The Frontstretch: Nationwide Whackers Are Hurting The Sprint Cup Series by Kurt Smith -- Friday April 4, 2008

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Nationwide Whackers Are Hurting The Sprint Cup Series

Kurt Smith · Friday April 4, 2008


On several occasions during the Martinsville race this past Sunday, the announcers in the Fox booth analyzed "short term gain" vs. "long term loss". The comparison was made whenever a driver skipped a pit or took two tires for track position, meaning that they may gain track position in the short run, but the older tires may mean a net loss in the long run.

The short-term gain vs. long-term loss is a debate that could, and should, be taking place regarding Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series, and nowhere was this more evident than at Martinsville last Sunday.

Going back through the incidents and other mishandlings in that race, the list of drivers involved in them included Sam Hornish, Patrick Carpentier, Aric Almirola, and Michael McDowell. It's not that these drivers spent the whole day committing racing heresy, but all of them at some point demonstrated a lack of experience.

Hornish (11 Nationwide starts, has never raced at Martinsville) spun out twice and punted J.J. Yeley. Almirola (two Craftsman truck starts at Martinsville; he performed the best of the rookie drivers there until his engine gave out) spun out Bobby Labonte early in the race. Carpentier (four Nationwide starts; none at a short track) spun out twice. And McDowell (one truck start at Martinsville) spent quite a few laps holding up cars in lead lap traffic that were racing for the win.

All of these could be traced to lack of experience at this type of track for these drivers. Dario Franchitti went around twice at Bristol two weeks before, too.

Aric Almirola knows all too well the toll Nationwide whackers have taken on the Series after being yanked from behind the wheel of his car in the middle of a race while leading last season.

More and more drivers are cutting their teeth in Cup cars despite the fact that they aren't ready for Cup racing. With so many rookies coming from a league where they don't use fenders, it's no wonder that Martinsville is overwhelming for some of them.

Why is this happening? Because there is no minor league series in NASCAR to groom the up and coming talent anymore.

No less a respected driver than Jeff Burton complained about Michael McDowell last Sunday, saying that McDowell needs to learn some manners on the racetrack. But McDowell might have more of an opportunity to learn such manners if guys like Jeff Burton weren't racing in the Nationwide series every week. For the third year in a row, the Nationwide series is being dominated by full time Cup drivers.

NASCAR and the Nationwide Series have experienced a revenue gain from the glut of big name Cup drivers flooding the series. They've attracted sponsors, filled seats and expanded the prize money. But now we are starting to see the long-term loss from over-saturation of Cup drivers in a series where the future Cup drivers are supposed to be learning.

Top young drivers can't gain experience. Top developing talent like Todd Kluever and Burney Lamar are being thrown out of rides, because they can't run well enough and long enough to land a committed sponsorship in a series that features Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

Sometimes they don't even get to drive for the whole race; Aric Almirola last season was yanked out of his car and replaced by Denny Hamlin in the middle of a race that he was leading.

As a result, the Cup series is currently displaying its weakest rookie crop in recent memory—even worse than last year's, where a former open wheel champion was able to win the rookie of the year honors by finishing 20th in the standings amidst another weak field. This isn't a coincidence. The Nationwide Series simply isn’t fielding any regulars that consistently light up the field.

And it doesn't look any better in the near future. Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer may be the last of the star young guns for quite a while. Who will be the Sprint Cup rookies of 2009? Brad Keselowski? Kelly Bires? Or are they more likely to be Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon? What would a potential sponsor prefer?

Juan Pablo Montoya, David Reutimann, David Ragan, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Sam Hornish, Jr., Aric Almirola, Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier. That is NASCAR's future, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing personal against them, but I see maybe two of these guys becoming stars one day.

NASCAR does not have a system in place to properly bring along aspiring talent. No other sport operates this way…and no other sport is dangerous enough that it absolutely should NOT operate this way. If any sport should have a minor league, it's auto racing. The danger of inexperience really ought to override marketability. If Dario Franchitti injures another driver severely with a mistake at Darlington, I'm not going to care that he's married to Ashley Judd.

Thanks partly to Jacques Villeneuve's graciously stepping out of the way last October, the Sprint Cup schedule escaped Talladega without injury. But the circuit hits Talladega again soon and there will be probably more than one driver in the big show that doesn't know how to handle a three-wide, 35 car pack at 190 MPH. It's tough enough on guys that have been in Cup for years.

I don't have an iron-clad solution. NASCAR has a spotty record at best when it comes to legislating to solve problems. If I had my way, NASCAR would not allow any of the Top 35 drivers in the Sprint Cup points standings to participate in the Nationwide Series…so that drivers and teams who are out of the Top 35 and need extra money can make some in the lesser series to help them get back in tune. But I also don't like limiting competition or a governing body stepping in to rule things. No racing series sets limits on competition.

