The Frontstretch: The Favorites Forcing The Fans Out... Nationwide's Not-So-New Problem by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday April 25, 2011

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The Favorites Forcing The Fans Out... Nationwide's Not-So-New Problem

Monday Morning Tear-Down · Bryan Davis Keith · Monday April 25, 2011

 

Take one look at Saturday’s finishing order from Nashville and a race fan would never know that the Cup Series had an off weekend. Carl Edwards took a relatively easy win, followed by Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and polesitter Joey Logano before top Nationwide Series regular Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. crossed the line in fifth. That’s been the story of the 2011 Nationwide Series. It was one that was supposed to see a rejuvenation, courtesy of new, muscle-car inspired race cars, new ownership that was simply waiting on said new car to join the sport and a points system engineered to guarantee a Nationwide regular would win their own series title for the first time since 2005.

Instead, this year has seen anything but. The new race cars have been there, and they do look sharp. But in terms of leveling the playing field, they’ve done anything but; a Nationwide regular has yet to win eight races into 2011, the fourth time in the past six seasons it’s taken at least this long for a series regular to actually bring a checkered flag home. New ownership? Forget about it. Nashville again saw a bare minimum 43 cars make an attempt, not one of which is being fielded by an owner new to the series. And as for the point system, it’s been an all but irrelevant story two months in… because the point leaders aren’t winning races. Hell, they’re struggling even to lead laps.

No, the new-look Nationwide Series has proven to be lipstick on a pig; broadcasters may well be planting red smack marks all over everything they can relating to the series (Brad Daugherty couldn’t stop raving during Saturday’s pre-race about how the new car has leveled the playing field in NASCAR’s minor leagues). But, underneath that layer of makeup there’s still an ugly-ass swine running all over the AAA ranks, leaving a trail of mud, feces, and general nastiness that only a pig can.

To borrow a line from Pulp Fiction, John Travolta did well to remind us sitting down to breakfast that “bacon tastes good.” And Samuel Jackson did us one better, noting that “pigs sleep and root in sh*t. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got sense enough to disregard its own feces.”

I’m not going to sit here and agree with Jackson on his choice of breakfast foods… I’m going to scarf down my bacon and enjoy every bite of it. But the metaphor holds true here. The Nationwide Series status quo, the same Nationwide Series racing that’s been playing out since 2006 is playing out again in 2011. The pig may have a new shade of lipstick on it, with a guaranteed Nationwide champ and unique race cars, but it’s still a filthy animal running around.

The Nationwide 2011 season has proven to be more of the same total dominance by a select few Cup drivers in spite of changes touted to change things for the better.

And while that pig may produce some great tasting bacon, such as the intense side-by-side battle waged between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards for the lead, and eventual race win, in the closing laps of Saturday’s 300-miler, it’s still a filthy animal. No matter the great smoky taste, no matter how exciting that battle, the latest episode in the Carl vs. Kyle featuring Brad saga that’s been the only story of Nationwide competition since the kickoff of the 2009 campaign became the latest mudhole for the remnants of NASCAR’s driver development series to slag its way through.

This argument has been hashed and rehashed out countless times, from the first time a Cup regular ran double duty from the start of the season (Greg Biffle in 2004) to the 2005 Nationwide race at Chicago that saw Cup regulars score the top-15 finishing positions to Kevin Harvick’s cyclonic dominance of the series in 2006 that started an epidemic of Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski all stepping down to grab their AAA trophies at the expense of everyone actually trying to make their living and mark in that series. And the sides haven’t changed; the proponents argue that having the big guys there sells tickets, brings in TV viewers and lends national relevance to the Nationwide Series, while the opponents note that the big guys have all the money, hog all the sponsors, and ultimately have spawned an arms race that has left any teams not using Cup drivers and technology unable to keep pace.

After Saturday’s event, here’s what’s certain. A Cup influx was not a boon to Nationwide attendance; only 18,000 fans were reported as the crowd, less than 50% of grandstand capacity. The playing field hardly seemed level; Cup regular drivers took the top four finishing positions, no Cup regular finished outside the top 15 and only two cars not directly affiliated with a major Cup program finished in the top 10 (though both of those entries were powered with engines from a Cup shop).

What’s more, with the top 4 being Edwards, Busch, Keselowski and Logano, those four continued to be the story of the Nationwide season. These four drivers, none of whom are contending for the series crown, have won 6 of 8 races, scored 40% of the top 5 finishing positions and led 76.8% of the laps run in 2011.

For those race fans out there that aren’t fans of those four, God help them finding a reason to watch on Saturdays.

