NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Eyes on XFINITY: No Easy Solution to Cup Driver Dominance

There have not been many high points in 2016 for XFINITY Series fans who favor a second-tier series without Sprint Cup driver dominance. In the last three races, reigning Sprint Cup champ Kyle Busch has looked nearly unstoppable, and he stands a good chance at getting his fourth consecutive victory at Auto Club Speedway. Busch’s wins, as well as a fair amount of bias against the polarizing driver, has given new life to the debate about whether or not NASCAR should limit participation of Cup drivers in the XFINITY Series.

It is a tricky situation on NASCAR’s part. On one hand, the sanctioning body is trying to promote a new “winning means more” philosophy in the series with the introduction of an elimination-style Chase. Just one win should probably be enough to get an XFINITY regular into the postseason. Yet if the first four races (and the last few years) are any guide, wins by XFINITY regulars will be few and far between. It does not reflect well on NASCAR if the sanctioning body promotes a championship format that uses wins as a major qualifier if championship-ineligible drivers are doing all the winning.

BEARDEN & FESKO: Is Kyle Busch’s Win Count as Impressive as it Sounds?

Thus, NASCAR finds itself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Even though it has received a mixed reception from fans, Brian France remains convinced that the elimination-style Chase is the key to growing NASCAR’s popularity. However, there is no way that the Chase can work to its full extent if Cup drivers are winning every week in the XFINITY Series. So if France and his associates really love and care about the not quite-NFL or March Madness playoff that NASCAR currently uses in all three of its national series, something must be done to curb the Cup driver dominance. The problem is that any rules which NASCAR might change would be difficult to enforce or potentially hurt the overall health of the XFINITY Series.

2016 Phoenix I NXS Jeb Burton car Matthew T Thacker NKP
Is an XFINITY Series regular like Jeb Burton helped or hurt by racing against the Cup regulars? (credit: Matthew T. Thacker – NKP)

Suppose NASCAR limited every full-time Cup driver to no more than five XNS races per season. Would that solve the problem? While such a restriction would curb Busch from winning so frequently, teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske would likely still put different Cup drivers in one of their cars on a rotating basis. In that scenario, fans would probably see a number of different Cup drivers win during the XFINITY season, but that would not help as far as the Chase is concerned.

What would happen if NASCAR outright banned Cup Series teams from fielding XFINITY cars? It sounds good at first, but teams could easily find a way to circumvent the rule. Consider how JR Motorsports gets a lot of personnel, technical support and even engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Technically speaking, JR Motorsports is a separate entity from Hendrick, but it is their alliance with Hendrick that really makes the team competitive. If NASCAR were to simply say “No Cup owners in XFINITY,” the JGR and Team Penske XFINITY programs would likely get absorbed into Kyle Busch Motorsports and Brad Keselowski Racing. Those teams would have a different owner on paper and could even be housed in a different race shop, but in practice there would be little difference between that scenario and what we have now.

Even if NASCAR were to take the rule further and ban any kind of Cup intervention in the series, such a ban would be tough to enforce, and a lot of people could lose their jobs. Cutting out any sort of XNS participation by the Cup teams would also eliminate pretty much all of the well-funded teams and leave fewer opportunities for up-and-coming drivers. Moreover, how many new owners with money, resources, and skills to run a race team would step up and fill the void left by the Cup owners? Chances are, not many, and it would be very difficult for the XFINITY Series to survive with cash-strapped teams and 20 car fields.

It would also be unwise for NASCAR to employ some kind of handicap during the race that would make it difficult for Cup drivers to win. Starting at the back of the pack is barely a hindrance for a driver of Busch’s or Keselowski’s caliber. More importantly, any such handicap would mess with the integrity of the competition. Having Cup drivers start the race one lap down, for instance, would make for a compelling challenge, but such a rule would blur the line between sport and entertainment far too much.

As long as there are Sprint Cup regulars racing in the XFINITY Series, they will find ways to win. So what if NASCAR declared that all drivers who choose to compete for Sprint Cup points cannot enter any XFINITY races? It would be an easy way to stop Cup drivers from winning, but a rule like that would create new problems. Track operators likely would not be on board with the idea, citing the notion that having Cup drivers in the XFINITY field brings more fans to the track. There could also be sponsors that are unwilling to support unproven XNS regulars. The problem is that we do not know what a second-tier series without any premier-series drivers looks like.

Throughout the history of the modern XFINITY Series, there has always been some level of Cup driver participation. The reasons why “double dipping” is frowned upon so much more in recent years is because of the frequency with which Cup drivers win, combined with the practice of racing with Cup teams. Fans do not like to see established Sprint Cup drivers and teams unite to defeat developing drivers and teams who have a fraction of the budget of the heavy-hitters. Such victories put the disparity of NASCAR on full display. The level of dominance becomes too much for fans to ignore, and they do not bother to watch the races. After all, why watch someone win on Saturday when you know that they could also win on Sunday against a more competitive field?

If NASCAR wants the XFINITY Series to be successful long-term, they will have to find a solution to the Cup driver dominance. However, the sanctioning body will not reach that solution by making a rule restricting the participation of Cup drivers and teams. Instead, NASCAR needs to get creative and do something to change the identity of the XFINITY Series. The most direct way of accomplishing this would be to shake up the schedule. Go to different venues than the Cup Series does, or at least do not have so many companion events that make it easy for drivers to run both XFINITY and Cup races in one weekend. Remember, Busch said last weekend that XFINITY races help him prepare for Cup races the following day. If NASCAR creates a situation where it is less practical for Sprint Cup drivers to run XFINITY races, it will not seem like such an attractive option to team owners and sponsors.