What NASCAR can do though, for a start, is market the Nationwide-only regulars a lot more, so that they don't actually have to beat the professionals like Scott Wimmer had to do at Nashville to be noticed. They are starting to do this with Joey Logano, who hasn't even raced in any major series yet; why not try it with Brad Keselowski, or maybe even Stephen Leicht? Let their marketing department focus on these fine young drivers so that enough people know who they are, and they can subsequently land and keep a sponsor. Everyone watching Nationwide races knows who Matt Kenseth is.

NASCAR and the Nationwide sponsors have gotten very used to the additional revenue generated by the Cup drivers racing in that series. Like a driver that takes two tires for track position, they've achieved a significant short term gain. But like that driver later losing spots to drivers that took four tires, NASCAR is now starting to see the long-term loss, as the quality of racing at the Sprint Cup level begins to suffer.

The question is whether it will be worth the gamble.

Kurt's Shorts - In The Texas Heat

  • Elliott Sadler gets a shout from the Official Columnist of NASCAR for his performance at Martinsville. After injuring his back in a workout, he completed all 500 laps at Martinsville, reportedly in a great deal of pain, and even finished in the Top 15. When I watched baseball more than NASCAR, I loved when players played hurt. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I think D.W. should tough it out when he has no voice.
  • Jeff Gordon scored his first win at Chicago in 2006 and his first at Phoenix in 2007. Maybe it's Texas's turn this year. You can't shut this guy out forever at any track. Grasshoppers learn to adapt.
  • BAM Racing and Ken Schrader won't be at Texas this weekend, apparently because they're taking some time away to make the switch to Toyota. BAM president Tony Morgenthau called it a "big picture" decision. No kidding. By the way, Microsoft has signed on with BAM as a partial sponsor. Call me irrational, but with the team already named BAM, I don't know if I'd want a sponsor whose products have a reputation for crashing.
  • You have to feel for David Reutimann. Despite being 28th in points, he has to fight for a spot this weekend at TMS, thanks to the car switch to the No. 44. I'm not sure I get the logic of that. Why not put McDowell in the No. 44? He certainly proved at Martinsville that he can keep the car on TV for a while. And the entire family of Reutimanns have driven the No. 00—and just like that a long-standing tradition was tossed aside. It's as if Brian France were running this team. I hope MWR's newly designed sway bar helps Reutimann out.

And that's Happy Hour for this week…welcome to Fort Worth.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Kevin in SoCal
04/04/2008 12:55 AM

From what I heard, UPS didnt want to switch numbers again. They wanted to stay as the 44. So they moved David over to that car since it was sponsored and the 00 only has limited sponsorship from Aaron’s. In this instance, I would have supported the swap of owner points, because David still drives for the same team, same crew, and uses the same cars, he just has a new paint scheme on his ride.

04/04/2008 07:25 AM

I definitely agree that NA$CAR should at least do something about Sprint Cup drivers int the Nationwide Series. My suggestion would at least be that anyone in the Top 35 in Sprint Cup points should not be allowed to run the entire Nationwide Schedule. Maybe limit them 15 starts in the Nationwide Series.

Also, if the Nationwide Series has problems filling a full 43 car field, drop that number down to somewhere between 36-40 for a full field.

Finally, maybe even limit the number of Sprint Cup drivers making a start in the Nationwide Series. This number can be based on # of cars entered.

04/04/2008 08:08 AM

So funny! Sure, the “intent” of the article is correct!

But to say “McDowell was holding up lead lap cars racing for the win”!!

How ridiculous! How so very ridiculous!

Are you saying that the 4 points (or whatever)lost or gained that McDowell actually was racing for, is less important than “the leaders racing for the win”?

43 cars on a short track, is a NA$CAR problem! If the “other” cars happen to get in the way, just too bad!

If the lead cars are so good! They should have no problem passing lapped traffic!

04/04/2008 08:50 AM

A Toyota is leading, a Chevrolet is closing, a fast (lap down) toyota is blocking…Makes sense to me (especially at contract time.

Margo L
04/04/2008 10:24 AM

This is probably the least well thought out column i’ve seen in months .To start out , what exactly are your credentials that give you the insight as to who is ready for Cup racing ? A number of long time competitors in Cup are routinely outrun by the newcomers .
And how can you be so clueless on the ladder that drivers use to get a cup ride ? “ NASCAR does not have a system in place to bring along aspiring talent “. WHAT!!! Here’s an idea for you . Investigate the Weekly Racing Series , the Craftsman Truck Series , The ARCA Series ( not NASCAR but one of many training series ) as well as NASCAR EAST, West, and North Series . Most importantly , we can rely on the Cup car owners to decide when a driver is ready . The rookie drivers you mention are former series champions and even world champions . They’re already stars , or hadn’t you noticed ? If you think that list of drivers can’t handle big , bad . Cup racing , then you have no business commenting on automobile racing .

