 43rd in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.)

Last-place money in the lower series doesn’t even always cover a team’s tire bill. At approximately $1800 a set, even with the six-set limit, tire costs alone are roughly $10,600 per race. That’s not very lucrative for a driver who can’t earn points in a series. If all drivers racing for Cup points and their teams were awarded the same amount as the last-place driver would have gotten, the remaining prize money could be redistributed to the regulars, which would help those teams on a weekly basis.

It’s likely that the Cup car owners would pick and choose their entries more carefully if they knew that they would be in the red for those races. The drivers probably wouldn’t be all that enthusiastic, either, since their cut would be negligible. Many teams would likely pick and choose a few races a year that were important to them, but not run so many races with the Cup stars, because the bankroll would suffer if they did.

2. No owner points.

Right now, drivers are only eligible for points in one NASCAR series, but car owners can accrue points in any series with any driver. That means that they can compete for a championship as an owner, and some owners have done that, even at the expense of their full-time Nationwide teams. The media does talk about the owner’s title in these series, especially in Nationwide, so that’s exposure for sponsors and incentive for both them and the owners to keep the Cup guys in the cars as often as possible. Take that away by allowing car owners to accrue points only if the driver of the car is also eligible for series points, and suddenly, there’s not such a compelling reason to put the Cup guys in the car.  Better yet, combine this one with the last-place money rule, and Cup driver participation would most likely become an occasional thing at tracks where they genuinely want a little more experience.

3. Even better, don’t let them drive for the same owner.

If NASCAR created a rule that didn’t allow drivers to run with the same owners in lower series (and there would need to be a way to close loopholes like naming the crew chief’s wife as car owner), it could potentially solve some of the problems with the practice as it is today. It was often the case that a Cup driver would sign on with a local car owner to run a Nationwide or Truck race or two at nearby tracks, and that was the kind of participation that fans once enjoyed from the Cup stars. They could help a small-time owner out, have some fun, make some fans happy by signing a few autographs, and be competitive without being ridiculously dominant with a combination of superior equipment and much more money. If that was the case again, it’s likely that fans would warm up to the Cup drivers in the field, and the youngsters would still have the benefit of racing them, but on much more equal ground. It could create a win-win situation for all involved

4. Limit the number of total races in a season.

Instead of limiting a driver to one series or another, an easy solution to cutting back the extracurricular activities could also mean limiting a driver to a set number of races a year across NASCAR’s national touring series. If, for example, a NASCAR license covered 50 points-paying races in any one year, it would limit the Cup drivers to 14 races in other series, which would allow their participation while ending the year-long dominance. It would also allow Nationwide or Truck series drivers moving up to Cup a few races to get their feet wet in the higher series while remaining eligible for Rookie of the Year honors. It’s perhaps the simplest

Larson likes to run the occasional Nationwide or Truck Series race to gain some experience.   Would a rule like this hurt or help his development? (Credit: CIA)

Larson likes to run the occasional Nationwide or Truck series race to gain some experience. Would a rule like this hurt or help his development? (Credit: CIA)

solution, and it has potential to work fairly well.

5. More stand-alone races

Finally, a long-term solution could lie in revamping the Nationwide and Truck series schedules. Those series were both meant to be short-track-based series, running smaller tracks than Cup as a means to develop drivers and cater to drivers who preferred to make a career outside the Cup ranks running the smaller tracks. The series used to thrive at tracks from Myrtle Beach to Pike’s Peak, drawing both NASCAR and short track fans. Then NASCAR and the big tracks got greedy, thinking they’d increase ticket sales by combining races. For a while it worked, and perhaps some undercard races do attract the numbers that places like South Boston once did, but the numbers aren’t really that strong, and appear to drop each year. Perhaps it’s time to return those series to their original intent. Distance would limit the Cup drivers without any extra rules, and the racing would almost certainly be better than on many of the tracks the series currently run. The current model is no longer working for the Nationwide and Truck series…maybe it’s time to give the old one a closer look and a better marketing plan.

About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Co-Managing Editor of Frontstretch since 2012, Amy oversees the site’s photography and daily content as well as assisting with staff management. A ten-year veteran writer and three-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, Amy pens The Big Six (Mondays), Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays), Holding A Pretty Wheel (Fridays) and writes a monthly diary with Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan. A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

18 comments

  1. These rules stand to hurt the Josh Wise/Landon Cassill/JJ Yeley’s of the world more than anybody else. Cup drivers have been running these races since their creation. It wasn’t such an issue in the 90s and 00s so why is it now? To me, it just seems to be driven by Kyle Busch hatred. I’m not of fan either, but you just gotta deal with it. A good race is still a good race regardless.

