Race Weekend Central

5 Questions for 2011: Will the NASCAR Nationwide Series Survive?

New points. New pavement. New attitude. As NASCAR heads towards Daytona in 2011, all around the sport are focused on the positive, looking for the perfect season to recapture a nation and get what once seemed like limitless upward momentum jumpstarted again.

Can they do it? As Speedweeks dawn, both the Bud Shootout and 53rd Daytona 500 usher in a long list of questions along with them, the answers to which could define the sport for not just this year but the coming decade. That means it’s time to get the blood pumping and start that 2011 analysis, figuring out just exactly how the controversies, the Earnhardt drama and the NASCAR tweaks both on and off the track will work out.

This week, we’ll get you thinking each day on one of five big questions facing stock car racing in 2011; as we try and find the answers, ten staff members you know and love will come at you with our usual blend of facts, opinion and most of all… a sense of humor. After all, we’ll all need to laugh if these predictions blow up in our face come November …

Today’s Season Preview Topic: While the NASCAR Nationwide Series eliminated Cup full-timers from championship contention this year, they stopped short of keeping them from running the full schedule. Do you expect them to do so when all is said and done, and with no rookies or new teams on the horizon are these moves too late for the series to survive over the long-term?

Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: At this point, I think the only Cup guy who may run the full-time Nationwide schedule is Brad Keselowski. Carl Edwards has some sponsorship issues, while Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch won’t be tempted to make the push while scoring no points.

The unfortunate thing, though, is those four drivers will win enough races in the series – 20, at least – to make the Nationwide-only drivers borderline irrelevant. You’ve got to provide serious incentive for both new owners and rookie wheelmen to enter the series – there’s zero of each right now – and I just don’t think these changes have done enough. With the Truck Series thriving, it’s a shame that’s the one likely on the chopping block because it’s NASCAR’s “AAA” division in need of more serious repair.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: It’s a baby step in the right direction, but whether it will prove to be enough to save the series is still debatable. I’d have really liked to see Cup owners with their Cup drivers in the cars get no owner points as well – then, the points fund money would go to the real Nationwide teams and not the double-dippers. NASCAR should have gone a step further on this one, limiting the NNS races the Cup guys can race in; end of story.

Yes, I know this move could still do that for the long-term – it can only be fun to beat up on the little kids for so long if there’s ultimately no lunch money to steal. However, it may not stop the two or three real bullies who seem to think that winning these races over the real NNS crowd is some sort of big accomplishment.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: Again, NASCAR fails to employ the obvious fix. Established Cup superstars who run the full NNS schedule (despite what award-winning journalist Amy Henderson thinks) are only doing it for their love of racing, not to stroke their egos or manhood. Edwards, for instance, plans to run it anyway. The man, like Kyle Busch, simply loves to race and win. So the simplest fix to the “NationWhacking” problem is to limit the number of NNS races that a Cup regular can run to say, 10 races.

Now if you want to get more sophisticated, and this solution may be the best I’ve ever thought of yet… not only do you limit the number of races that a Cup regular can run, but REQUIRE all previous year’s Chase members to run at least three NNS races sometime during the current year! That not only gives the up and comers the experience and confidence of racing against the best, it also provides the NNS series with a steady stream of “big names” in the races that supposedly draws attendance. It would also even out the “focus” questions that keep popping up about Cup regulars who are also running in the NW series.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Of all the offseason NASCAR moves, this change is the one I think makes the most sense – and was a long time coming. For years, I have said drivers need to declare what series they are contending for a title in. This isn’t 1990, and you don’t need big-name drivers to get fans to a Nationwide race anymore. Part of the reason you continue to see a lot of recycled drivers is because they infiltrate the lower series as well. Not a bad way to ensure job security when you suck up all of the available rides, right?

Now Sprint Cup – or IndyCar Series – drivers can still compete in the races, but they won’t be taking chunks of points away from the drivers and teams that have made the commitment to compete full-time and support what once was one of the most compelling racing series in North America. Nationwide has needed a new identity for many years now, and with the adoption of the muscle-car nameplates of Challenger and Mustang, as well as a group of specific drivers, it will help spur renewed interest in NASCAR’s development series from both fans and owners alike.

Summer Dreyer, Frontstretch Contributor: The series will survive over the long-term just because of its popularity, and this move is definitely a step in the right direction. I don’t expect the winners to be different because most of the Sprint Cup Series drivers don’t run for the Nationwide Series championship anyway, but it does allow for more unknown names to be seen at the top of the standings.

It’s a good compromise in allowing the Cup drivers to still bring in the star power but still allow the Nationwide Series drivers to have their moment. Once the economy is healthier, they can start trying to more aggressively push the Cup drivers out completely if that’s what NASCAR decides they want to do.

Doug Turnbull, Frontstretch Podcast Host: The move to eliminate drivers from running for two championships is nearly pointless. Cup drivers will still dip down, run and win most of the races in the Nationwide Series and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick will still dominate the races they run in the Truck Series. Edwards’s and Keselowski’s sole purposes for running the full Nationwide schedule now are to keep the sponsor on their car (and not that of a fledgling team or driver) and keep the money flowing in to their teams.

More should be done to A) curtail Cup trickledown involvement and B) get NASCAR sponsors to back race teams, not the sport, if any real progress is going to be made to help the underdogs.

Tony Lumbis, Marketing Manager: Difficult to tell, as it all depends on what do sponsors value more – winning races or winning the championship? Owners will often resort to putting well-known Cup drivers behind the wheel of their Nationwide machine because sponsors will pony up the cash a lot easier for Mark Martin or Denny Hamlin than they will for Nathan No-Name.

So at the end of the day, are sponsors OK with not having a shot at the championship to stay associated with the Sprint Cup names, or will they be more willing to roll the dice in an attempt to associate their brand with the next star of tomorrow? I may be an optimist here, but I think the latter is true and the series will gain some sustainability.

S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: I predict a shell game of names for the supporting series. There are development teams… they exist in the K&N Pro Series and Camping World Trucks. Nationwide, in comparison, has just turned into just another meal ticket to help fund the big racing stables with Saturday airtime and a few sponsor deals. Remove the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series will step up and eventually suffer a similar fate, while another regional series will grow and take its place. Life goes on.

Garrett Horton, Frontstretch Contributor: It depends on how Keselowski and Edwards do this year. If they win all the races, then yes, NASCAR will make some more changes. However, we don’t need the Cup guys being eliminated altogether. There needs to be a balance of name recognition and driver development in the Nationwide Series. Sponsors and the “casual fan” will want a driver they know if they are going to devote time and money to a second-tier race. At the same time, there is no point of having all the Cup drivers winning every minor league race.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Senior Editor: When NASCAR finally made their solution to have the Cup drivers run rampant over the Nationwide regulars, many were disappointed (including myself). Sure, the sanctioning body has eliminated their ability to run for a championship, but that’s not going to change anything on a week-to-week basis. Though the decision may limit the number of races some drivers attempt in the Nationwide Series, the fact remains that you’ll still have Cup drivers in the race each and every week, limiting the likelihood that a Nationwide regular will win.

All this change did was increase the possibility that the series will see a champion that didn’t visit victory lane on the way. NASCAR, is that what you really want? Until the sanctioning body steps in and limits the number of races a Cup driver can run, the Nationwide regulars will still be overshadowed – and the series is in danger.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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