04/04/2008 10:34 AM

Great article, Kurt! I agree that the whackers should be kept out of the Nationwide series.

I do want to point out one thing about the McDowell issue. He was racing to be eligible for the Lucky Dog should another caution come out. If he moved over for Mr. Burton, he would have been freight-trained and most likely not be in a position for the Lucky Dog. Mr. Burton didn’t want to try and pass McDowell on the outside because he would then have been freight-trained. Personally, I think McDowell used some good racing sense in order to maintain his position.

If a driver’s car is not good enough to pass another, so be it. Guess Mr. Burton’s car was not as fast as he would have us believe…

04/04/2008 11:11 AM

Right now, the only series young drivers can gain experience in without having to really worry about the high dollar Cup teams invading and bumping them out of the way is the CTS. And even then, you have to worry about Kyle Busch coming in and taking everybody out, rookie and veteran alike.

Something needs to be done to give the up and coming drivers a place to “pay their dues” before they’re put in a Cup car. And as NASCAR doesn’t seem to be willing to do anything with the Busch Series, it looks like it’s going to be either the CTS for these youngsters or ARCA.

FS Kurt
04/04/2008 12:32 PM

Margo, my “credentials” are owning a TV set, through which I witnessed the incidents I described at Martinsville.

As far as the “ladder” to a Cup ride, there doesn’t appear to be one…or it goes through the IndyCar and Formula One Series, where the racing is very different from NASCAR. As far as the other series you mentioned, why didn’t you add the Nationwide Series? That is, or used to be, where up and coming drivers could come closest to racing under Cup conditions.

The level of competition in the Truck series isn’t close to Cup, and the other series you named have a competition level well below the truck series.

Forgive me for not clarifying what I meant by drivers becoming “stars”. I meant “stars in what is by far the most popular racing series in North America”. But I didn’t see the need to add that.

04/04/2008 12:47 PM

Well said SrRaceFan!

Kurt Smith seems to be one of those that thinks if your not in the top twelve (12), your not a racer!

And with the CoT, which is important to bring up, there is no other place other than the CUP races to learn how to drive that beast! Don’t care how many ARCA races, Nationwide races, or CTS races you run, NOTHING prepares you for the likes of the CoT! A race car it ain’t!

04/04/2008 01:25 PM

Dougla$$ – How ridiculous! How so very ridiculous!

Pot, Kettle, black doogy, pot, kettle, black.

It’s bad enough that you don’t know squat about tire management, but now you show you know nothing about the scoring system, or short track racing at NASCAR tracks.

First, they’ve been running 43 drivers at short tracks for as long as they’ve been running 43 drivers.

Second, Who cares about McDowell’s three points? It’s the leaders that are racing for the win, not the backmarkers. Frankly, only the top 12 do matter when it’s all said and done.

Third, your negativity and ignorance shows through in every post. Go pollute a baseball site. And take the rest of the xenophobic McLauglinites with you.

04/04/2008 03:26 PM

Hey Kevin!

“Tire management”??

BAM!!!! There goes another Goodyear!

“43 cars on a short track”?, Sure they have always done that! Sure don’t make it right!

“McDowell, & his THREE (3) points”?? Ask McDowell, or anyone else how important those (measly) three (3) points are! See what he says! Oh, and if they were not that important, than why does NA$CAR give points for anything below 12 positions??

“Scoring system”??? What in the world does that mean? To me if a guy is up for the (stupid) lucky dog, he has EVERY RIGHT to race anyone in sight for that position!

Me thinks your the one that does not pay attention!

Margo L
04/04/2008 04:09 PM

I hardly know where to start . If your tv is your only insight into racing , you desperately need to broaden your horizons .
There doesn’t seem to be a ladder ? You should re-read my post and see if you can find any mention of a ladder . Truck racing not close to Cup racing ? Turn the tv off Kurt and do some research . By the way , i didn’t add Nationwide to my list because your column is all about Nationwide . Didn’t seem to be any reason to mention it again . One more reason to turn off your tv and go to the races is your concern over the lack of competition in anything but cup . With the exception of ALMS , i can think of no racing series on earth that lacks for competition , from the Saturday night short tracks to F1 and everything in between . If you’re interested , any all around driver will tell you that the most competitive form of racing is in fact midgets , not Cup . Ask Gordon , Stewart , or Schrader .
You think a driver can only be called a star if they are successfull in Cup racing ? Then i go back to my first post . This is the least thought out column i’ve seen in months .

