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Truckin’ Thursdays: How Should NASCAR Limit Cup Drivers in the Truck Series?

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

Kyle Busch won the XFINITY Series race at Kansas on Saturday afternoon, which of course reignited the discussions about Cup drivers running in XFINITY and Trucks.

According to NBC Sports, Monday, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, triggered discussions following comments he made on SiriusXM NASCAR’s The Morning Drive that implied the sanctioning body has been considering.

“It certainly is on our radar. We’ve heard the fans,” he said. “It’s interesting, it’s been a balance throughout the years. We’ve always had Sprint Cup drivers come into the XFINITY Series and sometimes dominate, back in the Mark Martin days.

“As the sport has evolved one of the great things is we’ve got more of a fan following in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. They like seeing those drivers come up through the ranks and it’s our job to make sure that XFINITY is where names are made. We’ve got to do on that on the racetrack.

“That is something we’re taking a really hard look at for next year, I’d say stay tuned. We’re going to look at and probably have something to announce fairly soon.’’

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)
Is Kyle Busch the real problem with Cup drivers in other series? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

To start off, let’s be realistic about this argument. It’s more of a Busch thing than it is a Cup thing. These complaints weren’t nearly as vocal when Mark Martin was winning several races. When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won in a Wrangler-sponsored No. 3 a few years ago, you would have thought it was the best day in the recent history of the sport. The problem appears to be less about the what and more about who’s doing it.

That aside, with the advent of the Chase in both the XFINITY and Truck series, NASCAR already excluded Cup drivers from participating in the championship race at Homestead-Miami, but for many fans this year, that’s not enough. Every time a Cup driver (read: Kyle Busch) dominates or wins a race that’s not Cup, the overwhelming vocal majority complains on social media says those drivers are taking valuable points from the regulars trying to make the championship.

While I buy the argument that a Cup driver winning in the Truck Series does take away a chunk of the ‘win and you’re in’ aspect of the Chase, the fact is that if a single point makes the difference of whether a driver makes the championship field or the next round, more often than not, that team could look to a handful of other races where the result could have been that much better. Whether that’s due to speed, ability to pass the Cup driver, pit road penalty or even a wreck through not fault of their own, the simple fact is that one race does not make the championship battle, other than the season finale where Cup drivers are not welcome.

We discussed how NASCAR should limit Cup drivers in the Truck Series specifically in a Facebook group I joined this week, and several different ideas were thrown around. And while there is value in each one, it’s hard to pinpoint the right way for the sanctioning body to go about it. One person mentioned “a handful of races each year,” but even that raises more questions.

How many is a handful? Who sets that definition? For that matter, is there a certain skill set that should be considered when it comes to setting those limitations? Should rookies get more leeway when dropping back than those who are more experienced? What about those Cup drivers that own teams in the Truck Series? Shouldn’t they be allowed to jump into one of their own trucks to help teach their young drivers? What about the drivers who have stated they find it beneficial to have Cup stars in the field?

Those are all questions NASCAR will have to consider before making a knee-jerk reaction. The answers won’t make everyone happy, but if the sanctioning body truly takes those questions into consideration and looks and pros and cons of setting limitations, it’s something everyone will eventually adapt to.

The bigger roadblock to limiting Cup drivers isn’t necessarily how to do it but how the sponsors will react. Oftentimes, it’s those companies dictating who should be behind the wheel, and it’s likely those funds hinge on that driver piloting the car. Someone called into Tradin’ Paint on SiriusXM NASCAR radio this week and made the comment that a sponsor would back someone regardless of the driver. If that’s actually the case, why are there so many teams in the back of the field struggling for funding?

A member of the aforementioned Facebook group by the name of Nicole Brumm came up with an idea that should help placate the sponsors that want a certain driver behind the wheel.

“I think they should have a seven-race limit in series they aren’t declared for points in. Split them how they want between the two they aren’t in.”

That idea is probably the best type of compromise that has been suggested to date. That would eliminate Cup drivers from feeling like they were the only ones being limited in starts they were allowed to make in other series. Whether that number of races should be seven or a different number is up for debate, but it certainly seems to offer the best of both worlds.

Perhaps the larger issue isn’t actually with Cup drivers dropping down to the lower series as much as it is the broadcasts spending the majority of the time fawning over that small handful. For example, at least in the Truck Series, even if Busch is in the back of the field due to a penalty or unscheduled pit stop, the broadcast likes to almost-constantly watch how long it takes him to drive through the field, regardless of what else is going on around the track. And that’s a problem that a rule from NASCAR can’t fix.

In reality, the complaint about Cup drivers winning races in the lower series probably applies more to XFINITY than it does Trucks, especially since Cup drivers have won a whopping three of 18 Truck Series events this year.

But the bottom line is that many of these developing drivers in the Truck Series actually appreciate being able to compete against guys like Busch, and some have even talked about how much they’ve learned just from being able to follow in their tracks. That leads me to believe that the best way for NASCAR to placate fans while still allowing drivers to learn from the Cup superstars is to just put a number on the maximum number of starts they can make.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    1. NO “exhibitionists” in ANY of the NXS or CWT “chase” events.
    2. Limit of TWO “exhibitionists” per [“regular season”] event.
    3. “Exhibition” drivers limited to 3 NXS or CWT, or 5 total combined events per season.
    ps: DITCH the “chase”

  2. Avatar

    IF NASCAR KEEPS LETTING THE CUP DRIVERS RUN THE LOWER SERIES IT WILL HURT THEM A FEW YEARS
    DOWN THE ROAD WHEN A LOT OF DRIVERS NOW IN THE CUP WILL BE RETIRING AND WILL HAVE DRIVERS
    WE WON’T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THEY CAN DO.

    NO CUP DRIVERS IN THE LOWER SERIES….. PERIOD……

    LETS SEE WHAT THE YOUNG KIDS IN THE LOWER SERIES CAN DO WITHOUT INTERFERENCE FROM CUP DRIVERS

  3. Avatar

    A little common sense would indicate that if there were no Cup drivers in the series, sponsors would be more likely to sponsor the younger guys since they would actually have a fighting chance.

    The networks are also part of the problem. Worshiping guys like Kyle, Joey and Kevin the races they dominate, spending 90% of the race focusing on them instead of where it should be, does nothing for the series either. That’s another reason why Cup drivers need to be gone.

    Beth, I had a feeling you would complain about everyone picking on Kyle. Do you really think people are upset just because its Kyle? Take the goggles off please. Kyle has 9 wins in the Xfinity series this year, using Cup equipment and crew, so its deserved. In fairness to him though, when Joey, Kevin and Brad race, people feel the same way. Back when Mark Martin was running, he was also running his own team.

    Nascar is looking into this now because their Xfinity Chase is looking foolish. When 5th place is your highest Chase finisher each race, it doesn’t look too good for the casual fan when you crown them the champion. O’Donnell using the go-to talking point of “we’ve heard the fans” is a joke. If they were listening to the fans, the change would have been made long ago. If they really think that Cup drivers are the only reason why the series is viable, maybe they need to get rid of it altogether. Its unwatchable anyway.