  2. For years I’ve been stating what I believe is the “simple solution” … ANY driver in ANY series who is in the (for example) TOP 35 in Driver Points Standings in their division is prohibited from competing in any lower tier series. That plan does not “strictly prohibit” drivers from dropping down for a race(s) … and provisions would be made (for example) if the 20th placed driver in Sprint Cup loses his ride to allow said driver to compete in a lower series. Also, perhaps certain races could be “Open To All,” (for example) the Nationwide and Truck Series races during Speedweeks at Daytona … and “around World 600-time” at Charlotte” … maybe even the season-ending events at Homestead … … … but, for the most part I would like each of NASCAR’s Touring Series to have their own identity when it comes to drivers. Another idea … perhaps each Nationwide and Truck Series race would have an “invitation provisional” for ONE driver from an upper tier series (but, the driver can only be “invited” once per season). … … … … … I would also like to see upper tier teams not being able to build and enter cars/trucks for lower tier series, but that would be impossible to police and would probably violate some ant-trust/commerce laws.

  3. Lots to chew on here. Lots of great ideas and opinions in the article as well as the comments. Lots of passion, too!

    I do know that Brad K has responded to some criticizing him for driving the Discount Tire car in the Nationwide series when some see that as taking a ride “away” from an up and coming driver. Brad said that ride wouldn’t exist if he didn’t come down and drive it once in a while as that’s what the sponsor is demanding. They like the exposure they get when a Cup driver races it.

    Kelley Earnhardt has said the same when some have suggested banning Cup drivers from Nationwide.

    So, what to do? Would we have enough sponsorship if Cup drivers were banned or severely restricted? Would the car count go down? Would viewership drop, stay the same, or go up?

    Not awarding driver points in more than one series stopped Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski from trying to enter every race. I liked that move. Having a Cup driver running for the Nationwide title seemed weird and wrong.

    So, recognizing that some fans like to see some Cup drivers in Nationwide and Trucks as well as the sponsors. Also, recognizing that some fans don’t. Here is my proposal.

    Restrict any Cup driver to only 3 races per season in the Nationwide only 3 races per season in the Truck series. Only allow Cup drivers to run those other 2 series every other race. In other words, half of the Nationwide and Truck races each year would have NO Cup drivers running. This allows the regulars to battle amongst themselves for wins. I’d also limit the maximum number of Cup drivers in any of the races in which there were allowed to participate to 3. In this way you don’t have the spectacle of 5 or 6 or more Cup drivers in a Nationwide race.

    • So the best thing for the NW Series is to have the Cup drivers in it? Might I remind them that the Busch Series ran for many years with great races and such and about the only Cup driver in them was Mark Martin.

      I feel sorry for the people in the NW Series or drivers hoping to get in there. They are limited because you have Cup drivers taking the rides, purses and attention away from them.

      • Mark wasn’t the only one to drive in the Busch series. Earnhardt Sr. was in plenty of those races.

        Also, the up and coming drivers, when asked, like having the Cup drivers in Nationwide. It lets them measure their skills against the best. They feel it has helped them develop.

        But, like many, I do tire of seeing Cup drivers win most of the time when they are entered. I don’t see any perfect solution. But, I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t allowed to run in half of the races. That might be good enough for sponsors.

        • Are those Nationwide drivers who say they like competing against Cup drivers giving their sincere thoughts, or just regurgitating NASCAR’s official stance?

          • Various racers including retired ones have said that. I’d say it’s legit. NASCAR can’t buy everyone. And if you don’t believe that think about Tony Stewart interviews, Ryan Newman interviews, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, etc..

  4. So will taking out the cup drivers make the racing better? It’s interesting that all this talk goes right along with the Kyle Busch hate. I wonder how different it would be if Jr. was doing the same thing as Kyle?

  5. I like solutions that don’t explicitly bar Cup drivers from racing in the lower series, but do help level the playing field. Redistributing the prize money is the best in that regard, especially if none of the bonus money goes to any organization that fields a driver earning points in Cup. That might help some small teams be a bit more competitive. I also like a rule where any organization that fields a Cup driver has to field at least as many Nationwide drivers in the same race. Most weeks, Joe Gibbs fields two Cup drivers and only one Nationwide driver. They could easily give another NNS ride to a young, promising driver. Stricter still, the rule could be that the organization has to field MORE NNS drivers than Cup drivers—so if Brad Keselowski wants to race for Team Penske, they have to field two other drivers earning NNS points.

