Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: Nationwide Series Has Gone From Bad To Worse

In most sports, athletes do not go to a lower level of competition under the guise of “gaining experience.” Imagine if the locked-out NFL players decided, “Hey, let’s play college football this year to gain experience!” One could only imagine the uproar that would create. But in the wacky world of NASCAR, such is the case in the Nationwide Series on a regular basis. Drivers such as Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and others frequently dip into the Triple A series of NASCAR to do the racing equivalent of a high school student beating up a middle school student for their lunch money by winning 99% of the races, hogging up all the television coverage, and the end result? A series that just ten years ago was thriving is now in critical condition and things are only going to get worse for the series before they get better.

Ever since Kevin Harvick started the double-dipping trend, victories for Nationwide Series regulars, over time, have become few and far between. With a 28 percent cut in purses over the past two years and ESPN’s coverage focusing on Cup drivers, Danica Patrick and Steven Wallace for the most part, what do Nationwide Series drivers and teams have to look forward to these days? Justin Allgaier and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. are tied for the points lead with Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, and Elliott Sadler all in striking distance of the championship. Yet, when the mainstream media talks about this, it’s only mentioned in passing.

A great deal of the blame for this pandemic rests on the shoulders of Nationwide Series officials, whom during the off-season had the chance to somewhat right the wrongs of recent years. But apparently, those efforts to change things for the better were about as sincere as a politician promising to lower gas prices. The series did not place any limits on how many races Cup drivers could attempt and their solution to not give the Cup drivers any points hasn’t deterred the usual bullies from their usual chicanery of entering every race to either pay for their helicopter bill or stroke their ego. So far, the only Nationwide regulars to consistently contend with the Cup drivers have been Stenhouse, Bayne, and (to a certain extent) Allgaier, Sorenson, and Leffler. While Almirola and Sadler are in the thick of the points chase, they’ve largely been non-factors in each race they’ve entered.

This past weekend at Nashville, with the Cup drivers dominating everything in sight, the atmosphere was almost like being alive for one’s own funeral. The defeatist mentality seems to be hovering over the series like a storm cloud with the gap between Cup teams and Nationwide Series teams growing more and more each week. On one prominent racing message board, going into this week’s at Richmond, some were hoping that Cup regular Paul Menard would win just for the sake of someone different going to Victory Lane. That right there is proof of how bad things truly are in the Nationwide Series. When fans are hoping a mid-pack (albeit upper mid-pack) Cup regular wins a race in the series just so Kyle Busch, Edwards, Brad Keselowski, or Logano doesn’t wind up in Victory Lane, something is horribly wrong with the series.

The sad truth is had Nationwide Series officials just placed some kind of limit on how many Nationwide starts a Cup regular could make, that would have been a great step in the right direction. But, it seems like Nationwide Series officials are about as inept as the Oakland Raiders in recent years. And amazingly, these Cup drivers are in complete and total denial that they are the problem with the series. Brad Keselowski, for example, has tweeted on his Twitter on more than one occasion that he doesn’t feel that it’s wrong for him to run a full schedule in the Nationwide Series. In fact, he has been downright condescending to anyone that dares to even imply that to him. Edwards has also stated he doesn’t see the problem with it.

At the end of the day, there is no denying that the Nationwide Series is still just as broken as it was last year, perhaps moreso. The driver points has almost become devalued by the media in favor of owners’ points. Once upon a time, the series was a haven for driver development and thrived without an overwhelming Cup presence. Now it seems like the Cup presence is overwhelming and watching the Nationwide Series in recent years has, well, to put it bluntly, sucked because fans know good and well which drivers will likely be racing for the win every week, so why tune in when the out-come has become just as pre-determined as watching the WWE or TNA? But the real question is, can the series be saved before it’s too late?

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