NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Beating Around the Busch

NASCAR announced further restrictions on full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers running in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series in 2018.  Was this the right move for the sport, or is there a better alternative?

Samarth Kanal: That’s the right move. It’d be nice to restrict Cup drivers’ appearances in the XFINITY and Truck series to the point that if somebody like Kyle Busch enters a Truck Series race in the future, it becomes something special and draws crowds and TV ratings. XFINITY and Trucks need to be a proving ground and standalone series without being a playground for Cup drivers.

Amy Henderson: It was a good move, though five years is too long. Two or three would be more than enough. If a driver doesn’t have enough experience at tracks after that, maybe they should have spent more time in the lower series to learn.  A better overall solution is to limit races, but also limit who they can run for—and make that nobody with any ties to their current Cup team (including getting equipment other than leased engines from the Cup team, regardless of who owns it). That would allow them to run some races but on more equal footing with the regulars, a win-win situation that also has the potential to lower sponsor costs in that series and bring in some new backing.  Back in the day, a few Cup guys might show up for a race running for a local team with a one-off sponsor, and that’s what I’d like to see it get back to.

Bryan Gable: The new rules are a step in the right direction, albeit a very small one.  NASCAR should have adjusted the five-year experience rule down to one year.  Moreover, more standalone events would be great for the XFINITY Series.  These events would both limit Cup driver participation and give the XFINITY Series some of its own, unique races.  Cup drivers racing with Cup teams is a problem too, but stopping that practice would be hard to enforce.  For instance, if NASCAR made a rule dictating that Cup drivers could only race in the XFINITY Series with their own equipment, we would probably see entries where Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski or Kevin Harvick were the official owners listed on paper, but their teams would be supported by Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske or Stewart-Haas Racing anyway, creating a way to work around the rule.  NASCAR could have taken this opportunity to make some more effective rules regarding Cup drivers in the XFINITY Series, but the root of the problem goes all the way to how the sport operates, and that means there is no easy fix.

Phil Allaway: It comes off like a baby-steps move.  NASCAR appears to be slowly weaning teams, and more importantly the tracks, off expecting Cup guys in every race.  It seems like NASCAR would like to permaban Cup drivers from XFINITY and Truck series races but can’t do it just yet.  Once the process is complete, you’ll see the ban.  My guess is 2020 for the permaban.  The increased promotion of Truck and XFINITY drivers and teams should start now, though.

Stewart-Haas Racing declined the 2018 option on Kurt Busch’s contract, making Busch a free agent.  The team says it expects Busch to be back next year, but is that overly optimistic? If so, where will Busch land, and how could it affect other driver moves?

Henderson: I’d be surprised if Kurt Busch isn’t working on renegotiating as we speak.  Not picking up the option does not necessarily equal Busch leaving the team; it could simply be writing a new agreement.  Busch is a past champion, but there aren’t a lot of top rides left, and he’s burned a lot of bridges. He and SHR seem happy enough, so I’d be surprised to see him move on, though if he does, it will open up a top ride for someone (Cole Custer seems a year or two away from being ready for the Cup level), while Busch might have to settle for something lesser, though it might make some other free agents sweat a bit.

Gable: The most likely scenario is that Busch remains with SHR.  My guess is that the problem with his current contract has something to do with money or sponsorship.  As a result, SHR could not guarantee at this time that Busch would have a ride for 2018, even though it would like to have him back.  Once the money or sponsorship situation gets worked out, Busch will sign a new contract (unless he objects to taking a pay cut.)  If Busch really does leave, he could reunite with Furniture Row Racing and its second car or fill the vacancy left by Paul Menard at Richard Childress Racing, but at this point both of those teams need sponsorship and might not even run next year.  As for Busch’s replacement, Matt Kenseth would be an excellent choice, especially for a year or two until Custer inevitably moves up.

