The Frontstretch: Nuts for Nationwide: Better Days Could Be Ahead for Nationwide Series by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday November 22, 2013

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Nuts for Nationwide: Better Days Could Be Ahead for Nationwide Series

Kevin Rutherford · Friday November 22, 2013


I’m an Ohio professional sports fan, which tends to make me inherently, perhaps naively hopeful for what’s to come, without question. Yeah, things might be bad now, but there’s always next season, right? So maybe it’s a burst of blind optimism when I put my faith in the future of the Nationwide Series, because on the surface, things aren’t looking great after 2013.

Following a season during which Cup regulars won all but five of the 33 races (seven, depending on where one places AJ Allmendinger), the health of the Nationwide Series looks bleak. Even the series title race, while originally set up to be a grand chase with a bevy of eligible drivers, ended up taking a backseat in the eyes of both the TV broadcasters and some of the team owners themselves in favor of the owners’ points championship, which a large percentage of NASCAR fans have professed to not care about — at all.

Austin Dillon is going to Cup while Sam Hornish, Jr. and Penske have parted ways so what is there to look forward to in Nationwide for 2014?

You know things are a bit desolate when the lack-of-sponsorship bug is even hitting the series’ top teams. Sam Hornish, Jr. and Penske Racing have officially parted ways days after nearly winning the driver championship, and it’s likely the No. 12 won’t be back at all. Kyle Busch Motorsports won’t return with its No. 77, a top-10 contender most races. There seems to be a great probability of Joe Gibbs Racing’s part-time No. 18 shuttering and the No. 20 effectively taking its place, meaning yet another loss to the series on a full-time basis.

As a whole, there’s still not even a whole lot announced for 2014 — unlike the Cup Series, which has the vast majority of its teams’ plans set in stone. At press, around 10 teams have definitive plans, most of which coming out of the series’ premier camps. Obviously there will be plenty more teams coming out of the woodwork to nail down protocol for 2014, but already there seems to be a question of how many actually will, especially with many young competitors defecting for Cup.

Still, there are some bright spots in the series — with more likely to follow — that should make the series worth following next year.

For instance, there’s the series rookie battle that’s bound to entertain. Two drivers are already announced to be competing for the prize — and for top-tier teams. Ty Dillon comes in the perennial favorite, taking over the ride that won this year’s series championship with older brother Austin. Ryan Reed will look to follow up a solid limited campaign in 2013 with a full-time ride in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16, and while he figures to be a bit behind Dillon as a whole, too many slip-ups on the former’s part could lead to a chance for the latter.

They may not be all. Chris Buescher will pilot a Roush car in an undetermined amount of races next year, while the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 ride is currently open — and Corey LaJoie is signed to the organization.

The title race has plenty of returning contestants to compete for the ultimate victory, too. Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne and Brian Scott will all be back in the same rides in 2014, while Dillon also figures to factor in as a contender. Imagine a title battle like last year’s, except the race remains close up to the finish. That could very well save the series.

Plus, they say you need to hit rock bottom before progress can be made again. Perhaps this is actually what the Nationwide Series needs — a little while of not-so-savory results before things get better. Remember the Truck Series a few years ago? Certainly not one of the more interesting aspects of NASCAR, it now tends to be one of the best shows in the sport, thanks in part to a crop of young guns coupled with dates at standalone tracks.

The Nationwide Series might not be far off from that. The 2014 schedule may not bring much to cheer for, but large changes often don’t take less than a year to complete. If NASCAR can see that the series could gain a better identity with a more unique schedule — as well as unique drivers — 2015 could be a great rebuilding year.

For now, 2014 may end up a year for the Nationwide Series much like 2013, but with a glimmer of hope. There’s still quite a bit to be announced, though. Stay tuned for February, where there will be much more to reveal — and, understandably, a clearer picture of what to expect going forward.

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phil h
11/22/2013 03:33 AM

don’t kid yourself, this series is a joke, and has been for years. I am sure Nationwide cannot wait to get out of this contract with sponsoring a series that is nothing more than akin to watching a 12th grader beat the shit out of a fifth grader.

The Cup interlopers take all the prize money, all the glory and laugh when series regulars think they somehow have a snowball chance in hell of actually winning against them.

thank you….Kyle,Kevin,Matt,Denny,Tony,Kasey,Brad and so on!

11/22/2013 04:54 AM

Agree 100%. The series is a joke and a disaster. It will continue to be that way as just recently Helton announced there are absolutely no plans to limit greedy cup interlopers winning everything in sight. And Kevin, i have no idea why you think they will get a unique schedule. na$car has repeatedly said all the tracks they will use must have safer barriers, and unless I’m wrong the only tracks that have them are the multi billion dollar facilities already on the schedule. Nope we will continue to see almost exclusive “companion events” and watch kyle, brad and sliced stink the places up. No thanks, I have pretty much stopped watching this garbage.

Carl D.
11/22/2013 06:44 AM

I agree with Phil and Tony. How this series has stayed on life support for so long without flat-lining is beyond me. The series doesn’t even have a title sponsor! And Nascar wants 20% more from the next sponsor? The fans have quit attending, the teams have quit attending, and now the sponsor walks. I used to love this series, but I’m at the point where I’d almost like to see it put out of it’s misery.

11/22/2013 08:25 AM

Has Nascar noticed the ‘crowd’ at the Nationwide races? The contention that Cup drivers put butts in the bleachers doesn’t hold water. If that’s the best the Cup guys can do drawing fans, then it’s time to ban them altogether and let the series have it’s own identity back.

Michael in SoCal
11/22/2013 11:18 AM

Four comments (so far), and four very good points that Nascar should be paying attention to. To recap:

1. Cup interlopers – the fans are tired of seeing the older kids beat up the younger kids. Enough said.

2. Companion events – this only encourages interloping, and it misses out on spreading the racing across the country on the weekend.

3. Teams not showing up – why would I want to start a NW series team when I know if I don’t have a Cup series driver, I won’t win, and I / my sponsor won’t be covered in the telecast. Where’s the incentive there?

4. The (lack of a) crowd = Cup drivers do not bring in fans to these races. The few standalone events do very well without the predominance of Cup drivers, because they are at unique venues.

Listen up Nascar. I’ll watch a couple of the NW series races (the ones at the short tracks, the plate races & the road courses), I do get disappointed when the Cup driver wins, but for the rest of the races? No way am I wasting my time on a NW series race on a cookie cutter track when a Cup driver is going to win.

11/22/2013 11:51 AM

I don’t like seafood.

11/22/2013 12:49 PM

I agree with all the above posts; the series is unwatchable. One thing I question though is if NASCAR really cares about the “crowds” at the track. The money comes from TV. I am sure they would prefer that the stands be filled but in truth, TV, and the sponsors, is what drives the sport financially. The cup drivers need to be limited in the number of races they can participate in. If they must race make them ineligible for owner’s points as well as ineligible for driver’s points as well.


11/22/2013 02:19 PM

I totally hope ALL the returnees-to-be are that as the most uncertain one’s my Nationwide driver and the others I don’t why they won’t be back.