Besides, how is it even sound business practice to hinge the well-being of the series on these four drivers? They’re all regulars in another series, for crying out loud! And look at the roster. You have the most-hated driver in the sport, one who of his own volition or not has seen his dominance turned into borderline comedy by the broadcast media, trying to equate his accumulation of Nationwide and Truck trophies with the exploits of seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty. Then there’s Edwards, a driver who for all of his theatrics, sponsor and fan love has proven as much of a factor in contending for a Cup title as Junior… only one serious run at it, and who, despite his unrelenting commitment to run full minor league schedules year after year has played second fiddle to other Buschwhackers every season since 2008. Then there’s Brad Keselowski, who despite dominating the Nationwide Series last year has proven to be an absolute dud on Sundays, miring the vaunted Blue Deuce outside the top 25 in owner points without a dustup or masterful win to show in quite some time. Finally, there’s Joey Logano, the young phenom who’s suddenly resembling Casey Atwood more than Mark Martin, the driver who famously remarked that “Sliced Bread” was ready for Cup at age 15.

At least in the early years of complete Cup invasion of the Nationwide Series, there was at least variety in winners; Roush Fenway Racing would have their entire Cup stable rotating through their Nationwide cars, as would Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, etc. Now, it’s not even enough that the big guns blow everyone away weekend after weekend… it’s the same big guns doing it.

Call it a problem or not, Nationwide racing has become both formulaic and predictable. The same four guys start up front, the same four guys mix it up, the same four guys take the money and run.

The pigs are getting fatter, while the series’ garage is looking like a pigpen. No wonder there were less than 20,000 fans ready to pucker up this past Saturday. Even with that fancy new lipstick.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith




Monday on the Frontstretch:
As The Cookie Cutter Crumbles: What We Can Learn From Their Demise
Potts’ Shots: To Cross the Finish Line…
Nationwide Series Breakdown: Nashville 300
Tracking the Trucks: Bully Hill Vineyards 200
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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…
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wcfan
04/25/2011 07:35 AM
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With the number of start and parks in this series(more then in Cup)it is hard for new teams to have a chance.
Why has the Truck series went back to 36 truck field( I understand smaller truck counts) while the Cup and Busch Series have 4-10 start and parks taking approx $100,000 Busch and $300,000 Cup per race. Lets have shorter field of racers and add this money to the last 10-12 positions to help these teams grow.

Early this year I made a few suggestions for Cup drivers in the Busch series like
1. One less set of tires for the Cup guys.
2. A smaller carb and/or more weight for the Cup guys.
3.Have Cup guys start shootgun on field with last pit selection.

Reap What You Sow
04/25/2011 08:11 AM
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Why are these guys still racing in the minors? Prize money. Make them ineligible for prize money as well as points. Problem solved. It is so pathetic that this year we are going to see a nationwide champ with no wins probably no poles and very few top fives and top tens. Nascrap continues to destroy itself with bonehead decisions with Brainless France running the ship.

babydufus
04/25/2011 08:46 AM
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point taken…
i read 5032 Carl fans, 4892 Kyle fans, 2127 Brad fans, 2089 Joey fans, 3000 misguided people hoping for a good race, 859 people with nothing better to do and one guy that was lost.

Yep those Cup regulars sure are helping out with attendance…

oh and btw.. lipstick on a pig? heh… just like a styled nose on an otherwise butt ugly car?

jim
04/25/2011 09:19 AM
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I think if the cup guys were limited to how many races they could run 10-12 a year that would be a bigger benefit to the nationwide guys

Russ
04/25/2011 10:03 AM
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Wonder how long before the Nationwide schedule resembles the truck schedule? With the continued slide in interest, doesnt look like it can be much longer.

Dave
04/25/2011 10:49 AM
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Na$car is keeping it’s mouth shut on this for one big reason none of you seem to be able to see, if it weren’t for cup guys and start-and-parks, they would only have about 30 cars in the race. I just checked the stats on Jayski, and only 23 drivers have started all 8 Nationwide races, and that counts the cup guys. You think nobody’s in the stands now? Just imagine if there were only 30 cars show up and all drivers nobody ever heard of. Good luck selling tickets to that. No offense to Justin Allgaier and Ricky Stenhouse, but I suspect there is no line forming in front of their souvenir trailers, and pleny of people at Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch’s trailers. Grow up people, racing is a business and you need marketable names to sell tickets. And as for the issue of the cup guys “beating up on” the poor poor nationwide regulars, all real race fans want to see is the fastest 43 cars on the grounds race on race day. Not the 30 teams that Na$car thinks should get a free pass into the race, and not excluding some really good drivers that happen to also race on Sunday. And speaking of that issue, how is it that a driver that races in every nationwide race, and would also run for the championship is not a “regular”? They are more regular than the “regulars” who only show up for a handful of races. By your standards The Queen is a “nationwide regular” because she doesn’t (can’t) race in cup, even though she only races a handful of dates she can squeeze in when she’s not too tired from driving her Indy car. Consistency from the writers please!

