Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday August 9, 2013
20 percent. Four out of 20. One-fifth. No matter how you package it, the number of NASCAR Nationwide Series races won by series regulars is dismally, shamefully low. In the first 20 races last year, non-Cup drivers won nine times (though two of those wins were by Truck Series regulars); in 2013 that number has ballooned back to 16 of the first 20 events.
It’s easy to blame the Cup drivers who are doing it for stinking up the show; and they deserve some of that. Ultimately, they’re the ones in the cars at the end of the day. There’s little question that doing it is an exercise in ego-stroking. Just look at the ones doing it— most are drivers who have fallen short of expectations at the Cup level.
But they aren’t doing it alone.
And while it’s not hard to see the drivers’ motives in racing for trophies in NASCAR’s second series, it’s the motives of the car owners that should be drawing questions. Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing, in particular, are puzzling, because both have full-time, dedicated NNS teams running for a title and yet run at least one Cup driver in nearly every NNS race. And every time one of their Cup drivers wins a race or even finishes ahead of one of their full-time teams, it takes points away from those efforts.
Sure, you can say that in a race where a team’s Cup driver wins and the NNS regular finishes second, they still gained points on the NNS competition, but the winner gets at least four points more than second place, and possibly five. And with the top five drivers in the series separated by just 28 points, four or five points—even a single point—could mean winning a title or going home empty handed.
And it isn’t just the points. It’s resources and personnel. It’s equipment, engines, and pit crews. Every time a Cup owner races another car for one of his Cup starts, it’s using people and pieces that could be dedicated to winning the title with a NNS team instead.
About the only thing that’s clear here is that these owners don’t really care one way or another about their Nationwide efforts as long as someone from their stable brings home a trophy. Apparently, they don’t think highly enough of those NNS drivers to believe they can do that enough to suit their tastes. And that’s a real shame. Sure, they say they want to win the owner’s title, but that’s really just lip service—surely if they put the focus on their NNS teams winning the driver’s title, they could win an owner’s title with one of those teams.
Some will claim that they couldn’t get sponsorship for those teams if there wasn’t a Cup driver in them. OK, fair enough…but then, is it necessary to run them at all? Surely it would save the team money to shelve those teams, even with sponsors on board. And here’s the thing…if NASCAR ever were to ban the Cup drivers’ participation in the series, dollars to donuts, some if those companies that will “only sponsor a Cup driver” would stick around because the Cup Series is too expensive. A couple might jump ship to be an associate sponsor on a Cup Quarter panel a few times a year, but most would recognize that they’re getting more bang for their buck on the hood of a NNS machine every race. So that argument doesn’t hold much water…if the sponsors want to be in the sport, they’re going to be in the sport.
What it boils down to is greed. Some drivers and owners ran a few races, won a couple of trophies…and it must have been a rush, because now it’s all about more, more, more. If that comes at the expense of their NNS regulars, so be it. If the fans tune out (and say what you want about the Cup drivers selling tickets; I’ve heard from more fans who watch the series less, not more, when the Cup guys are running the circus), so what? It’s another trophy on the shelf, another notch in the belt. Maybe if there are enough, nobody will notice the Cup trophies that are missing…
Is it time for NASCAR to limit owner points for those times? Absolutely. If a driver has declared the Cup Series as his or her points series, then the owner for his Cup operation should also be ineligible to receive points with that driver in any other series. To take it one step further, those Cup owner-driver combinations should all receive last-place money in those other series regardless of actual finish. That would generate more purse money for the teams honestly running for the series title, while allowing the Cup drivers who want to race for a charity or simply get a little extra seat time on a certain track or tire to do so. But if there was little money and no points on the line, perhaps the owners would put their Nationwide Series focus where it belongs: on their Nationwide Series teams.
Interestingly enough, the teams to beat in that series this year in terms of the championship are more or less dedicated NNS teams. Regan Smith runs for JR Motorsports, which works in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, but while the team runs a second car, the No. 5, which has been raced this year by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne, and Jimmie Johnson, among other drivers, it doesn’t seem to become the team’s main focus on race weekend the way the Nos. 22, 54, and 18 do for Penske and Gibbs, respectively. Instead, it’s there to compliment Smith’s team, and not the other way around. Point leader Austin Dillon’s No. 3 has in-house competition, mainly from the No. 21, which is sometimes driven by a Cup regular, but sometimes by a development or CWTS driver. And again, the focus is on winning the driver’s title with Dillon. If the owner’s title went along with that, so much the better, but the focus is on Dillon and Smith with those teams.
At the end of the day, if a Cup owner is putting his Cup driver in Nationwide Victory Lane each week to the detriment of his own NNS teams, there is something seriously wrong with someone’s priorities. The greed, in the end, is to the detriment of the sport as it hinders both fan interest and driver development. It makes a series that was once fun (despite a few Cup drivers in the field every week, since they only won maybe half the time in a good year) and showcased the stars of the future instead of recycling Cup drivers who need a boost to their psyches even if that means the real NNS effort takes a hit.
In the end, greed rules the show. Sportsmanship? Who needs that when you can win?
Connect with Amy!
Contact Amy Henderson
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!