Finley Factor: Let’s Fix The Serial “Buschwhacking” Problem
by Michael Finley On Thu, Mar. 23, 2017
After weeks of falling races, NASCAR actually had a steady, even slightly up rating for a race on television. But, it wasn’t the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway; it was the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) March 21, 2017
Now, this rating has two pretty large notes attached to it. First and foremost, as the tweet itself notes, this race actually went up against the NCAA Tournament this year and didn’t lose any viewers from last year. That’s pretty amazing, considering the Phoenix ratings for the Cup Series tanked.
Secondly, keep in mind this was a Dash 4 Cash Race this year. Dash 4 Cash Race rules dictate that no MENCS driver with five or more seasons of experience are eligible to compete. So there was no Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, or Kevin Harvick dominating the event flag-to-flag. Instead, the race was mostly a dogfight between XFINITY regulars Justin Allgaier, William Byron, Elliott Sadler, and young MENCS drivers Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, and Erik Jones.
The main argument for not restricting MENCS drivers from the XFINITY Series is that without the big name drivers, nobody will attend or tune into the race. Well, the rating went slightly up against much tougher competition this season, and the only real established name in the race was Sadler. From watching on television, the stands weren’t noticeably emptier than they usually are for the XFINITY Series. So while this is such a small sample size, it’s hard to use that argument anymore.
Last year, NASCAR created new rules to be put in place this year limiting MENCS drivers from competing in either the XFINITY Series or the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In addition to being barred from the four Dash 4 Cash Races, drivers with more than five years experience in MENCS full-time competition will not be allowed to enter playoff races or compete in more than 10 races in the XFINITY Series and seven in the Truck Series. Other MENCS drivers can compete in any race they want to aside from either series championship race at Homestead.
Fun fact, by the way: because of this guideline, if the No. 2 Chevrolet makes it to Homestead in the owner’s points championship four, the team that will primarily run Ty Dillon all season will have to rely on Florida journeyman Scott Lagasse Jr. to bring an owner’s championship home to Richard Childress Racing. It would be amazing to walk into the RCR Museum one day and see Lagasse’s championship winning car sitting next to Austin Dillon’s and all of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s.
Some in the industry such as Larry McReynolds believes the new rules do not do enough to limit MENCS drivers from participating in the XFINITY Series. As entertaining a driver like Kyle Busch can be to watch, nobody wants him or any other Cup veteran winning eight XFINITY Series races after leading 90 percent of the race in any given season. These rules don’t stop that, and NASCAR could very easily fix that problem for next season.
Keep in mind, however, that it would be beyond stupid to simply announce that a driver may only enter races in their given series. There are a lot of XFINITY Series sponsors that sign on to sponsor up-and-coming drivers as long as they get to have a Cup Series driver in the car for a race-or-two. I don’t think Dale Earnhardt Jr. really likes to go back down to the XFINITY Series all that much, but he’ll do a race or two for, say, TaxSlayer.com every year in return for them sponsoring Regan Smith for many more races.
The best way to somewhat restrict drivers from competing outside of their given series would be to set up some kind of system that would limit their total amount of national series races in any given season. For the purposes of this article, let’s call it the NASCAR License system.
For those who do not know, every season just about everybody competing in the sport needs to renew and receive a new NASCAR license. Not doing so makes it impossible to work in this sport on the at-track competition side of things.
Here’s how to change it: for the three NASCAR national series, there would be two different kinds of NASCAR driver licenses, generally limiting how many races a given driver may enter in a given season. These licenses would also stipulate which series said driver would receive points in.
Before getting into specifics, a quick note: the term “national series races” from now on refers to every points event in the Cup Series, XFINITY Series, and the Truck Series. All of these races would count under this plan, with one very notable exception. The Daytona 500 is the most prestigious and richest event on the NASCAR calendar, which typically draws a large number of entries and has a unique qualifying system. The 500 would be a freebie for any driver who attempts it, in order to help encourage more entries into the “Great American Race.” The Daytona Duels would also be excluded, even though they technically are point races now.
First and foremost, no driver would be allowed to compete in another series’ playoffs or the last race of the regular season. This would be similar to the current rule limiting experienced drivers from those same races- the only difference would be that it would apply to all series drivers. For example, Matt Crafton would not be allowed to enter the XFINITY Series race at Charlotte in October due to being a Truck Series driver. Due to the number of restrictions being put in place, there would no longer be much reason to limit Cup Series veterans from Dash 4 Cash Races.
Every experienced national series driver would be limited to 40 national series races, regardless of series. For Cup Series drivers, this would limit them to five XFINITY or Truck attempts. For XFINITY Series drivers, they would be limited to seven Cup and Truck attempts. Finally, Truck Series drivers would have the most wiggle room, with 17 out-of-series races they would be able to attempt. This is due in part to the pretty large amount of down time the series has in the early part of the season; after Atlanta, save for a single race at Martinsville, the Truck Series goes on hiatus until May.
Notice that I wrote there would be two different kinds of licenses. For drivers who either have over 100 total starts between all three series at the start of the season or are no older than 22 before July of the given year, they would be eligible for a special license that would allow them to enter in any national series race with no restrictions. They would even be able to declare for two series’ points, whether it be the Cup and XFINITY Series or the XFINITY and Truck Series.
This rule would be to allow inexperienced or young drivers chances to earn valuable experience. It may seem a bit extreme and not that limiting, but considering the six Cup Series drivers who would have been eligible for it before this season would have included Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Corey LaJoie, and Gray Gaulding, it really isn’t that constricting. None of these drivers have a win yet in the Cup Series, and only Elliott has even run a full season in the Cup Series before this season. None of these six should really be restricted from running XFINITY every weekend if they so desire.
By the same token, if William Byron wanted to run double duty between the XFINITY and Truck Series and go for a championship in both, there should be nothing stopping him. By the time most drivers make it up to the Cup Series level, they would either be too experienced or too old to take advantage of this. If they do, they would probably only get a year or two in before reaching 23 and becoming too old. By the time said driver becomes too old, they should be about to enter their prime as a driver, like Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon.
Is this system perfect? Probably not, but no system would be perfect at this rate. This system would just lead to fewer fans and industry people being mad about how drivers can jump from series-to-series. Many fans reason that Major League Baseball players don’t go back down to the minors and dominate while still competing full time in the majors, but that’s apples to oranges at this point. NASCAR has three national touring series and the MLB has one major division; a more apt comparison would be if Kyle Busch decided to go down and lap the field in ARCA or the K&N Series. There will always be “bushwhackers” as long as NASCAR pays money at the end of XFINITY races, they will be there to pick up the check.