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2-Headed Monster: Are 2017’s Minor League Eligibility Rules a Good Move for NASCAR?

NASCAR fans complaining about Sprint Cup Series regulars dipping down and dominating the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series finales got the news they wanted, or at least a step toward it. For the first time in the sport’s history, Cup drivers will be limited, if not stopped, from competing in NASCAR’s minor leagues.

A press release from NASCAR went up early last week indicating a series of new eligibility rules that will effectively limit veterans like Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and most notably, Kyle Busch from becoming frequent fixtures of the NXS and NCWTS.

The rules are essentially as follows: Starting in 2017, Sprint Cup Series drivers with more than five years of full-time experience in the series will be limited to just 10 starts in the NXS and seven starts in the NCWTS. Furthermore, the starts will have to come in the regular season, as veterans will be banned from the Chase, as well as the four Dash 4 Cash races in the XFINITY Series.

Cup drivers with less than five years of experience – a list that currently includes Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and next year, Erik Jones – won’t be affected by the rules, allowing them to run in the series and gain experience.

Opinions have been split since the announcement. Some fans have celebrated the rules, applauding NASCAR for finally making a change. Others have criticized the decision, claiming it will hurt attendance and sever sponsorship ties linked to Cup stars.

Are NASCAR’s Eligibility Rules for 2017 a Step in the Right Direction?

Yes. It’s About Time NASCAR Took Action

NASCAR’s rule changes limiting the appearance of Sprint Cup Series regulars in the NXS and NCWTS aren’t a complete solution, but they’re absolutely a step in the right direction.

Look, I understand that there’s value in racing against the best drivers in the Cup Series for the sport’s future stars. It’s undeniable. However, there’s little to gain for any but the best in the paddock when the Cup drivers monopolize the front of the field.

The best (or worse, depending on your view) example comes in the XFINITY Series. With drivers like Busch, Logano and Keselowski often found multiple seconds ahead of the field in the majority of the races they run, the lone experience most series regulars get against them comes either one restarts or when they’re going a lap down.

Take this season for example. Cup regulars have combined to win 19 of the first 30 races of the year, including seven of the first eight races and the two most recent events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

2016 XFINITY Series Wins by Driver

  • 9 – Kyle Busch
  • 2 Each – Austin Dillon, Joey Logano
  • 1 Each – Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell

A look at the list of winners, both in this year and in recent years, yields one obvious conclusion – Busch is a large part of the NSCS issue. With nine wins (and counting) in this season alone, Rowdy has inspired fans and critics alike to refer to the recent changes as the “Kyle Busch Rule.” However, a look beyond Busch’s stats also shows that 15 of the 19 wins come from drivers that will be limited to 10 starts after this season.

The younger drivers – Dillon, Larson and next season Jones – have claimed only a small fraction of the overall win total for Cup drivers in the series. For that reason, they figure to add as much to the field as they take away.

With such a great disparity, it seems obvious that Cup veterans should be limited, if not banned outright. In fact, banning them altogether might be the end goal, allowing NASCAR to match other sports. You don’t see Cam Newton donning an Auburn Tigers uniform once more, nor do you see Paul George suit up for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants when the Indiana Pacers have a night off.

Still, whether future changes are intended or not, limiting Cup drivers allows them to join the field and thrill fans in small doses while still allowing the regulars of the NXS and NCWTS to shine and earn a trip to Victory Lane, which is more important than ever.

Why? Because of the Chase.

Under the Chase format, a win in the regular season is good for a spot in the fall’s playoff field, while a trip to Victory Lane in any of the Chase’s opening rounds earns advancement to the next round.

NASCAR smartly chose to ban Cup veterans from the season finales for both minor league series at Homestead-Miami Speedway upon implementation of the Chases, allowing for series regulars to compete for a victory in the Championship 4. However, the six races leading up to the finales weren’t given the same grace.

The result? After a couple Cup-free races, back-to-back victories for Logano and Busch, the latter of which kept Elliott Sadler from stamping his bid to the Championship 4.

That NASCAR’s keeping Cup stars out of the Chase in the future is the biggest news of the announcement, with the extra bonus of Cup veteran-free Dash 4 Cash opportunities for the NXS. The top prospects in the XFINITY Series have much to gain from running with Cup drivers, but when it comes to a playoff system that emphasizes winning, they’re best off competing amongst themselves.

There are still a handful of questions that need answered with these changes. Could sponsorship and support for the series be effected? Will TV ratings and attendance decline? Aren’t Cup teams and the money they bring the real issue?

The answer to each the above questions are likely yes to varying degrees. However, for the time being, and in the interest of fairness to the NXS, NCWTS and the drivers that compete in both of them, NASCAR’s taking a risk, and a step in the right direction.

