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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

NASCAR Mailbox: The Impact of Limiting Cup Drivers in Lower Series

After years of receiving criticism about NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers dominating races in the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, the sanctioning body finally listened to people.

On Wednesday morning, NASCAR announced it would limit the participation of Sprint Cup drivers in the lower two divisions, with a maximum of 10 races allowed in the XFINITY Series and seven races in the Truck Series. Drivers who have raced in the Cup Series for five full-time seasons or more will be restricted to these guidelines. However, for drivers like Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, they can continue moonlighting in the XFINITY Series for a little longer.

The change shows NASCAR is listening to its fans, who have been screaming for a change. Essentially, the “Kyle Busch rule” as it should be called, will only effect a handful of drivers, specifically Busch.

Notorious for dipping down in the XFINITY Series and Truck Series, Busch has a record 85 wins in the XFINITY Series, 80 of which have come since he became a full-time Sprint Cup driver in 2005. This season, he has dominated the XFINITY Series races he has participated in, winning nine of 16 contests, leading 1,862 laps. At this rate, he has a solid shot at leading over 2,000 laps in a season for the fourth time in his XFINITY Series career (2009, 2010 and 2013).

Evidently, this change will certainly have an impact on how the business of the lower-tier divisions will be run. Sponsors will be requesting different packages, with an emphasis on young drivers going to teams owned by Sprint Cup owners more so than ever before.

As the XFINITY Series and Truck Series teams adjust to this massive shake-up, the Sprint Cup Series continues to deal with the effects of the charter system. With the smaller organizations either folding, combining efforts, selling/leasing charters or just trying to figure out what will happen in 2017, one major team could have a shake-up coming. If this happens, a middle-tier crew might get a boost from a Sprint Cup veteran.

Q: What impact will NASCAR’s change of limiting Cup drivers in the lower tiers have on younger drivers, such as Matt Tifft? – Brendan R., Richmond.

A: The potential to shake things up certainly exists now with this move. However, team owners and sponsors can’t say they are shocked by this move.

Let’s face it, this has been in the works for several years. Each year, whenever a guy like Busch dominates an XFINITY Series or Truck Series race, the topic of what to do with Cup drivers in the lower divisions always becomes a hefty debate, full of intense discussions on each side of the argument.

Now that NASCAR has finally made this move — and rightfully so — teams and sponsors should be thankful NASCAR didn’t lay down a stricter rule. If NASCAR executives recognized the real problem — Cup drivers racing for their Cup teams in the lower tiers — Wednesday’s announcement could have been detrimental for partnerships like Team Penske and Discount Tire. Who knows what would have happened if NASCAR said, hey, you guys can have an XFINITY Series program, but no more having Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano behind the wheel for the majority of the season.

A combination of Cup drivers will only be allowed to compete for a team in 17 races in the XFINITY Series and 10 in the Truck Series since they won’t be allowed to run the Chase races in either division, along with the Dash 4 Cash contests at the NXS level.

What does this mean? Let’s use Team Penske as the obvious example. The No. 22 team will have Keselowski and Logano in the car for 17 races next year, with Ryan Blaney likely taking the helm for the majority of the remaining contests since this rule does not apply to him because he has less than five years of experience as a full-time Sprint Cup driver.

But the biggest question is: Does Discount Tire stay for the races the team’s two Cup stars won’t be competing in, or will it shift its marketing to focus on activation with those two drivers during the weeks they are racing? Through 30 races in 2016, Logano and Keselowski have run 13 races each, with Blaney and Alex Tagliani (one race). While Blaney ran a second car for the team in a handful of contests, he has limited time in the primary No. 22 car this year.

Then, of course, is the question of what happens to Joe Gibbs Racing with all of this. The team continues to excel in the XFINITY Series, with rookie Erik Jones and sophomore Daniel Suarez each competing for a championship. However, Jones moves to Furniture Row Racing in the Cup Series next year, leaving a seat vacant. While the team will not say what its official plans are for 2017, with this move, it will likely mean one car split between its Cup drivers and a guy like Matt Tifft, along with one for Suarez.

But then there’s the question of the No. 20 team? Why continue that program unless another fully-funded driver comes into the fold?

Well, because of this new rule, that could happen, except it would be in the car that Busch usually drives. Figure GameStop and Hisense stay with JGR in the XFINITY Series, that means it will have some races for Jones (who can race as much as he wants for the next five years in the XFINITY Series), along with Denny Hamlin and possibly Matt Kenseth.