Dave in Ohio

Josh
04/25/2011 11:16 AM
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Dave, that 30 car field excuse is crap. Up until the mid 90’s the ‘Busch’ series ran only 28-31 cars for the short track events. I’m all for it. Weed out the S&Ps and Cup guys and you’d have a pretty good 15-20 horse race.

midasmicah
04/25/2011 11:20 AM
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Due to the domination by the cup drivers in both the Nationwide and Truck series’, I don’t watch them anymore. Period. It’s become a joke.

Carl D.
04/25/2011 11:35 AM
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Dave…

I’m not so sure I agree that attendance would be worse if there were no Cup stars in the Nationwide races. Maybe to a small degree, but I think that once the Nationwide guys started winning races and making a name for themselves, the attendance might surprise you. Back in the 80’s and 90’s there were considerably fewer cup drivers running in the Busch series, yet my race buddies and I knew all the major Busch series drivers and enjoyed the races more than we do today.

Also, at tracks that had Cup races, the Busch races were an added draw. They weren’t designed to fill the stands on Saturday, but to put more fannys in the grandstands over the whole weekend. And stand-alone Busch races at places like Myrtle Beach filled the grandstands by virtue of their smaller size and less costly tickets. I really don’t think the cup stars have made a significant improvement in the Nationwide attendance.

Tyler West
04/25/2011 11:52 AM
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There is nothing wrong with the cup teams being in the Bush races but they need to put young drivers in their cars and not guys who are already in Cup. I like all four of these drivers but seriously they need to put young blood in the Bush series. I also feel they need to get away from running the Cup schedule. Run more short tracks and stuff. The biggest problem Nascar has is they have a bunch of tracks with NO CHARACTER! I can’t stand all the D shaped, boring, flat, multi-grooved race tracks. The fix is not that hard but it is totally against what France wants. Brian France is the worst thing that ever happened to NASCAR!!

AnnieMack
04/25/2011 12:16 PM
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I’m with Tyler. Why not run the teams with drivers who will one day become rookies in the Cup series instead of puttng Cup guys in those seats. Through the years, the Busch Series was a way for young drivers to get experience to one day race in Cup. Now there is no sponsorship money because the Cup regulars are pigging it up. Why would someone pay to sponsor a young upstart when they can put their money on a car that will be on TV every week. It’s all about the money.

Scott
04/25/2011 12:27 PM
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I agree with Carl D. In my opinion, the Busch Series was great in the 80s and 90s. You had stars in these series who made a name for themselves. You did not have the Cup guys coming over and taking wins from them.

It used to be great. You could name all of the drivers in the Busch Series. They had a great turnout for their races.

NASCAR needs to do something to get it back to this point, in order for this series to get back to what it used to be. Something like limiting Cup guys to maybe 2-3 races a year would be a smart way to start, but then again NASCAR in the Brian France era is not known for making many smart decisions!

David
04/25/2011 12:39 PM
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I don’t think NASCAR can legally prevent Cup drivers from entering Nationwide Series races. They pay the required entry fee, they have the ability to drive, and they have a qualified car. You can complain all you want, but they have the right to race if they want to.

Jay
04/25/2011 02:18 PM
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First thing, kick the Cup guys out. Second, drop the field to 36 cars and let them race. the sponsors will show up when they see that NO Cup drivers are allowed to be in the field. The new owners will show up when they see that they’ve got a chance to have a good finish, due to the Cup guys and their multi $$ teams NOT being there. It may not be immediate but the following will develop for drivers in Nationwide and Trucks as fans realize the racing is better/closer.

no spin
04/25/2011 03:28 PM
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I know what do let Indy car race to, some of the dumb ideas NASCAR has not tried yet I can not stand it NASCAR when oh when will some one that can do some thing, realize that the bush series can develop there own drivers and the fun when they become field filler for the cup race

STOP the stupid let the bush cars race in the local tracks and limit the cup Drivers to TWO and no more…

