After a one-week hiatus, we’re back with the spiciest column the NASCAR Xfinity Series has to offer, and I got to do a lot of thinking during the break.
What did I think about?
I’m glad you asked.
No, not the kind you begrudgingly do in the yard, although the thought did occur to me during that activity. I’m talking about NASCAR Cup Series drivers bumping down to the Xfinity Series to get some practice laps in before their race on Sunday.
For those new to the concept, in 2011, NASCAR forced drivers to select only one of their top three series to accrue drivers points in to compete for the championship of said series. This move was meant to protect Xfinity drivers from Cup drivers with more experience, talent and deeper pockets from coming into the series and walking away with the championship (ex. Kyle Busch and others in the late 2010s).
Has it worked?
Obviously, only full-time Xfinity drivers are eligible for the championship now, but that hasn’t stopped guys like Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson from dropping down and making some races (like Sonoma Raceway) a one or two-car show, which is the exact opposite of the Xfinity Series when Cup drivers don’t show up.
So far this season, there have been three races won by full-time Cup drivers, and if the odds play out like they have recently, it will be four after this weekend. That’s three or four potential playoff spots that have been stolen away from an Xfinity full-timer that needs the spotlight that opportunity brings far worse than a Cup driver with millions in earnings over the course of their career.
I wholeheartedly understand why Cup drivers want the extra laps – it makes them that much more dangerous on Sundays – but at what cost does that come if they just wax the floor with the talent of the series that people tune in to see week in and week out?
We always talk about this “image problem” that the Xfinity Series has on NASCAR’s behalf, and Buschwhacking is another piece of that puzzle. Fans will not tune in if they know who’s going to win every week. Look across the pond at the recent Formula 1 season – it’s been boring as all get out, with no correction (or competition) in sight.
If NASCAR wants to help themselves, they can start by making the stars of the Xfinity Series the only stars. Each time a Cup driver bumps down, every camera at the track is on them at all hours of the day. Is that because they’re typically at the front of the field? Possibly, but they also take the spotlight away from the incredible talent that are regulars in the series, like the current points leader John Hunter Nemechek, or the oval racing wizard that is Austin Hill.
NASCAR can start by propping up the stars of the Xfinity Series and leaving out the Cup drivers entirely. If Cup drivers want to compete, they should have to do so in cars that would not interfere with the other Xfinity drivers. Essentially, NASCAR could have two races going on at the same time. Give the Cup drivers’ cars 50 less horsepower, or start them at completely different stages of the race. It would still allow them to get their laps in but wouldn’t interfere with the actual Xfinity race.
The flip side of that is that these cars that Cup drivers are piloting are eligible for owner’s points, and that is something I believe should be done away with entirely. Before the season starts, teams should have to pick the cars they want to be eligible for their owner’s points, and they should be required to run a full-time season. This would keep team resources focussed on their full-time Xfinity drivers on Saturdays and less focussed on the Cup drivers who make their cameos.
We do not need our Busch whacked. The Xfinity Series is great because of the full-time talent that’s in it, and no Cup drivers need to pitch in to help. The series will grow if NASCAR can put the focus on the right people, the right racing and the right situations organically.
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