How can NASCAR turn the yawn fest that has become Nationwide Series Racing into something the fans will enjoy again? My twitter and Facebook time lines both blow up when Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, or even Matt Kenseth take the lead at any point in the race. It quickly becomes a stream of “Anybody but……(fill in Cup Regulars name here).
For the longest time I defended allowing the cup regulars racing in the lower series, mainly because my favorite driver was still doing it from time to time and ran well in that series at points. I even defended it more when NASCAR made the rule that drivers had to declare which series they were going to race for a championship in before the season really began.
The excuse that I often used was, “Well it helps the track promoters out by getting butts in the seats to see their favorite drivers one more time during the race weekend.” Granted this was back before the Cup regulars truly dominated the lower series. Would they win often? Yes, but they would not go on an eight race winning streak, or in the case of this year’s races, winning sixteen of twenty-one races, or a winning percentage of 1.3125 percent of the time. Now, honestly it is keeping people OUT of the seats more than it is putting butts in seats.
I have also heard and understand the argument that having the Cup drivers in the lower series gives the lower series guys a chance to see what they will be up against when they get into the Cup series. For the longest time, I really didn’t have a comeback for this statement, now I do. While the younger driver may learn something about driver etiquette on the track, they are not learning anything else for the most part. The Cup cars are not the same cars the Nationwide series cars are, and therefore the driver in the NNS isn’t learning very much that will help them once they graduate into the Cup series. About the only thing it shows them is that if they want to be successful in the Cup series they will need to land at a top tier team or their hopes of challenging for a win each week is out the window.
The cars in the Nationwide series are great, they look incredible on T.V. and on the track. They afford for some nice side by side racing. Only when the cars that are being raced aren’t from an over funded team with an over talented driver, holding off someone who is simply trying to get a handle on the series. I could actually understand a lower talented Cup driver trying to get extra seat time to try and improve their performance for their main sponsor on Sunday. Take Bliss, Blaney, Stremme, or any other driver, hell even take Danica and put her in the Nationwide series and allow them more seat time to improve the racing on Sunday, and I would get it much better than I do these days.
These days unless the series is split like it is this weekend with the Cup cars in Michigan and the Nationwide cars in Ohio; it basically takes a catastrophic incident or failure by the Cup regulars team or car for the Nationwide series drivers to even stand a chance to win the race. Which is what leads to my timeline being blown up with people changing the channel, going to the pool, or horror of all horrors heading to the store or mall to get some last minute shopping done.
My solution is a relatively simple and painless one to implement and simply builds upon the declaring which series a driver is running for a championship. Limit the number of starts that a Cup regular can have in the lower series, to five. Which would mean that the track promoters would still be able to promote the fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr will be running both Daytona and Talladega races, without stacking the deck at the races against the Nationwide drivers. It would allow the drivers like Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski to race the Nationwide and Camping World Series trucks, but on a limited basis. Let’s just call it the Mark Martin schedule for simplification purposes.
Let’s face facts, drivers in the Cup series retire, where will that leave fans that still love the sport but don’t have a driver to root for? In my case I know that in the next year to two my driver Jeff Burton will be retiring. I have followed Jeff’s career since I attended my first Cup race and Jeff won for the first time in Texas. I know that I will have to find someone else to root for week in and week out. Are there drivers suitable enough for me to start cheering for already in the Cup series? Of course there are, but I do not want to have to repeat this cycle in another five to ten years. I would much rather have a driver that I can cheer for week in and week out in the Trucks or Nationwide series, see him or her grow into the next series and root for them when they finally reach the Cup series.
Can I realistically do that now? Yes, but I honestly do not get to “KNOW” the driver these days in the lower series. The main focus by main stream media is either how well the cup drivers or doing, or when things are going wrong for them, how badly things are going. I will gladly put a large portion of the blame for the Cup regulars doing double duty on the shoulders of main stream media since it is these same media members that focus so greatly on the Cup drivers. Aside from Kyle Busch I honestly do not think that the other regular drivers would run as many races, of course this isn’t taking into account sponsorship obligations, as they do now if they weren’t almost guaranteed almost unfettered T.V. time each week. Kyle is the lone amalgam in this situation; he in a lot of ways is the same as Tony Stewart.
Tony is a racers racer, and so is Kyle. They both see seating behind the wheel of a vehicle and trying to get something out of it that no one else can as therapeutic. It is their weekend golf game, or shooting hoops with the guys. The difference is this, while Tony does it in a series that doesn’t directly impact the potential for up and coming drivers; Kyle almost relishes in the fact that he is potentially holding back a future driver in the Cup series.
With the limited number of races it would be an excuse for people like Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch to actually MENTOR potential drivers on a weekly basis. Especially when you take into account that two of the five drivers I named own a lower series team. To mentor someone, means teaching not showing someone how to do something, allowing them to fail in their own unique way, and being there to pat them on the back when they succeed. It does not mean, “Step out of my way, let me show you how this is done, and oh by the way don’t even THINK about passing me late to steal a victory away from me,”
We worry about the future of the NASCAR sport, and trying to fix so many things that are wrong with it, how about we start looking at what truly IS the future of the sport in the lower series and attempt to give them something to hope for on their own?