Jeff
04/25/2011 05:02 PM
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Dave,
Your point holds absolutely no water here. Do you really believe if the cup guys weren’t in those cars, that nobody would be in them? Really? Then how in the hell did the busch series survive, or thrive for so many years without them dominating every thing in sight? They have made the series an absolute joke and I find it remarkable they get so excited to win one of these farces. Furthermore, as Bryan put it so well, what a joke to compare kyle busch’s wins in all three series to what Petty did. Oh and we need cup drivers to draw crowds! Really? Every race this year has been empty, some draw. The series stinks and I’ve given up on it.

wcfan
04/25/2011 05:09 PM
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One thing alot of you may not be considering is there is little to no money to be made in this series. If you start the race with the intent to run the whole thing and have the tires to do so you have spent $6,000, now if you get into any wreck you are out another $5,000 + there is your purse money if you do not make the top 20, and you still have not payed the crew or bought fuel for the tractor/trailer.

Scott
04/25/2011 05:40 PM
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David,

Last time that I checked NASCAR was the rule-making body for the NW Series. All they have to do is make a rule limited Cup drivers to only 2 or 3, if any at all, races. Then it is solved right there.

gt
04/25/2011 06:21 PM
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Great article….only one thing everyone fails to mention. The fact that these “cup” teams can still collect owners points. If you are not in the top 25 in owners points, it is a difference of several thousand dollars at the pay window. Unfortunately, the teams that need it the most, are the ones finishing further back in the field…because of the buschwhackers. If theses guys are “just racing for the trophy” like they say…..then don’t pay them….and don’t award them any owners points. All the sponsors they are “stealing” from the “regulars” pay plenty for the exposure….let the owners share some of that money with the drivers. And yes, you heard me right….“stealing” sponsors. They set around until someone brings a new sponsor into the sport, then have their “people” come over and slip them a card in the garage area. Not only are they thieves…they are “lazy” thieves.

Paul
04/25/2011 06:43 PM
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Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I looked forward to the Busch races alot more so than the Cup races. The reason, there was always a good chance you would see a new winner, and for the most part, you didn’t have a few drivers or teams dominating every race. Now it’s a joke, see these millionaires take the purses for the “minor” leagues. Can you imagine a MLB pitcher going to AAA to pitch on his day off to bolster his stats (not counting rehab’s), that’s what this is. And to compare what Kyle Busch winning all these supporting races to the King winning 200, get real. Petty may not have beaten 42 others every race (and many times he beat more), but he had to beat the best almost every race.

Chris in TX
04/25/2011 06:46 PM
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I’m sure this has been re-iterated several times…keep the cup drivers out, or at least mostly out. The easiest way to do this seems to be through registration. Limit a single Nascar driver to…I dunno, 45ish “touring” events a year.

Maybe:
Don’t count events in which that driver counts as a Rookie in the series (that way a “new” driver can still do double-duty).

Still only let them get points in 1 series.

Don’t let a car accumulate Owners Points if the car is driven by a driver that can’t get drivers points. (maybe rookie rule there too)

Done. You don’t impact part-timers that pick select races. A cup driver can still show up once in a while. Rookies can still try to get “seat time”. Drivers running their series will compete for wins, not 2nd behind Kyle Busch.

NW races are almost unwatchable, and have been for a few years now. Truck races used to be significantly more interesting. Now, everyone is competing for 2nd behind the #18 (no matter the driver).

Or, ignore all this, and just give Norm Benning a little extra under the table to dump the 18 every week. That, at least, more or less fixes the Truck races.

djones
04/25/2011 08:00 PM
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So much for the CUP drivers putting fans in the stands for the NW races. Now what?

I agree with the posters above. I watched the Busch series in the 90s and didn’t need CUP drivers in it to make me do it. Lame excuse.

The only way a NW regular is ever going to win is if the CUP drivers stay out of it.

Bobby O
04/26/2011 01:38 AM
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Dave, this is just too easy making you look silly!
But I am easily amused, so here goes! The FASTEST 43 cars? What PLANET are you on?

Steve
04/26/2011 03:55 PM
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There seems to be alot of posters on many different sites stating that were former fans of the NW series that don’t even watch the races anymore. It kinda blows up the theory that Cup drivers put butts in seats for these races. Add me to the list that doesn’t watch these races anymore.

Get the Cup guys out. Sponsors will come back and so will the fans. Brian France doesnt get this concept.

The only people that seem to want the Cup guys are either new fans to the sport that are too lazy to learn anything about the NW regulars or are fans of Kyle, Carl, Brad, Kevin or Joey and not necessarily fans of racing, and Brian France.