The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: Cupwhackers Stenhouse, Hamlin Make Season Debuts by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday November 1, 2013

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It’s crazy to think about it, but this weekend marks the 2013 Nationwide Series debuts of its past champion and another driver with quite the share of success in the sport.

When the series rolls into Texas, it’ll find Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Denny Hamlin among its ranks. Stenhouse, the 2011 and 2012 series champ, will pilot Roush Fenway Racing’s part-time No. 16 in the midst of his Cup Rookie of the Year chase, while Hamlin is filling in for Brian Vickers in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 before Drew Herring takes over for the final two races of the season.

2011 and 2012 Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will make his season debut in Nationwide this weekend at Texas.

Their inclusion on this week’s entry list cause their departure from a rather elite group: full-time Cup drivers who haven’t jumped into the Nationwide Series.

When it comes to drivers who have raced in the Sprint Cup Series either all races this season — or at least the majority with missing one or two races — that club totals a mere 14 drivers: Dave Blaney, Casey Mears, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, David Ragan, David Gilliland, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, Travis Kvapil and Carl Edwards. Of those, two — Blaney and Newman — have raced in the Camping World Truck Series as well, meaning the number drops to 12 when including that series as well.

That’s the same number as in 2012, with many of the same drivers deciding not to move into the lower series to compete, instead opting to get through the entire season on their native circuit.

Two years ago, NASCAR implemented its new points rule wherein drivers can only declare for points in one of the top three series. It was meant to curb Cup drivers running incredibly often (see: full seasons, oftentimes) in the Nationwide and Truck series, allowing those series’ identities to return after becoming a sort-of Cup-lite. But even though 2012 seemed like a beacon of hope at first, the Nationwide Series has again become a series pretty much run by its Cup counterparts. Does anyone really care that much about the series championship? Not as much as they should, and that’s a problem.

Clearly, the problem is not getting better. This weekend, Cup regulars will operate five of the series’ top rides — and given past histories at Texas, chances are it’ll be Kyle Busch or Matt Kenseth in victory lane.

As we approach 2014, it’s again important to consider this issue in the hope that the series can regain its identity. The Camping World Truck Series has done a great job of doing so this season, owing partially to its travels to tracks where the Cup and Nationwide series don’t race. In comparison, the Nationwide Series will once again have just a select few standalone events in 2014.

In other words, don’t expect a big change overnight. 2015? Maybe, but it’ll be interesting to at least monitor how many full-time Cup drivers jump down to the Nationwide Series — for one race or multiple races — next year. If there’s less, perhaps there’s hope yet. If not, other changes will be in order.

Looking Ahead: Texas

Stats (entered drivers):

Most Wins: Kyle Busch (6)
Most Top Fives: Kyle Busch (12)
Most Top 10s: Matt Kenseth (14)
Most Poles: Kyle Busch (3)

Entered Past Winners: Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joe Nemechek

Top Average Finish: Austin Dillon (4.7, 3 races), Kyle Busch (6.5, 15), Matt Kenseth (7.2, 16), Denny Hamlin (8.1, 10), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (9.8, 6)

Texas Nationwide Debuts: Ryan Ellis, Ty Dillon, Bryan Silas

Season Debuts: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin

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11/01/2013 06:03 PM

The Nationwide races on my birthday. Hope my driver wins. He did two years ago :D.