2014’s NASCAR Nationwide Series season has come and gone, and it’s time to say farewell to Nationwide Insurance – but there needs to be more goodbyes entering a new era for the sport’s second-tier division.
After entering the season with high expectations, the series regulars had an abysmal nine victories, with two part-time drivers taking home a pair of trophies. Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup Series drivers that moonlight in the division continued to be the dominating force. Kyle Busch led the way for the Cup stars, earning seven victories and 25 top-5 finishes in 26 races. Yeah, he was pretty good.
The dominance by these drivers is nothing new. Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and many more all raced in the Nationwide Series. Not only did they race in the division, but they also dominated when they entered the events preceding the weekend’s Cup Series race.
However, there is a lot that is wrong with what will be known as the XFINITY Series, such as the rules package and Cup drivers racing with their Cup teams. Now is the time that it can be fixed.
What should they change?
A few years ago, the series moved over to a tapered spacer. Toyota organizations notably suffered from this when the sport first instituted it back in 2008. However, it has backfired on the competition, and has notably let the Cup Series drivers take advantage of the less experienced drivers in the field.
With the tapered spacer, the power of the engines are limited. In the six years since the sport started using tapered spacers, full-time Cup drivers have won 185 of 238 races that have been run in the Nationwide Series, and a large number of part-time drivers (including some full-time drivers in the Truck Series) went to Victory Lane as well. However, after a peak of 33 victories from Cup drivers in 2010, the division has seen approximately seven to 10 wins from Nationwide-only drivers over the past three seasons.
But the tapered spacer needs to go. There are several alternates to limit speed, including “a reduction of throttle bore size without a plate underneath,” which was a recommendation by Jack Roush for the Cup Series before they announced that division will also be using a tapered spacer starting in 2015. This change could considerably spice up the competition, and give a possible edge to the Nationwide-only drivers, who would have the advantage of racing that engine package on a weekly basis.
Getting rid of Cup drivers with Cup teams
It likely won’t happen anytime soon, but there have been complaints left and right by fans over the past few years. But the Cup drivers have been racing for their Cup teams and using the same pit crews for quite some time. After years of watching Cup drivers dominate the Nationwide Series, making the races rather sluggish, it is time for a change.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has done it right. Less than a decade ago, he started his own team. It took a few years, but he has turned it into a race-winning organization with the help of Hendrick Motorsports. Although Hendrick plays a key role in the team’s development, JR Motorsports has a few Cup Series drivers in its lineup, which provides an additional key for the organization.
Owning his own team has enabled him to enter the races he wants to, and gives the opportunity for his peers to run events in the Triple-A version of NASCAR. However, he’s the lone Cup driver that has stuck with owning a Nationwide Series team. Kevin Harvick owned a successful one for multiple seasons, yet he shut its doors down in lieu of focusing on his personal life. Kyle Busch moved his team to the Nationwide Series for two seasons, and they were in line to have some success. But sponsorship woes and a Truck Series team that was blossoming made him shut it down as well.
If NASCAR limits the amount of races Cup drivers can run with their Cup teams in the XFINITY Series, it will force them to race with their own team if they want to enter more events. The only downside would be that it could hurt a team such as Team Penske, who fields the majority of the season with two Cup stars thanks to Discount Tire. However, they have a man by the name of Ryan Blaney coming through the ranks, and he deserves a full-time ride. He can’t do that because the sponsor wants the Cup drivers’ marketability. This move could enable younger drivers to get in top seats more frequently, yet it would be tough to find funding for them if NASCAR puts out an exact number of how many races a Cup driver could run.
Either way, it’s worth a shot for the sport to figure something out. Even taking away their Cup pit crews would certainly even out the competition.
Who to watch for in 2015?
The changes on the track likely won’t happen, but the championship battle will certainly be more exciting. The competition caught up to Chase Elliott late in the year, even though it was a case of too little too late.
Next year, there will be plenty to watch for. With the majority of drivers staying with their current teams, there is potential to get more competitive. Here are the drivers to watch for in 2015:
- Chase Elliott: He’s going to be very strong with Ernie Cope as his crew chief. Expect to see a similar year to 2014.
- Elliott Sadler: Moving over from Joe Gibbs Racing, Sadler is joining Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, driving the No. 1 Ford. His crew chief is going to be Phil Gould, who led Brian Scott to a career-best year in nearly every category in 2014. The pair should be strong in 2015, but Roush struggled at intermediate tracks, which is Sadler’s weak point.
- Brian Scott: The driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet is getting a new crew chief in 2015, and he’s going to be making more starts in the Cup Series. Next year is going to be the time he finally gets to Victory Lane. He came very close in 2014, but the speed wasn’t quite there for him.
- Chris Buescher: After winning a race in 2014, he’s expected to contend for a title for Roush. Buescher won the ARCA Series championship a few years ago, yet he struggled to find sponsorship this year. That should change just like his predecessors as he moves forward in the No. 60 car.
- Ty Dillon: Scott’s teammate is coming off of a solid rookie year. He won at Indianapolis, and competed for top 10s on a weekly basis. As he looks to improve in 2015, he’s going to need more speed, which is something the organization struggled with early in the year.
- Regan Smith: He came very close to winning the championship this year. If it weren’t for his teammate, there would have been an extremely tight battle for the title. However, his consistency is going to help him in 2015, and there are very few reasons why he can’t win at least a pair of races if his team can improve on the intermediate tracks.
- Daniel Suarez: It’s going to be interesting to watch Suarez in 2015. He’ll be a rookie for Gibbs, and the team has high expectations for him. Expect him to have a few struggles, but he should run well overall.
- Brendan Gaughan: Determination has gone a long way for him. Before the 2014 season started, Gaughan told me that he wants to contend for wins, and if he doesn’t, he’s going to retire. He scored two victories in 2014, but the team is ready to win even more in 2015. Expect them to contend for a top-five spot in the championship.
Who will be the strongest in 2015? At this point, seems like it’s anyone’s game.
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