04/04/2008 09:44 PM

Newcomers to watching racing, it wasn’t that many years ago, back in the 90’s, that about 36 cars raced on short tracks, it wasn’t until a few years ago they fielded 43, it had something to do with TV and sponsors.

04/04/2008 10:09 PM

How about mandating that if a cup driver is going to drive in a Nationwide event then it must be in his own equipment with absolutely no paper trail to a cup owner. That ought to ween out the ones who are doing it for fun and the ones who are acting as hired guns. I would imagine that there will be a decline in the field for a period but then folks might see that they have a fighting chance in that division and start coming back or develop new teams. I miss the days when local drivers from nearby tracks could bring there own equipment to race against the division regulars. That’s was how you were able to gage the future talent.

Kurt Smith
04/05/2008 09:10 AM

Margo, I did some “research” like you insisted…

From Jeff Gordon’s book (one of the drivers you permitted me to ask), describing his first season in Cup racing:

“As the season went along I discovered that the biggest difference between Winston Cup and the other series was parity. The best Busch drivers were almost as good as the best Cup drivers, but the gap between the top Busch team and thirtieth best Busch team was substantial. In Winston Cup, the difference between the top team and the bottom team was minute. Every driver could drive. All the crew chiefs knew what they were doing. The crews trained professionals, and there was only a fractional difference in the cars…By the latter half of the year I realized I was going to lose a lot more than I was going to win at this level.”

There you are…a comment on the level of competition in Cup racing straight from someone whose opinion you told me to cite.

04/05/2008 09:59 AM

Lovin’ the research! Got more?

Margo L
04/05/2008 12:05 PM

When you do reserch Kurt , try to be discerning in what you quote . Look up a typical starting lineup from 1992 and tell me that the 20th or 30th or 40th qualifier was as competitive as the top ten . I’ll save you the trouble . 1992 was no diferent than 2008 . The top ten cars could win , the rest were hanging on .And as we all know , the top Busch drivers in 1992 were as good as the Cup drivers because many of them WERE the Cup drivers . Sounds like Gordon needs to go back and edit his book with 16 years of hindsight , because i doubt that the team that was 35th in points in Gordons first year was much of a threat to Allison , Irvan ,and Kulwiki .More important , what in the world does a 16 year old quote from a rookie driver have to do with your claim that Cup racing is far more competitive than any other form of racing ? All we get from the Gordon quote is that he was struggling as a rookie . Yes , he did struggle . But Tony Stewart did not . Nor did Jimmie Johnson . How did those two manage to do so well right off the mark . Neither of them had a very long stay in Busch .

04/05/2008 04:10 PM

Margo…I don’t understand how you derived at this comment “And as we all know , the top Busch drivers in 1992 were as good as the Cup drivers because many of them WERE the Cup drivers”. If you do the research you will find only one Cup driver finished in the top twenty in the Busch points in 1992 and that was Harry Gant. It’s obivious you were assuming that the names you were seeing, (B. Labonte, J. Gordon, W. Burton, J. Burton, Nemechek and etc.) were Cup drivers when they were actually full time Busch drivers then. None of the top drivers in the Busch points were driving for Cup owners then either. I think pushing Cup owners out of the Nationwide Series would go a long ways in restoring it’s identity.
Here’s a rule that may change the face of the sport. If you insist on having three of more teams in the Cup series then you can have no connection whatsoever with the Nationwide Series. If an owner chooses to run two teams or less in Cup then they can run a maximum of two teams in the NW Series. Then again there ought to be a five team total limit through all three top series. How the owner places their teams is at their discretion but after five teams they cannot have a inkling of support for another team regardless of relationship. Large pocket owners are ruining any opportunity for fresh blood owners to enter the sport in all three series. Even though the Truck Series isn’t impacted as bad, it still should be included in the equation.

Ren Jonsin
04/05/2008 04:20 PM

Hey guys, we like the comments and keep them coming, but if your only purpose is to attack another poster, or you’re not adding to the conversation, we’ll remove the comment. It’s OK to question the writer like you are doing, but what is NOT allowed is name calling and stalking another poster.

Thanks to all those thoughtful commenters,


Kurt Smith
04/05/2008 05:15 PM

SrRaceFan, I’ll admit I haven’t searched very hard, but my memory banks don’t contain any quotes from any drivers that think the toughest competition is in midgets.

04/06/2008 10:58 PM

You searched exactly enough, Kurt! Your facts outweigh all the words that are really just opinions. Way to go!

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