NASCAR has shown an unwillingness to make big schedule changes, but they may have to take that step in the future. The long-term health of the XFINITY Series is at stake, and the sanctioning body cannot make the rash judgements and rule changes for which some fans have been screaming without understanding the consequences. Inaction, however, will not help to reverse the dwindling sense of identity in the XFINITY Series.

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Fred

You have more excuse than a politician on why things can’t be done. Hurt the overall health of the busch series? Seriously? The series is a disaster and nobody watches it because the winner is almost always a cup superstar. Look in the stands, nobody is there. So if they’re worried about the overall health, they are currently not doing what needs to be done. Trust me nobody wants to see these cup drivers winning everything in sight. If you think they are, then you’re only fooling yourself. This has gone far enough. Cup drivers need to go. There are plenty of talented young drivers who will attract sponsors if given a chance. If these cup legends weren’t there, then guys like Erik Jones, Regan Smith and others would be winning. Winning races will attract sponsors. The notion that only cup drivers bring sponsorship dollars is ludicrous.
Now the topic of the cup owners is another issue. I think over the years their dominance has run off lots of semi competitive teams and they’re not coming back. However some of these massive cup teams have been doing a decent job of putting up and comers in the cars, Blaney, Elliott, etc. working their way up. In my opinion that’s really what is interesting to watch and though not ideal to have a few multi million or billion dollar teams, and a few with barely nothing, I don’t see that changing very much. All I can say is I don’t watch the companion races anymore, nor does anyone I know as the outcome is so damn predictable, Kyle, Kese, Logano or Harvick. Will the buffoons ever fix anything? I doubt it, so I just won’t watch or attend the races.

Steve

Sponsors don’t want to be a part of the Xfinity series, because the Cup guys take all the money, wins, exposure every weekend they race. How is that healthy for the series. The argument that Cup drivers are what keeps the series going is a complete joke. The grandstands are empty and nobody is watching on tv. Get the Cup guys out and fans will go back to watching what the series is supposed to be designed for. Development of our future stars of the sport.

I don’t blame the drivers for this. I blame Nascar for being oblivious to it all and letting it go on, and I blame the media for propping up these guys so much when they win these races with superior equipment and their Cup crews every weekend.

Brian

xfinity series used to be almost a stand ane racing series that ran at many other venues, typically smaller and more “local” oriented with the same model cars T-birds, Monte carlos, etc. but they had a very different aero package and v6 engines.
The issues with the Cup drivers starting to dominant the series started when NASCAR, in the infinite greedy money- making decisions, started to run most of the races at the same tracks, changed the engine to V8, and had the car themselves so similar to the Cup car that is made complete sense for a Cup team to start a xfinity program, and have its drivers run most if not sometimes all the races. The money started getting better as well so it was worth the time and effort to do.

The same thing is happening with the trucks too many companion events and similar to drive. Started off at very few Cup tracks now is what 50% or better at the same tracks?

Robert

“The problem is that any rules which NASCAR might change would be difficult to enforce or potentially hurt the overall health of the XFINITY Series.”

Are you kidding ? NASCAR changes the rules *all* the time. And all one has to do is look at the TV stats and the fans in the seats to see if it’s helped things or not.

Honestly, I don’t know how non-cup XFINITY teams survive at all. Why would *any* sponsor want to fund them when the cameras are always on some cup guy at the front ?

I love the idea that it’s a series where we have the opportunity to watch up and comers, but when do we get a chance to watch them when TV rarely mentions them because they are invariably at the back ?

“Oh gosh, we can’t change anything!” – That’s all you every hear when big money’s involved. And yet the more NASCAR has let the big money in, the more that their ratings decline. And the more that they resort to gimmicks in their increasingly desperate attempts to “increase the excitement”.

At some point they need to do something that’s actually for the sport, rather than staring at their pocketbooks all the time. Those wallets of theirs are blocking their view, and the sport continues it’s decline because of it.

jerseygirl

LOL, what a silly article! Of course there is something that could be done – don’t let the Cup drivers drive in every race but that’s the obvious solution so that is something that NASCAR would never consider.

It’s a waste of time to watch.

Rod

There are 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for Saturday’s TREATMYCLOT.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway and 3 drivers will not make the race and those guys DON’T HAVE A RIDE ANYWHERE ELSE …. but we have 6 Sprint Cup Drivers that will BE GUARANTEED spot in the lineup. TOTAL BS !!!!!!!!!!

When Busch enters an Xfinity Series race, he wins it 25 percent of the time (79 wins in 314 starts). 60 percent of the time he runs inside of the top-five and 71 percent of the time he runs inside of the top-10.
NEWS FLASH………….
KYLE “PEE WEE HERMAN” BUSCH WILL PROBABLY GET WIN #80 THIS WEEK AND LEAD THE MOST LAPS

12345

personally i think cup guys should leave and let younger guys race here is how i see it, let some truck drivers race xfinity races as well. The series is for up and comers ONLY. Either limit the amount of races for cup drivers or take them out. How can we watch good racing for 17 to early 20s drivers make a name for themselves if Busch, Keselowski, Dillon, Elliott, Harvick, Logano etc… come and dominate the races. My mom wants to take me to a friday night richmond race and i dont want to bc i already know a cup guy (Busch) will win it or even Hamlin. The point is the younger guys never get the chance they deserve bc of the cup guys. Kyle Busch just exposed true selfishness when he said “it helps me get the feel for the track for tomorrow”. He only does it to benefit him and is in it for the money. He led 493 out of 563 laps in the 3 races he ran in total. Its crap and fans are sick and tired of it. The people who attend those races are wasting their money unless they actually want to see the same guy win constantly. The past few seasons, cup drivers won over half of the 33-35 races ran per season. The slogan says “NAMES ARE MADE HERE”. I know i wrote too much but i dont care.

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