The Frontstretch: The Real Problem With Cup Drivers in Nationwide? The Owners' Priorities by Amy Henderson -- Friday August 9, 2013

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The Real Problem With Cup Drivers in Nationwide? The Owners' Priorities

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.

Sam Hornish Jr. is running for a Nationwide championship but the 12 doesn’t seem to be a priority for Penske Racing when the 22 is running with a Cup driver.

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?

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08/09/2013 06:32 AM

OMG! Are we beating this dead horse again? Every season people complain about Cup drivers in the NW series. Let’s face it, that is never going to change. Having said that, you have to admit that compared to previous years, there are fewer Cup drivers racing in the series than there used to be.

Carl D.
08/09/2013 08:22 AM

I say if the dead horse needs beating, then grab the whip.

I thoroughly enjoy many of the Nationwide races and watch as may as I can, but like most fans I feel cheated when a Cup driver stinks up the show by running roughshod over the Nationwide drivers. I’m a huge Brad Keselowski fan, but when I watch Nationwide, I want to see guys like Sam Hornish, Regan Smith, and Kyle Larson competing for the win, not Brad. I’m not alone; look at the stands at most Nationwide races… pathetic attendance despite the big name cup drivers. They’re not helping; I think they’re actually hurting the series. Would banning them help attendance at the Nationwide races? Maybe not, but it would certainly be worth finding out. I sure don’t think it could hurt.

08/09/2013 10:24 AM

Let me grab the whip too! Couldn’t agree more. No points, no money. Three races a year maximum.

08/09/2013 10:42 AM

I gripe about this every time I fill out a Fan Council survey. I start watching every race but if it seems like Kyle Busch or Joey Logano is going to dominate, I turn it off. I could be wrong sometimes but most times, I’m not.

08/09/2013 11:05 AM

Joe Gobbs Racing Blows !!! Especially the # 11 Driver !!

08/09/2013 11:31 AM

Why does the top nns team work for the 54 car instead of the 11 or 20? That’s confusing to me. They use backup guys on Vickers car which killed them at Chicago.

08/09/2013 12:45 PM

You hit the nail on the head Amy, nice work.

Chuck Roast
08/09/2013 02:28 PM

Banning anyone isn’t going to work.

What they need to do is what sports car racing organizations do and split the field into two categories.

One made up of those running for Nationwide points and those that aren’t.

The Cup people start up front relative to their qualifying and the Nationwide people start twenty seconds later behind them.

Seems simple to me.

Steve K
08/09/2013 05:08 PM

NASCAR’s AAA series is unwatchable anymore. I enjoy the Trucks much more because the series is made up of truck drivers. A BK or Kyle every not and then isn’t destroying the trucks like the Cup ten cup guys who race in Busch cars every week do.

08/09/2013 10:46 PM

The same people who want purity in NW better look at the whole field, Elliot Sadler and the like? Its o.k. because they commit full time? This is old, who cares its better racing than Cup. The big boss/sponsors say to the Sprint guys you race, what you gonna say no? Don’t blame them, but the sheep do.

08/10/2013 03:10 AM

Wow, what a unprofessional slam..“underperforming in Cup, stroking their egos” etc…..come on..Harvick, Hamlin, Kes, Stewart, Kenseth, Edwards, etc beat the NW Trail…So its o.k. that Sadler and Vickers are there full time? Does your ego logic apply to them or the old timers of a Wallace and other like old timers earning a living? They run and run well all the time BECAUSE Busch and Logano’s BOSSES AND SPONSORS TELL THEM TO DO IT!!! A few Cuppers have very good success, most Cuppers don’t consistently. Very biased need to talk to the owners and sponsors and quit bad mouthing the guys who do what they are told to do…win in that race.

08/11/2013 08:20 AM

maybe its as simple as its the natural tendency of organizations to grow,or at least try too. Bring in more money,add more people, etc. So what to do with them? Can’t add Cup teams, so go Nationwide. Simple as that.

08/12/2013 05:18 PM



Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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