This week, NASCAR changed the rules on Sprint Cup Series driver eligibility in the XFINITY Series and the Camping World Truck Series. After years of no involvement with an issue many criticized the sport for, NASCAR finally sprung into action.
But make no mistake, these rules aren’t going to change anything.
Of the five Sprint Cup Series drivers who have over 10 starts this season in XFINITY, two (Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson) will not have the vast majority of these limits apply to them. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will all be effected by this, but will it really make a difference? For Busch, the team can just plug in rookie driver Erik Jones for the rest of Busch’s usual starts. Keselowski and Logano will probably be sharing the No. 22 again next season for 20 of 33 races with the only difference being an increase in Ryan Blaney‘s races in the car. Then what? Instead of Busch or Keselowski or Logano in Victory Lane, we’ll have Jones or Blaney in victory lane.
Did anything really change that much in that case? Not really.
Sprint Cup drivers are an issue in the XFINITY Series, don’t get me wrong. But even if NASCAR straight-up bans Sprint Cup drivers from the series, we’ll still have Joe Gibbs Racing qualifying 1-2-3 every weekend and either Gibbs or Team Penske winning the race. The problem is not Sprint Cup drivers, the problem is Sprint Cup teams.
No team in the top 15 in XFINITY owner points is an XFINITY-only team, if we’re counting JR Motorsports with its partial Rick Hendrick ownership as one. Two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, 13 cars finished on the lead lap. Charlotte Motor Speedway three weeks ago had nine finish on the lead lap. There wasn’t a massive 20-car pileup in either race, it’s just how slow the regular XFINITY teams are. Why are they so slow? Because they don’t have the budget or the data the big Sprint Cup teams have.
So, how do we solve that problem? Well, there are two solutions, both of which would radically change the series.
The first would be to essentially take a sledgehammer to the schedule. Get rid of half of the companion races and replace them with short tracks and road courses. Make it less of an advantage for Cup teams to invest heavily into the series, and as a bonus, Cup drivers won’t be encouraged to race in the XFINITY Series anymore because of the lack of companion races.
The other solution is to essentially turn it into a full-on development series. Put teams into a very, very thin box as far as car difference goes, to the point where the only real differences between teams would be personnel and driver talent and would level the playing field by cutting down on the vast majority of team’s research and development . Under this system, NASCAR would either severally limit Sprint Cup drivers from the series or remove them entirely. Finally, eliminate most, if not all, standalone races. The series primary job should be to prepare young drivers for the Sprint Cup level- think of it like boot camp.
Neither are perfect systems but both would be better with how the XFINITY Series is now, with large gaps in funding between the top half of the grid and the bottom half of the grid. Large scale changes would hurt the series in the short term, but in the long term it might be the only way the series as it stands could survive.
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