Aaron Bearden

Photo: Zach Catanzareti
Is it really all about Kyle Busch? (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

No, It Won’t Change Much

Let’s get this out of the way pretty quick.  The idea of limiting Cup drivers from ‘whacking XFINITY races is a good thing.  However, with the way the rules have been concocted, it’s not going to change that much.

Kyle Busch has already been quoted as saying that this is Kyle Busch Rule 2.0, putting himself in the conversation with people such as Trent Tucker and former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien.  Based on his accomplishments, I doubt that Kyle Busch will be known for actions that led to rule changes like Tucker (catch-and-shoot rules) and Stepien (trading of first-round draft picks) are in the NBA.

But the problem is the rule doesn’t go far enough.  Sure, Kyle Busch only racing 10 times in the XFINITY Series next year means that he can only race so much.  The additional caveats that ban him from Chase races, the Dash 4 Cash events and (by decree of his wife) the restrictor plate races mean that Busch only has 18 races to choose from in order to do his 10.  He’ll still get his, regardless.  Don’t be shocked if he still leads the series in wins next season, despite being capped at 10 races.

Based on NASCAR’s ruling, about a third of the current field in Sprint Cup is exempt from it.  The only drivers that will be limited in their participation are Busch, Logano and Keselowski.  In addition, Cup driver participation has already been on the decrease since the Gen6 was introduced in 2013.  There’s next to nothing that you can learn in the XFINITY race now.

Do I think that XFINITY races will have more winners in 2017 with this rule in effect?  Possibly, but they might not be the winners you want.  Setups like JR Motorsports’ No. 88 or Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 will still exist, but they might have even more Cup drivers rotating in and out.  My guess is that in the regular 21 races next year, you won’t see that much of a change in the victory total for XFINITY regulars, especially with Erik Jones moving up to Cup.  It’ll be about the same as this year.  You’ll still get a bunch of Cup guys in Victory Lane, but it might be a more diverse group of them.

The 11 races that are guaranteed to run without heavily experienced Cup drivers could skew the numbers.  However, with drivers like Larson and Austin Dillon still being allowed to race in those events, there’s no guarantee that an XFINITY regular would win.

In the Camping World Truck Series, this ruling won’t change anything since Cup drivers racing in the series is nowhere near as much of an issue.  No one that’s full-time in Sprint Cup has competed in the series enough this year to reach that limit.  Busch was the last one to do it when he raced in 10 events back in 2014.  I personally don’t see anyone that’s full-time in Cup even doing seven truck races next year.

Maybe this is just step No. 2 of a process that eventually boots Cup regulars out of the XFINITY Series for good.  I don’t know.  As it stands, next year’s XFINITY Series races will still have plenty of Sprint Cup influence and will likely see at least 65 percent of the races won by Cup regulars.

– Phil Allaway

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4 Comments
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kb

Time will tell, but be careful what you wish for. SPONSORS are the ones that request so and so in the Xfinitiy series, marquee names from the Sprint Cup. That is not disputable, where that goes in affecting the BIG NAME teams without those drivers shall remain to be seen, or even the underfunded teams. Who knows what lies ahead. Hopefully all good, but you never know…..

DoninAjax

It seems to me that if a sponsor wants to sponsor a Cup driver he should do it in Cup. If he wants to sponsor Kyle’s car in Busch or Truck any one Kyle puts in the driver’s seat has proven to win races and get the exposure the sponsor wants. That way it can return to being a feeder division for Cup. And Kyle in the Busch car or the truck seems to be a turnoff for a lot of fans.

phil h

this HAS been done before, back in the 1980’s limiting Cup drivers just ten races. It lasted a season and nary again until 2017. Good move Nascar. As far as attendance, I dare say could it be much worse than it is in 2016? maybe fans will buy tickets if its a more fair playing field. beats watching races where the Cup leader is 8 to 10 seconds in the lead.

Biff Baynehouse

First of all, to my understanding, for NXS & CWT, ALL exhibitionists are excluded from regular season finale race & 7 chase races. Likewise for the 4 NXS D4C races. The 5 year loop-hole guidelines apply AFTER those exclusions. So, as I understand it, “exhibitionists” are only permissible at the 21 NXS & 15 CWT “regular season” events & that is were the limitations & 5 loophole apply.
Initially, I though …10 & 7 still seems like a lot. I thought it’s a step in the right direction, but considering the 5 year open loop-hole, it’s a baby-step & there is not much tooth in this, at all. It seems when the rubber meets the road, this will amount to lip service with minimal impact on the bottom lines of “regulars”.
But after ruminating for a while, for their unprecedented first swipe at this, I think 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. So, to say a cliché that fits, 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!
First, it will contribute to long term sustainability of Nascar, in general, 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 Cup circuits. This promotes that in spades.
Third, the young “exhibitionists” are more attractive to the young Nascar fan, which is a demographic sector of critical importance to the vast majority of sponsors. This will boost that appeal & increase the exposure of young “exhibitionists”.
Fourth, in doing so, it will boosts 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.

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