  6. I question the assumption that it is a problem that needs solving. The goal of a race promoter is to put fans in the seats and watching on TV. It isn’t to provide training for younger drivers. Given a choice, why would a track not want a Busch or a Logano to race? There are reasons that Nationwide races get better ratings than an ARCA race, and a big one is the presence of Sprint Cup drivers. And note that the Nationwide races get more exposure than the Truck series, and I believe that’s because more Sprint Cup drivers run the Nationwide races than the Truck races.

    As for it being ‘tiresome’ that the big names/teams win more than the nobodies at the back of the pack, that’s the same thing that happens at the Sprint Cup level. I don’t see anybody lobbying for changes to restrict the number of races a Johnson or a Gordon can run in order to give the Mears and the Cassills more of a chance to win. The better financed teams and the better drivers are going to win at every level of competition and it’s ridiculous that you’re even suggesting that NASCAR populate its races with fewer drivers that fans want to watch.

    As it stands, a fan spending the weekend at a race can see his or her favorite driver more than once on a weekend. Why take away that opportunity? If Busch doesn’t drive twice, maybe that’s a fan who decides it isn’t worth it to actually attend the race?

    And yes, this does cut back the opportunity for younger drivers to get exposure. Tough.

    • What you are missing is that to many fans (maybe not all) having a cup guy race in NW or trucks is like having an NFL star player show up to a college game or a MLB star player dropping down to the triple-A level. I don’t care if the Mears, Mennards and Cassills run both but once you have several wins at the cup level you’ve become one of the top series’ stars. So from my perspective I am fine with any cup driver that has less than 4 wins (at the cup level) racing in the lower series.

      Perhaps that perception/analogy is way off but thats what turns a lot of fans off. Maybe some people are more apt to watch a NW race with cup stars in it but, for me personally, the minute I turn on a NW race and the top 6 positions are filled with 5 cup stars I turn to another channel. I don’t want to see the cup stars beat up on the wanna-bees so that they can pad their egos and wallets.
      Conversely, I watched most of the NW race last week because it was a stand-alone event with no cup stars in it (and I must admit also because I love watching stock cars on road courses).

    • I don’t think you have to completely do away with cup drivers in the lower series, but a limit on the number of times a driver can race per year would be a great compromise. Brad Keselowski is my favorite driver, but I don’t want to watch him (or any other cup star) run roughshod over the NW drivers week after week. Let the cup drivers race in the lower series a half-dozen times and that’s it. That keeps cup drivers around to satisfy sponsors, networks and track owners, and keeps the same drivers from stealing the show all the time and boring the fans to death. Problem solved and everyone is happy.

  7. Number 1 seems wrong (un-American).
    I like the other 4 suggestions though. Numbers 2 and 4 seem like they would be the easiest to implement.

  8. Or, recognize that just like any business no customers eventually leads to no business. Obviously the customers are not interested in a Cup practice session being billed as an actual race and have drifted away. If Nascar waits too long to act people will, having moved on to other things, probably not come back. This past weekend’s NW race is a perfect example of what the series should be, a real race among peers. Though this article is well thought out we all tend to over think things some times. This time the answer is simple. Get the Cup drivers out. The NASCAR solution seems to be get the fans out.

  9. Impractical on most points and it appears to be wishful thinking. Again I have no problem with the Cup drivers in other series. I know the pitchfork and torch crowd want to get them. The hate towards the drivers is misguided and uniformed. If your boss or sponsor says race, you race. I don’t know of one driver or any athlete in another sport that would say NO to their boss or sponsor based on some principal that most don’t subscribe too..these guys wanna race, and they do. If you have a beef, take it to the sponsor, Nascar and team owner! The nasty garbage that gets throw at these guys because they are following boss and sponsors orders is stupid, nasty and immature. Misplaced anger and it shows ignorance.

    • The driver is the face of the team. That is why the anger is directed at them and not the sponsor or the owner. Every time the ticker comes across showing the running order you see the driver’s name, not the sponsor or owner.

      • Well aware of that Bill. Been hearing it for a long time and it’s really old. To the clueless I use the analogy of THEIR job and what is required of them and they don’t see it as the same thing. Ugh.

    • I understand why the cup drivers do it and I don’t blame them. I blame Nascar for letting it happen. It has absolutely destroyed the identity and appeal of the two lower series, and the numbers back up that assertion. I don’t agree with all five of the suggestions, but I fully support their objective.