With Busch capped at 10 races, it means the team will basically continue what it’s done this year: Filling the voids in the schedule with Hamlin and Tifft. However, it appears as if Jones could take over a chunk of the schedule if one of JGR’s developmental drivers doesn’t do so. Another possibility is Tifft gathers enough sponsorship and ends up replacing Jones in the No. 20 car, which means JGR will need to find someone else to run the No. 18 car in the races that the Cup guys are banned to compete in.

This could be a big break for drivers with limited sponsorship, like say a Gray Gaulding, who has funding for only a handful of races and could go from middle-level equipment to a top ride now. Additionally, it’s very important for someone like Michael Annett, who has sponsorship but might dip down to the XFINITY Series and needs some time to re-adjust to the sport’s version of Triple-A.

Q: What happens if Greg Biffle actually leaves Roush? – Kathy H., Jefferson City.

Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP
Greg Biffle has driven for Roush Fenway Racing on the Cup level since 2003. But is he headed elsewhere for 2017? (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

A: Greg Biffle’s time at Roush Fenway Racing appears to be limited. The “Biff” has been at Roush since 1998, and it is time for a change.

The sport’s oldest driver, Biffle, 46, is rumored to be heading to JTG Daugherty Racing as a teammate to AJ Allmendinger. If the rumor is true, the team will acquire a charter to make sure he is locked into each race, something potential sponsors will want to see.

The rumor specifically heated up after Kellogg’s announced it was leaving not only Watkins Glen International, but Roush Fenway Racing as well. Cheez-It has been featured on Biffle’s car, along with Darrell Wallace, Jr. in the XFINITY Series, since last year. However, with Biffle sitting a career-worst 24th in the standings with four races left, a sponsor leaving the organization could be the difference-maker.

This year, Biffle has one top 5 and three top 10s, the worst he’s ever done in each category. Going winless since June 2013 at Michigan International Speedway, his results have dwindled.

Obviously, Roush is not the same as it used to be. Team majority owner Jack Roush is getting older, and his methods of controlling the team don’t work like they used to.

If Biffle departs, the last driver of the team’s early-2000s line-up will no longer be with the team, officially beginning a new generation for an organization looking for a pick-me-up. One could compare him to Bobby Labonte, who ended his full-time driving career while competing for JTG Daugherty Racing (2011-2013). Both drivers struggled before heading out of their situations, with Labonte’s dating as far back as 2004, when he was still driving the No. 18 car for JGR.

While it looks increasingly likely that Biffle is on his way out, it could mean rookie Chris Buescher, who made the Chase this year for Front Row Motorsports, will replace him. That is in no way official, but it would be the obvious choice given his success in underfunded equipment this year, frequently competing with the Roush cars even before he won at Pocono Raceway in July.

If Buescher goes to Roush, it leaves an opening at Front Row, which would then have several options of who to put in its second car. While David Gilliland is an option, he seems satisfied with running part-time now, and is enjoying the ownership role he has taken on with development drivers, including his son, 2016 K&N Pro Series West champion Todd Gilliland.

Another option for Front Row would be getting a driver with a brand, like Jeffrey Earnhardt or even Cole Whitt. Whitt drove for the team before it went with a fresh lineup for 2016. Struggling with Premium Motorsports, he will certainly be looking for a new ride come 2017.

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About Joseph Wolkin

Joseph Wolkin
Joseph started with Fronstretch in Aug. 2014 and worked his way up to become an editor in less than a year. A native of Whitestone, New York, Joseph writes for NASCAR Pole Position magazine as a weekly contributor, along with being a former intern at Newsday and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers, each on Long Island. With a focus on NASCAR, he runs our social media pages and writes the NASCAR Mailbox column, along with other features for the site.

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12 comments

  1. Avatar

    My idea would be once a cup driver gets two wins in a lower series that’s it. He’s done. They can surely find a hungry young driver to help fill in. Kyle Busch would still be favored in each of the ten races he runs. 7-10 wins is still too many. I agree with the comment about its not in the best interest of monster energy to sponsor Busch’s car in xfinity if the bottom line is many folks switch the channel when kyle is in the race anyway. I know I do

  2. Avatar

    Let’s make it really easy. Take six to eight high profile races , un-limit the number of teams at the track, and invite all the Sprint cup drivers that want to participate. Make those races non-point races. All other races are Xinity drivers only and for points . You could even go as far as taking all the prize money and split it evenly between the 45 teams racing at the Daytona Xinity race. Young drivers would get their driving lessons from Sprint drivers ,and bottom teams would make a little more cash. My thoughts.

  3. Avatar

    So Kyle Busch Motorsports and Brad K each have multiple teams in the truck series and they should not be allowed to race? Interesting.

