NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bring the Golden A Plan to the Nationwide Series

I firmly oppose the joke of a points system also known as the Chase, but I’d be lying if I said that points have not been on my brain all weekend. Be it what needs to happen to keep Ryan Newman in or Kyle Busch out, I’ve spent more time calculating than actually anticipating the awesome side-by-side action that Richmond always brings.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, I found it hard to come up with a topic for this week. If there’s one weekend a year where the Nationwide Series really takes a backseat to the Cup circuit, its this one. And with yet another Cup regular making a mockery of the Series’ points chase this year, its been hard to come up with a topic for weeks prior to this one.

So, in the spirit of it being Chase weekend, let’s talk points. Since NASCAR and ESPN are never going to prevent Cup regulars from running Nationwide races, and there isn’t a person out there who can make a compelling case for what Kyle Busch has done to rid the NNS of something even remotely resembling a title race, the question must be asked: What can be done to prevent something like this from happening? The answer is already in big-time stock car racing… it’s just under a different sanctioning banner.

Over in the ranks of ARCA, the Re/Max Series at the front very much resembles the Nationwide Series, as big teams with money are ruling the roost. Between the four-car superteam of Eddie Sharp Racing and the Penske-backed Cunningham Motorsports operation, there are definite haves in that racing series. But while Justin Lofton and Parker Kligerman are constantly snagging the front-row starts and the most laps led honors race after race, dominating, it’s not coming at the expense of the lesser-funded series regulars. Rather than going the way of Morgan Shepherd and being forced to lay off entire crews, or start-and-parking a previously full-time ride like Mark Green and Jay Robinson Racing, the likes of Patrick Sheltra, Tom Hessert and even the underdogs such as Darrell Basham and Brad Smith are all still making the field… and some noise for that matter… in the ARCA points.

How is this possible? Because a few years back, when big money was flowing into ARCA just as it was into NASCAR, ARCA did something different; they chose to look out for their regulars rather than look away. They created the Golden A plan, a simple premise that has kept their unique series regulars in the field…and relevant in the points.

The premise is nothing fancy… it’s a provisional system. The caveat? The same driver has to compete every race consecutively in the same car to be eligible. What has the Golden A plan accomplished? With a much improved chance of making the field and racing every week (ex. Basham qualified for Daytona because of the plan and proceeded to finish ninth in the race), the independents and regulars are sticking to the full schedule, staying part of the ARCA Series. And because they’re contesting the full schedule, they’re scoring the 250-point bonus that ARCA awards teams for competing in five consecutive Series races.

So why would this Golden A Plan… and the 250-point bonus for consecutive attempts… be good for the Nationwide Series? Let’s take a look.

It would make it harder for a Cup regular to run away with the title in June

Sure, there’s plenty of sponsors out there that have proven willing to let their Cup stars pursue extracurricular activity in the Nationwide Series, but never to the point that a Cup driver has been excused from qualifying their Cup car to tackle Nationwide duties. And the way that the current schedule works for a double-duty driver doing both the Cup and NNS slates, that makes qualifying for at least a few Nationwide Series races every year impossible. With a Golden A plan in place that would require a driver to qualify his car in order to qualify for the 250-point consecutive attempt bonus, suddenly Kyle Busch’s 200-plus point lead would go out the window. Suddenly Brad Keselowski, even Jason Leffler, would be the title leaders, with Carl Edwards and Kyle giving chase. And that’s the way it should be… the guys that call the Series home running for its crown.

It would provide more incentive for commitment to a driver

All throughout the 2009 campaign, there’s been team after team willing to dump a prospect or even a driver getting the job done for the sake of throwing a Cup regular into the seat. And why not… with all the focus on simply the owner points, not the driver behind the wheel, there is no real incentive to develop drivers or even be loyal to them. Just ask Burney Lamar, Scott Lagasse Jr. and Mike Bliss, who all lost their seats in favor of a plethora of Cup regulars moonlighting in a series that’s not their home. With over 1,000 points in competition bonuses riding under a Golden A plan, Bliss may well still be contending for the title of lead Nationwide independent driver. Lagasse Jr. would still be battling for a spot in the top 10 in points during his rookie campaign. And instead of that, two of the unique personalities that gave the Nationwide Series much of what little flavor it had are nowhere to be seen, except occasionally toiling at the back of the pack. Make the driver relevant to keeping a car up in the owner points as well as driver points, with consecutive start bonuses and controlling who does and doesn’t get a Golden A provisional, and suddenly there may actually be more than a handful of full-time Nationwide drivers out there. If the Series is ever going to have a unique flavor and identity, this is an absolute necessity.

It would restore identity to the Nationwide Series title

Ever since Martin Truex Jr. scored his second then-Busch title in 2005, look at the list of who’s won the championship: Kevin Harvick, Edwards, Clint Bowyer. Not a true Nationwide Series driver in the bunch. This is perhaps the biggest barrier to the Nationwide Series enticing any fans to actively follow it… the title means nothing anymore. There is no real contest for it, no rivalries that develop over the course of a season, no momentum shifts to follow. Instead, when the Cup guys make announcements during the offseason regarding their plans for the upcoming year and whether or not they plan a full Nationwide Series run, the scripts are already written, just as they were this spring about the “Sprint Cup Showdown: Kyle vs. Carl.”

As previously noted, the Golden A plan would alter this landscape drastically. Couple an inherent disadvantage that Cup moonlighters would have in securing bonus points with an incentive for Nationwide owners to actually stick with drivers and campaign for the Series title, and you’ve got a championship race that doesn’t resemble the exact same one race fans are watching on Sundays. Shedding the label of Cup Lite is the most important step the Nationwide Series can take in establishing itself as a legitimate and high-level racing division… and having a title chase that is actually its own is probably not a bad thing for such a Series to have.

Agree, disagree, don’t care, there’s one thing for sure in today’s NASCAR. It’s all about points.

And I am all for some way of getting the real Nationwide regulars some more of those.

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