Michael Massie: I believe SHR when it says that Busch will be back. Kenseth is the only free agent out there that might be more talented, but Busch has more years left in the tank than Kenseth so that would be a crazy move. If Busch does leave, the only place I could see him going is back to Furniture Row Racing. It seems that FRR is the only team that Busch has driven for other than SHR where he did not burn a bridge. He had a very solid season there in 2013 and could replace Erik Jones. The only hinge in that is that the car is sponsored by 5-Hour Energy, and Busch is currently a Monster Energy guy. I remember when General Mills would not let Casey Mears drive its car because he had driven for Kellogg’s the previous year.

Kanal: The whole situation is a confusing one. It seems like a mess brought on by SHR from a public relations point of view, as the tweet contradicts the reports, which are presumably from a solid source within SHR. He’s talented enough; there’ll be a new deal waiting for him for another year.

The Cup and XFINITY series head to Watkins Glen International this week.  Will either series see a new playoff qualifier this weekend?

Allaway: More than likely not, especially since Kyle Busch won at Pocono Raceway.  The obvious favorite in the Cup Series to make that happen would be AJ Allmendinger.  However, just because you’re a threat to win on a road course doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion.  Allmendinger will have to fight for it, and JTG-Daugherty Racing would have to be on its A-game.  In the XFINITY Series, you’ve got more Cup guys than normal in the race.  Watch Joey Logano win the dang thing.

Massie: The Watkins Glen XFINITY race is just another Cup race. It seems to be the race each season that is the most crawling with Cup drivers. Logano, Keselowski or Kyle Busch will easily win that race. On the Cup side, this is Allmendinger’s last chance to qualify for the playoffs. He has won Watkins Glen before, and I could see him doing so again. Logano is extremely good at the Glen and has a more realistic chance of winning it to get in.

Kanal: Logano is pretty decent at WGI, and it looks like he’ll be in with a shot. This season hasn’t seen too many repeat MENCS winners, so expect another new winner. His old 2015 foe Kenseth is also on the cusp of a playoff place, and he’s closing in on one. Logano also has a shot in XFINITY, looking for his third victory there. Brennan Poole could well consolidate his playoff place this weekend, but that’s me taking a long shot.

Henderson: There are a few guys in each series who could grab a win.  In Cup, Allmendinger is the obvious here, but Jamie McMurray is a decent road course guy as is Michael McDowell, who’s been showing some promise of late. In XFINITY,  the race is overrun with Cup guys in top equipment, but Brendan Gaughan is a decent road racer who really needs a boost as that series hits a couple of road courses. Mears is also a good road-course driver, but he’s not playoff eligible, so a win would be nice, but it wouldn’t get the team anything except another sticker.

Speaking of road courses, Pocono indicated an interest in running one of its races on its road course.  Good idea or not so much?

Kanal: Good idea. Two Pocono races can drag on, and having one on the road layout helps mix things up. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also trying it next year, and it can only be good, as we’ve seen some dead rubbers on both of those tracks. Hopefully, to draw crowds, NASCAR will run qualifying on the race day again next year to add some extra value for money.

Gable: Using Pocono’s road course layout would be something different for sure.  But if the goal is more road course races, why not go to a purpose-built one?  Road America, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course or Road Atlanta would all be better choices.  We could even send the Cup Series north of the border to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park or Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  If NASCAR is serious about pursuing more road races, utilizing rovals is only a halfhearted solution.

Allaway: I don’t particularly like the idea because any configuration that they could come up with there would likely be boring.  However, that also brings up a question.  Which configuration would they use? The one they used when IMSA raced there in the 1980s no longer exists.  I’d rather they just have two races on the tri-oval than use the infield road course.  There are other rovals I’d want on the calendar before Pocono.

Massie: Horrible idea. Rovals (or riangles?) are the same track with less passing. This and the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval are just NASCAR trying to weasel its way into providing a new track without taking anything away from its beloved International Speedway Corporation (which the France family also owns) or Speedway Motorsports Inc. or admitting that it was wrong to sign these long contracts with these tracks. How about we keep two races at Mattco Inc.’s Pocono and instead take a race away from ISC or SMI? The perfect place to put a race would be at the other track Mattco owns, South Boston Speedway. It only seats around 10,000 people, but at least that race would sell out.

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