  4. Avatar

    Your math seems to be a bit off Mr. Wolkin. NXS has 33 & the CWT has 23 races in ’17. “Exhibitionists” in the NXS will be barred from the “regular season finale”, the 7 “chase” races, plus the 4 D4C races, meaning exclusion from a total of 12 NXS events. CWT “exhibitionists” are barred from only the “regular season finale” & 7 “chase” races, meaning a total of 8 CWT “exhibitionist” free events. So, to the best of my knowledge, this means “exhibitionists” are permissible, within the new limitations, at 21 NXS & 15 CWT “regular season” events.
    I also think you are a bit off the mark with your concern regarding sponsors. I think the opposite is true & that new guidelines will enhance sponsor interest, participation & value. After-all, who want’s to sponsor a driver that causes everyone to loose interest & turn their TV’s off? And if “Monster Energy”, “Discount Tire” or whomever has an issue with this, TOUGH TURKEY, because the gist of the new guidelines is that 30 – 35 other sponsors, there-in Nascar as a whole, are set to benefit from the new guidelines.
    Anyway, in the NXS, between Team Penske’s #22 & the #12 in ’16, BK & Joey both did 13 & Ryan did 7 races, for a total of 33. Brad, Joey & Ryan have done no CWT races (for Brad Keselowski Racing). So, that would equate to Brad & Joey each doing 10 & Ryan doing 13 instead. So, that is HUGE for Ryan & not a very big change for Team Penske, overall.
    Interestingly, by shrewd &, I must say, somewhat ingenious calculated design, Nascar is attempting to emphasizes youth among “exhibitionists” with these new guidelines, which seem to have struck a perfect balance.
    First, it will contribute to long term sustainability of Nascar, in genera. In that, it will lend itself to expand the fan bases & marketing potential of essentially everyone (CWT, NXS & Cup, drivers, teams & sponsors).
    Second, the young “exhibitionist” drivers require continued tutelage & learning opportunities, since they lack experience on many of the Cup circuits. These new guidelines do that in spades.
    Third, the young “exhibitionists” are more attractive to the younger &/or neophyte Nascar fans. This is a demographic sector of critical importance to the vast majority of sponsors. So, the new guidelines will boost that appeal & increase the exposure of young “exhibitionists” in that most important sector.
    Fourth, in doing so, it will boosts the bang for sponsorship buck & sponsor participation in general. And this is perhaps the most critical aspect, since if there are no sponsors, there are no race cars, race teams or races.
    So, in my eyes they seem to have bagged no fewer than FOUR birds with one stone. Initially, I thought …10 & 7 still seems like a lot! I thought, it is a step in the right direction, but in giving consideration to the 5 year open loop-hole, it’s a baby-step & there is not much tooth in this, at all. It seemed as though when the rubber eventually meets the road, in ’17, these new guidelines will amount to lip service, with minimal impact on the bottom lines of “regulars”.
    But after ruminating for a while I think that, for their unprecedented first swipe at this, it is pretty much PERFECT! They are looking to achieve a “balance”. What that consists of is pretty much impossible to quantify without a certain level of trial & error. A cliché that fits this is: it’s easier to cut-off more later, rather than put it back after you cut-off too much. In following that credo, they will certainly be able to tweak to more stringent limits if the results do not meet their expectations. So, I got nothing but kudos & two thumbs up!
    As for Biff, I stick! Yes, sponsors are bailing from the #16. But the rest, as for him leaving RFR, is unsubstantiated hearsay. He might retire, he might go elsewhere, he might stay. And yes, if Biff opts to move elsewhere or retire (the latter of which I suspect), Chris is the obvious replacement. He is primed & ready for the #16 RFR seat. But Chris IS a RFR driver now & never has been anything but that, in recent years. He is on loan to Front Row Motorsports, just as Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney is on loan to Wood Brothers Racing. And, I guess Love’s & CSX will follow him to the #16 RFR & fill out that ride. So, in my eyes it is not as desperate or as foreboding at RFR as you (seemingly Yota biased experts) take pleasure in making it sound. They still run AWESOME at superspeedways & a few select other tracks.
    And who is anyone to say that Cheez-It’s & Kellogg’s departure & the potential of their replacement by Love’s & CSX, or someone else, is not a part of some big, super-secret corporate master-plan that has NOTHING to do with the teams (arguably questionable) performance? As often is the case with such rampant speculation, let’s be careful not put the cart in-front of the horse!

