For those who haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps are still sinking in denial, let me break the news: the NASCAR Nationwide Series is perfectly fine.
After years of what has been week-by-week exasperation set around Sprint Cup drivers racing and winning in the lower division, the regulars have stepped their game up already in 2014. Nine races in and heading into the off-week, there isn’t too much that many can complain about. And if you are, then you might be one of those who fall on the spectrum of never being happy because for the first time in a very long time the Nationwide Series has finally hit upon the complete package, balance between the Cup drivers and the highlighting of its stars.
It’s almost an even score across the board; five wins for Cup drivers and four from Nationwide regulars — though not just any regulars, as drivers who know how to make themselves apart of the mix have done so in the biggest way possible. They’re the same ones we’ll most likely be talking about when it comes to determining the series champion later this year.
Look at Regan Smith, Chase Elliott (twice) and now Elliott Sadler, who have found victory lane. Three regulars in nine races have already accomplished what only three regulars did in the 33 races of the 2013 season. Even better, they’re not only winning; they’ve also beat Cup drivers to do so — which is only fitting because fans want to see regulars winning, and doing so by taking it to the bad guys is both having your cake and stuffing yourself, too.
Remember a year ago when all those detractors from Austin Dillon were saying the Nationwide Series didn’t have a deserving champion? Don’t count on it happening again this year. Between the aforementioned three drivers and the way the season has been going, there are plenty of more regulars waiting in line for their chance to be first to the checkered flag. When they do, they’ll move towards the top of the leaderboard, where Elliott, Sadler and Regan Smith currently reside. Hard to argue any of them would make a bad Nationwide champion or a horrible storyline.
So here in the first week of May, the grumbling should be limited. With the racing as competitive as ever; did you see the photo finish in Daytona? Or the last lap pass in Darlington by Chase Elliott and the 86 green-flag passes for the lead in Talladega? There’s also the fact that in nine races the Nationwide Series has had nine different pole winners, none of which have gone on to win that weekend’s race — what more could there possibly be that everyone is looking for?
Face it: the Nationwide Series had become stagnant for years but has suddenly found itself brimming with freshness and diversity. Knockout qualifying opens the weekend with excitement which is then built upon by the brashness of Dylan Kwasniewski, the hard knocks of Ryan Reed and his teammate Chris Buescher, who is well on his way to being the comeback story of the year. They are the headlines and they are the drivers that many feared would be lost in the Cup drivers this and Cup drivers that, which also seemed to fill the weekend.
Not this year. It’s been the regulars writing all the stories, providing a little bit for everyone. The story lines and social media trending topics no longer center on the competition killer that is Kyle Busch. With only two wins to his name this year, some are have begun to wonder if the good old days of Busch are gone, the optimists quick to hope that he’s met his match with the Nationwide Series finally producing talent to keep up and keep him out of victory lane.
Mission more than accomplished. Yet now that the series has a good thing going, those same people who longed, cried and demanded change are quick now to want to take it away. Chase Elliott has finally brought life and attention to the series. He’s the shiny new object that we’ve all been infatuated with since the announcement that he was coming. But it took about five minutes after Elliott won his first race in Texas before most had him in the Sprint Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports. Yes, the same driver we’ve turned to help “fix” the series.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? This is why the Nationwide Series can’t have nice things: because no one knows what a nice thing is when it’s been staring them in the face for nine weeks. Elliott, along with his peers, has been putting on a clinic every week — which has been what everyone has wanted — but yet here they are wanting to send it to the Sprint Cup Series. Wouldn’t that move Nationwide back to the place that brought all the complaints in the first place?
No, how about we just leave things along and enjoy that finally the Nationwide Series has a different identity. This is, without a doubt, the most parity the series has seen and what will make this season one of its most memorable, with first-time winners, different victors and tons of records — plus drivers that fans have found themselves ready to follow for many years to come.
Although all those fans who ran off early in the year — most likely after Las Vegas when Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski had already picked up wins — and swore they’d never watch again because only Cup guys win in the Nationwide Series, I feel bad for you, for not knowing how to make your way back and as such, missing what has already been one heck of a year.
About the author
Kelly is our Frontstretch Nationwide Series expert, hired in 2014 to handle Friday’s Nuts For Nationwide column as well as pre- and post-race analysis of NASCAR’s second-tier division. A former SpeedwayMedia.com reporter, she shares her FS duties with work at Popular Speed as an editor and feature contributor. Based in New Jersey, Kelly hopes to move down south in the near future while furthering her racing career.
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