NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Practical Ways to Address Cup Drivers in Lower Series

In recent years, fans have become increasingly vocal about limiting the number of Sprint Cup drivers in the XFINITY and Truck series races, or limiting the number of races they run as the number of series regulars winning races has dwindled, particularly in the XFINITY Series. In that series, of 71 races dating back to the beginning of the 2014 season, 50 have been won by Cup regulars. Five races into 2016, not a single XFINITY regular has won a race. Fans have voiced their displeasure more loudly in recent years, and while Kyle Busch has been the target of much of it because of his win totals in the lower series, he’s not the only one running the lower series, most often in equipment provided by Cup teams.

It’s not practical to eliminate the Cup drivers completely because some fans and a lot of the up-and-coming drivers do want them to race there, and tracks are concerned that the Cup drivers boost ticket sales on Friday night and Saturdays. But there are ways to limit participation and redistribute the lower series’ wealth without an outright ban that would potentially hurt sponsorship.

1. It’s not just the drivers, so…

Perhaps the most sensible solution is not limiting the number of races a driver can run, but the number he can run with his Cup owner. Years ago, you used to see a handful of Cup drivers racing another series for a smaller local team. Sometimes they weren’t in equipment with a prayer of winning, no matter how good they were, but that was OK. They just wanted to race. This kind of thing was good for the drivers in the series who wanted to advance their careers; they raced against the best drivers out there but weren’t ridiculously outclassed in equipment.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)
Perhaps putting a limit on the number of times a driver can run for a Cup Series owner could solve this problem. (Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

A limit on races that could be run for the same owner – or for any team with any affiliation with that owner, including technical assistance or equipment – could be a happy medium, allowing drivers to have fun on Saturday but not overrun the show, and letting the youngsters race the more experienced drivers while ensuring that the fans don’t see the same thing most weeks. Let them run for the small teams, the local owners. It might bring those teams a little sponsor money and get a little airtime, a winning proposition for all involved.

2. Hors Concours

That’s a fancy term from the world of equestrian sports which simply means unjudged, and it’s what you do if you need to enter a division that’s really not appropriate. It might be done coming back from injury or for getting a little experience with a young horse in an unfamiliar venue. It’s a very simple concept: you pay the fee, enter the class, complete the same course as the other contestants, but you don’t get placed – no ribbon, no prize money, no points toward awards, nothing. To the outside world, it’s as though you were never there. It’s a show of sportsmanship.

If the Cup teams and drivers want to play on the playground with the less experienced teams and drivers, perhaps that’s how NASCAR should allow it. No trophy, no prize money, no owner points, not even an official placing, maybe a listing at the bottom of the official finishing order with an unscored designation. Not even a transponder on the cars. No, it would not stop the television booth from fawning over these teams like they’re doing something remarkable every week, but it would put the prize money where it belongs and maybe make owners and drivers think twice about doing it every week, while also taking that ridiculous grab for the owners’ title back to where it should be with the series regulars.

3. Unline those pockets

Slightly less drastic than not scoring them at all, not paying any purse money to Cup-owned teams running their Cup drivers is still a viable option. If the driver is really doing it for fun, then he should not mind giving up a Saturday paycheck, and it’s not as if the team would be forced to work for free. Sponsor money would just have to be stretched a little further, which would eliminate some of the huge disparity in budgets between the big, Cup-owned teams and the rest of the XFINITY teams. Redistributing the prize money among the teams racing for the championship is only beneficial to the series as a whole.

4. No doubling up venues

One big reason that fans voice their displeasure with the system more now than they did in the 1990s when Mark Martin was winning left and right was that series regulars were still winning roughly half of the races every year. There were more stand-alone events for the XFINITY and Truck series, which trimmed the numbers a bit. Now, with so many companion races, perhaps it’s time to, at the very least, restrict Cup drivers from running more than one event at any track per year. There are eight tracks with two races, and if the Cup drivers had to choose one or the other, it would mean a few could drive each one, but teams would have to run a different driver in the other race. It’s not a perfect solution, because it only limits eight races and some teams would simply put another Cup driver in the car. But it would be different than the status quo.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
One suggestion for limiting Cup Series drivers in lower tier series puts a cap on the number of times a driver can win before they are excluded from competing. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

5. Win and you’re not in

One suggestion I’ve heard is that after a driver not racing for points in a series wins a certain number of races, he should be restricted from any more races that year. It’s good – really good, actually – on paper, but in practice, sponsors pay for a set number of races, so telling them their driver can’t race in half the races they ponied up for isn’t really an option. Sponsors could adjust, and they’d know going in that they may wind up with another driver, but there’s too much uncertainty that would surround that money, and that’s not good for the teams.

