Going By the Numbers · Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday June 4, 2013
Last week, we analyzed the NASCAR Nationwide Series and its recent streak of dominating runs from Kyle Busch. Looking through the archives, from 2005 to the present, each race that Busch won in the Nationwide Series as a Cup regular was discounted, bumping the second-place finisher to first place, all things constant.
As it turned out, it didn’t even matter that Busch wasn’t in the Nationwide Series. Cup drivers still would have won the majority of the races, with racers like Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards often stepping up to take Busch’s place as kings of the series.
So this time around, imagine a different type of Nationwide Series. One not only without Kyle Busch, but also without Cup regulars entirely.
It’s not exactly necessary to go back through the series’ entire history when doing so. It may be a common defense of Cup regulars in the series to say that the same thing has been going on for years, specifically citing Mark Martin’s long-time tenure in Roush’s Winn-Dixie No. 60. But even when Martin was winning a frustrating amount of lower series races while running full time in the Cup Series, he and his fellow regulars that would occasionally run the Busch series weren’t winning a vast majority of the series’ events.
That began to change in 2003. That year, 16 of the 34 races were won by non-Cup regulars, a minority. The number fell to 15 in 2004 and continued to drop, hitting rock bottom two separate times, in 2006 and 2010, when Nationwide drivers won only twice all year. In 2013, that number sticks at two through 11 races, with Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith the only full-time Nationwide winners amid a sea of Kyle Busch victories.
What if drivers like Busch, Edwards, Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and all the rest hadn’t been racing at all in the series while also running the full season in Cup from 2003 to now? What would the series look like?
One thing’s for sure: Brad Keselowski would still have won a hell of a lot of races.
Looking at every Nationwide race 2003 to present and removing the Cup regulars, Brad Keselowski would have won 29 races, rather than six, as a series regular, the order of the remaining finishers constant. In particular, Keselowski would have had an explosive 2009, the year during which he began racing part time in Cup for Phoenix Racing and famously won his first Cup race at Talladega. In Nationwide, he would have won 19 races, including a dominating streak of six straight events, while racing for JR Motorsports’ No. 88. That number’s not particularly surprising; in the late ’00s, Keselowski was one of, if not the only series regular one could expect to challenge for victories each week.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wouldn’t have been far behind. Though he won an impressive eight races over the 2011 and 2012 seasons and two championships, he would have been a 27-time winner without the Cup drivers, including 12 wins in both of his championship seasons.
That said, Keselowski and Stenhouse are success stories. They’ve progressed through the ranks and made it to the big show, where the former has won a Cup championship and the latter has a ride with one of Cup’s most prestigious teams.
What about the others in the Nationwide Series? The lifers in the series? The also-rans?
Jason Leffler might be sitting pretty right now. From 2003 to now, Leffler would have won 25 races and would have been the series champion in 2007. His tenure with Braun Racing and Turner Motorsports was marked by fairly solid runs most of the time, but without the Cup guys, he would have been a much more prolific winner in the series, which could very well have led to another shot at the Sprint Cup Series, instead of two aborted attempts in 2001 and 2005.
Reed Sorenson might have been regarded as one of the series’ better regulars over the past few years, rather than a driver that was admittedly good, but certainly not great compared to some of his peers. Sorenson would have taken home the victory in 17 events, rather than just four times.
Your 2010 champion? Justin Allgaier, who finished fourth in the actual standings behind Keselowski, Edwards and Busch. He would have 12 wins, not three, and just might have a shot at Cup in his grasp, rather than now spending his fifth year running in the series full time.
Other drivers becoming series champions that wouldn’t have won in their respective year originally include Keselowski in 2009 and Paul Menard in 2006. This is, of course, mostly referencing the period from 2006 to 2010, during which the Nationwide championship was won by Cup regulars every year.
An incredible amount of drivers would have won their first races in the series. In fact, David Stremme stands to have gained the most. Stremme, a former Braun Racing competitor and future Penske driver in the Cup Series, would have found victory lane three times in 2004, once in 2005 and three times again in 2008, for seven wins total. Brendan Gaughan would be a four-time winner; Steve Wallace and Stacy Compton, three.
A full list of current no-win drivers in the series that, with the Cup drivers gone, would have emerged victorious at least (and usually) once: Shane Hmiel (twice), David Stremme (seven times), Stacy Compton (twice), Ashton Lewis, Michel Jourdain Jr., Todd Kluever (twice), Burney Lamar, Jon Wood, Mark McFarland, Danny O’Quinn Jr., Shane Huffman (twice), John Andretti, Kyle Krisiloff, Patrick Carpentier, Brad Coleman, Bryan Clauson, Steve Wallace (three times), Colin Braun, Kelly Bires, Landon Cassill, Brendan Gaughan (four times), Tony Raines, Andrew Ranger, Brian Scott (twice), Alex Tagliani, Ryan Truex, Michael Annett, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson (twice).
That’s a list of drivers that could have easily gone the way of guys like Johnny Rumley, Justin Labonte and Andy Santerre, who still never went far in the sport despite being series winners. That’s also a list of drivers that could have gone the way of a driver like David Gilliland, who only needed one underdog win to propel him into the Cup Series, where he still races today.
To be frank, there will likely never come a time when Cup drivers are completely absent from the lower series. It takes races like this weekend’s Iowa Nationwide race, for which the big guns in Cup aren’t entered, becoming more prolific on the series schedule, as they once were. It takes sponsors and teams willing to take risks on young guns, rather than relying on the tried-and-true, proven veterans. It takes an all-encompassing rule keeping out Cuppers that will likely never be established.
That said, there was a time when series regulars could still have a chance each week, when while a Martin or Earnhardt might still spoil the show from time to time, the majority of the season’s races were won by Nationwide/Busch regulars.
If the series can at least return to that sort of setup, perturbed fans may just return to the series that scorned them. That type of series might just look a lot like what was described above.
The ball is in NASCAR’s court.
Most Wins, Nationwide Series, 2003-Present (Cup Regulars Removed, Finishing Order Constant)
Brad Keselowski – 29
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 25
Jason Leffler – 25
Martin Truex Jr. – 21
Reed Sorenson – 17
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