  5. Avatar

    I think it would have made more sense to say no driver in the top 20 in Cup can run more that 3 Xfinity of truck races. That might give the smaller, less funded teams chance at actually winning some of the purse money to help their on track efforts. I’ve always wondered if Kyle and Joey would ‘love’ racing the lower series as much if they had to drive for an Xfinity only team, instead of a ‘Cup Lite’ team. Or put a more practical limit…any Cup built team can only run 7 total races. It isn’t really the drivers that hurt the series as much as it is the Cup built teams PLUS the Cup drivers.

  6. Avatar

    How many times have we plowed this ground?

    1) Fans know best = what fans would spend limited disposable income for nascar
    2) Decouple all but a few key tracks with cup (Daytona, Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Darlington)
    3) Make the xfin / truck series schedules the same, run same day races
    4) shorten the season to 20-ish races
    5) eliminate superspeedways (>1.5 mile) except Daytona
    6) add Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Martinsville, Iowa, Road Atlanta, IRP
    7) oh bother, the fools in Daytona aren’t going to listen anyhow

    • Avatar

      So many ideas that would put a lot of fun and variety back into the sport.

      I have advocated #2 for awhile. Make the double/tripleheader things real events, where all three series come together 4 or 5 times a year. Daytona, Darlington, Charlotte, short tracks, a road course. Number three would be interesting as well. Want driver development? Run for two titles like Mike Stefanik did 20 years ago. Make the two events total a Cup event in length/time/laps/whatever.

      Alas, number 7 is the only item that will be put into practice.

    • Avatar

      Nice post! If I may…
      1 – Yeah, as if not?
      2 – Mmm, nah.
      3 – Oh heck yeah. Aussie V8 Supercar does this. They not only have 2 – 3 main game races over the course of a weekend, they also have as many as 10 (or MORE) undercard races in one weekend, at one venue (Dunlop Series, which is the equivalent of NXS, Stadium Trucks series, Porsche series, Vintage Series, etc., etc., etc.). If you never have, take a look at one of their weekend schedules some time! It will blow you mind! They blow Nascar straight out of the water! Nascar should shorten their blotted & useless practices & their ridiculous qualifying format to make room for more races. Cup & NXW races are of good duration, but most of the CWT races are too short.
      4 – Oh heck no! AV8SC does this too. They only do 15 rounds (with multiple championship events each weekend). That’s not nearly enough. Capping Cup & NXS at 30 I could live with, but CWT is already at 23 events. Less than that is a NO as far as I am concerned.
      5 – NEVER! I’d agree CWT should avoid Superspeedways. But NXS needs to do them all.
      6 – Nah. I would love to see returns to historic venues, but several you have mentioned have not been updated to modern standards & are in a dilapidated condition. It just ain’t ever gonna happen Cup-wise. NXS &/or CWT are already going to some of those places. I’m all for adding as many road courses as possible. NXS & CWT already have a suitable amount. CWT even does Mosport! But Cuppers require a permanent garage & VERY few venues have that in North America so choices are limited & Road ATL aint one (infields at Dona, Indy & KC, and COTA, WGI, Mosport & Laguna Seca are the only viable venues for Cup). Dega also has a dated infield circuit Cuppers used to do, but by now, it would need a 100% redo).
      7 – They move like sloths. There are an unimaginable amount of considerations & many unquantifiable parameters to consider. Be patient. ‘We” never thought they would set forth these new “exhibitionist” guidelines, yet BOOM! ….there they are!

    • Avatar

      #6 will never happen considering the North Wilksboro is a wasteland and Rockingham does not have an owner. Can Nascar fans please accept the fact that Nascar will never be going back there, please? I’m sure that if there was an existing track the likes of Wilksboro and Rockingham the fans would be just as happy, though.

      I’m extremely surprised at all the negative feedback to this rule change. Every week we hear fans complain about the Cup dominance in the minors and now they make a change and people still aren’t happy. Seems to me like Nascar fans are never happy no matter what they do. While I don’t think this is a perfect scenario, I think its a good step in the right direction and will bring sponsors back into that sport. And fans might actually start going back to these races again, although I think it will take some time. When fans are at the track in their campers all race weekend and purposely avoid going to xfinity/truck races, you know there is a problem. I give Nascar credit for trying to strike a balance and I hope it helps both series.

      • Avatar

        “Can Nascar fans please accept the fact that Nascar will never be going back there, please?”

        No.

        ” I’m sure that if there was an existing track the likes of Wilksboro and Rockingham the fans would be just as happy, though.”

        But alas, there isn’t.

        “I’m extremely surprised at all the negative feedback to this rule change. ”

        Because the ‘rule’ is a farce.

  7. Avatar

    I would like to see the rules changed so that no regular cup driver would be allowed to run in any of the truck or xfinity series races