However, limiting races at a venue after a set number of wins in the series is an alternative. If a driver is not racing for points, then after, say, three national series wins at any given track, he can’t race at that track again unless he’s running for points.

There’s a much smaller risk for sponsors here; it’s unlikely that a driver is going to get a third win at all of the tracks with two races in the first race of the same season. The sponsor might have to readjust for a race or two, but in general, they’d know before the season where the driver can and cannot be in the car and could make deals accordingly. It would phase drivers out slowly, over time, and until they had that third win, they could race the track as often as they wanted. It would give drivers who struggle at a given track some extra seat time, and still limit the Cup participation at many venues.

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salb

I find suggestion #1 the best alternative. It not only get the Cup drivers in the field to supposedly beef up attendance and ratings, but might actually help an under funded team improve their program. and, it might just remind the Cuppers just how lucky they are to be driving for a well funded team with lots of resources.

Rod

JUST KEEP THE CUP DRIVERS OUT OF THE MINOR LEAGUES OF RACING BECAUSE IT’S NOT FILLING THE SEATS ANY MORE THEN WITHOUT THEM ……..

Bill H

Don’t let them run at all. The full time drivers drivers are competing for the championship, using the formula of “win and you’re in,” and are being denied a chance at the win. Right now we’ve had no fewer than five races in the series, and no driver has yet qualified for “the chase.” How does that make any sense, and how is it fair to the drivers who are competing in the Xfinity series for the championship?

The announcers are sounding like idiots, hyperventilating about a driver possibly “making th chase” with a win when he is running half a lap down in fifth place behind four Sprint Cup drivers who cannot qualify for the Xfinity chase.

DoninAjax

What do you think Kyle or any other Cup driver would do if NA$CAR said they couldn’t race in the Busch series?

Other drivers have won in Kyle’s car. Doesn’t that mean they’re just as good? Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want other drivers in the car!

I suggested a while ago that the purse winnings for Cup drivers be restricted to 50% and the rest distributed to the regulars.

Maybe the top finishing regular should get the winner’s trophy. After all, he beat the rest of the regular drivers.

Echo

Starting in 1987 Mark Martin, then age 28, ran in over half the busch races for the next 14 years. He was usually the only Cup driver running that series and he racked up win after win against the series regulars and nobody said a thing about it. The only comments the sports writers had was, wow what a driver. The sponsors have the final say on this and they say let Kyle and Harvick and Jr race in xfinity.

Chris

Actually a lot of people at the time were not thrilled with Mark winning. There were letters to the Winston Cup Scene and other NASCAR magazines at the time. The really issue with Mark’s Winn-Dixie car is that it was owned by Jack Rousch who already had a stable of Winston Cup teams. This was the beginning of Winston Cup team owners starting up teams in the Busch series (using Cup equipment/crew members) to give their Cup drivers more seat time. Prior to this Cup drivers did run in the Busch series but for Busch teams, small stable teams(which by todays standards would seem pretty pathetic in size).

Mike

The issue is not Kyle Busch the great driver, the issue is the cars Busch drives are pretty much Xfinity cars resourced, prepared, and built by the top team in the Sprint Cup. There are maybe, maybe, 4 other cars that are capable of running with Busch’s #18 Xfinity car. It’s not that it’s unfair, it’s unequal. And it’s all determined by money. Kyle Busch get’s a bang for his buck in what he pays Gibbs for those cars and engines; how can anybody compete with that. Jr sure can’t, he knows every dollar that comes that comes in and out of that shop. Do you really think he wanted Sadler and Allgier driving for him? He runs a rent a car shop cause he needs the sponsorship money so he does not have to spend millions out of his pocket. The annoying part of all this is Busch drives into victory lane every week acting like he accomplished something.

bob

Cherry Picking. That’s what it’s always been called and shows low class by the competitor. I like the Hor Concourse idea. Really. All this is is an extension of the program with pit crews, tech, etc. Perfect solution. There is still a sportsmanship to events that deep down everybody knows.

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