1. Standalone races
Races like the XFINITY/Truck show at Iowa last weekend used to be much more common, but the ones that are still on the schedule often end up being among the best races of the season in any series. Some of that has to do with the venues, but it’s also because the spotlight is squarely aimed at the series regulars where it belongs.
Along with the four Dash 4 Cash XFINITY races, where Cup drivers aren’t allowed to enter, these races are some of the hardest-contested events you’ll see. Part of that is because when someone (usually a Cup driver) is running away with the race, the action behind them goes largely unnoticed, especially on TV, where the commentators often get tunnel vision toward those big Cup names.
Additionally, there’s a definite uptick in something. Call it morale or maybe something else, but when they’re racing for wins, the competition picks up a notch. Add in a few new names trying to make people remember them at some of these races, and it’s a recipe for excitement.
How can it be better?
Easy. Add a few more stand-alone events to the schedule, including as many unique venues as possible, and there will really be something to make fans take notice of the series. For the Trucks, in particular, there’s a real chance to showcase some of the best smaller venues in the country: South Boston, Myrtle Beach and others. It’s time to try a different direction.
Over the years, both series have cultivated their own stars. Some are former Cup drivers who found a home where they can gun for titles, like Johnny Sauter, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler. Others, like two-time Truck champion Matt Crafton, found success in one series and stuck around.
Over the years, some drivers, like Ron Hornaday Jr., tried other series and came back to where they wanted to be. Many have cited the less demanding schedules as a primary reason. Others simply didn’t enjoy the greater pressure of racing another division. But whatever the reason, these drivers help forge the series’ identities separate from Cup
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 17, 2018
How can it be better?
These drivers need to be promoted as a core component of the sport. Fans need to have a connection with drivers. This point goes for all levels, but it’s far easier to find with the Cup drivers simply because they get the most airtime, even on Saturdays. The more fans can connect with the drivers in XFINITY and Trucks, the better off both series—and the fans—are.
That will take a concerted effort because as it stands, race broadcasts often ignore the regulars. That needs to change for the health of these series. If the broadcasts treat the Cup drivers in NXS and CWTS races as simply a novelty among the regulars, it would change the way fans see the series on a weekly basis.
3. A bigger variety of venues
There aren’t as many different tracks on either circuit as there used to be, but the XFINITY and Truck series can provide a great opportunity for both tracks and fans. They’re less expensive for a track to host than a Cup event and they don’t require quite the size of a facility as Cup. That means a track that’s not quite up to capacity for a Cup race could easily host another national series.
As it is, fans get the pseudo-short track at Iowa, Eldora, Gateway and a variety of road courses. Not only are these the standalones both series need, but they’re at tracks that provide some exciting racing. It’s a huge win for fans and teams alike.
How can it be better?
While it seems like fans are in agreement that they’d like to see the two series have more standalone weekends on more tracks, particularly more short tracks, those fans have got to back that up by going to the races. If fans want a Cup race at Iowa, they need to be packing the stands every single XFINITY or Truck series race to the point of sellouts.
NASCAR tried to do right by fans by bringing Rockingham back into the fold with a Truck Series race, which could well have led to an XFINITY event as well, but the fans who clamored for it for so many years simply didn’t show up.
That’s not on NASCAR and it’s not on the track. It’s on the fans and the fans only. Martinsville doesn’t host the XFINITY Series for one simple reason: It doesn’t break even after the sanctioning fee and the operating costs. Why? Fans don’t show up. It’s one thing to give lip service to the short tracks and standalone dates, but fans need to give NASCAR a reason to take those requests seriously and for tracks to buy in.
4. Different drivers with a chance to shine
Not only do these series have the lifers, both have some exceptional young talent on the way, perhaps, to the Cup Series. Fans have the chance to see youngsters as they come through the ranks, and there have certainly been a lot of them worth watching in recent years.
Drivers like Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Chris Buescher made sure fans knew their names before they landed full-time Cup rides, and others like Noah Gragson, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer are making themselves known. Other youngsters are just getting started showing everyone their full potential. They’re generally accessible and personable, giving fans a variety of ways to get behind them.
How can it be better?
Just like the longtime regulars, these drivers deserve the spotlight in their own series. NASCAR and especially the television broadcast partners have got to do a better job of keeping up with them and bringing them and their personalities to fans.
As has been pointed out this year, the races without the Cup regulars have been very competitive and fan favorites. While NASCAR can certainly limit those drivers by further cutting the number of races they can enter, there’s a better way: limit who they can drive for instead.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) June 18, 2018
Once upon a time, Cup drivers would sign on with a smaller team, or a local one for standalone races. It was fun to see who might show up, and the regulars really got to race with them as it wasn’t simply about buying trophies with higher budgets and more experience. NASCAR could simply ban Cup regulars from driving for any team associated with their Cup team. It’s unlikely they’d be contractually allowed to run for another Cup owner, so that leaves the smaller unaffiliated teams who could use an experienced driver behind the wheel for a race here and there.
5. A lot of bang for your buck
Tickets for these series are much less expensive than the same seats for a Cup race, and the shorter races and fan-friendly atmosphere make them a great choice for bringing a family. Kids under 12 can get into races for free with an adult ticket, and that’s how fans are made.
Again, standalone races are beneficial because hotel rates for these don’t tend to get raised to a ridiculous level the way they do for Cup races in some areas. There are often autograph sessions where fans can meet many of the drivers, something no longer seen at the Cup level. Post-race traffic isn’t the hassle of a Cup event, and as both series proved at Iowa, the racing is as good as any Cup Series show.
The Trucks often put on the best show of the weekend at some tracks where they share the spotlight with the Cup cars, and the XFINITY Series can do the same when the regulars are on their game. If Cup racing is too expensive for a family, these series provide racing that’s just as good, if not better, more opportunities for driver interaction and some great venues with free tickets for kids, all for a much lower ticket price.
How can it be better?
Again, there’s always a case for more of the races to be standalones at tracks that provide exciting races. But again, fans have to show up. There’s a lot to love about these two series, which are still less affected by many of NASCAR’s mistakes than the Cup Series.
Want more? The only way to get it is to go. And the only way for NASCAR to make fans want to go is to work to bring great venues and make the races about what they’re meant to be: a mix of series veterans and young talent driving as hard as they can for the win. There’s passion in these series that the Cup Series sometimes seems to lack. Everyone, from NASCAR to the fans, needs to jump all over that.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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