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.
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.
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.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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