Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: How Will the Lowered Cup Driver Participation Cap Actually Affect XFINITY & Truck Series?

It’s been a busy week in NASCAR, from the will-he-won’t-he news of Kurt Busch‘s Stewart-Haas Racing tenure to the usual Wednesday penalty report that this time bit Erik Jones following last weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway to the move of the overtime line to the start/finish line.

But the talk of the town has undoubtedly been NASCAR’s newest change to the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series for 2018, something that got pundits, fans and drivers alike talking all over TV, radio and social media.

In 2018, the participation guidelines for entry in either national series have been altered to reflect continued complaints about the presence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars in the lower series. Drivers who have more than five years of full-time experience in the Cup Series will be allowed to run no more than seven XFINITY races and five Truck events in 2018 if they’ve declared for points in the Cup Series, down from 10 and seven races in 2017, respectively. No Cup regulars will also be able to run the Dash 4 Cash races in XFINITY and in any playoff events in either series if they have declared for Cup points, regardless of how long they have been in the series.

The move shifts even more of a focus to the series’ regulars than ever before, putting an emphasis on both as feeder series to Cup that highlight up-and-comers or lower series lifers looking to battle for a series championship, not Cup drivers looking to run an extra race on the weekend.

In practice, the guidelines may not change much in either series in 2018. A dip of three and two races, respectively, could still allow, say, Kyle Busch to win all seven races he enters, for instance. And when he’s not in the series, someone else like Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano might be. Plus, the rule still allows someone like Kyle Larson, who is in the midst of his fourth full-time season in Cup, to run as many races as he chooses, and in eight 2017 starts entering Watkins Glen International this weekend, he’s finished in the top 10 for all of them, the top five for all but one, and has won three races.

Regardless, it stands to reason that the change would help XFINITY Series regulars the most. In 19 races this season, a non-Cup driver has won six times, and four of those have come in the last six races. Meanwhile, throughout 12 races in the Truck Series this year, drivers not competing for series points have won just three races, and all of those came in the first five events of 2017.

Let’s break it down a bit. Assuming all 2017 Cup regulars return to the series in 2018 (which is unlikely to happen, but bear with me here), here are the drivers who would be affected by this change.

Drivers with More Than Five Years of Experience in the Cup Series As of 2018

AJ Allmendinger
Aric Almirola
Clint Bowyer
Kurt Busch
Kyle Busch
Landon Cassill
Derrike Cope
Denny Hamlin
Kevin Harvick
Jimmie Johnson
Kasey Kahne
Matt Kenseth
Brad Keselowski
Joey Logano
Michael McDowell
Jamie McMurray
Paul Menard
Ryan Newman
Danica Patrick
David Ragan
Reed Sorenson
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.

The bolded drivers in this case are those who graduate to this level in 2018, having five years of Cup experience to their names by the close of 2017.

Meanwhile, the others:

Drivers with Less Than Six Years of Experience in the Cup Series As of 2018

Trevor Bayne
Ryan Blaney
Alex Bowman
Chris Buescher
Matt DiBenedetto
Austin Dillon
Ty Dillon
Jeffrey Earnhardt
Chase Elliott
Gray Gaulding
Erik Jones
Corey LaJoie
Kyle Larson
Daniel Suarez
Cole Whitt

In this case, the drivers in bold are those who would be in their last season of eligibility as Cup drivers able to race in the lower series uninhibited, as Austin Dillon, Larson and Cole Whitt are currently in their fourth full-time seasons. A wildcard here is Trevor Bayne, who’s been running anywhere between a third and a half of a season starting in 2011 before he began running Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 full-time in 2015.

Meaning, basically, that even as the restrictions on Cup drivers in lower series tighten, the crop of competitors who can the vast majority of the races remains formidable. Of the above 15-driver group, nine have competed in the XFINITY or Truck series at some point in 2017. Six of the 19 XFINITY races have been won by these drivers, plus one of the 12 Truck events.

And many of these drivers compete for teams who could very possibly up their schedules in 2018 to account for the loss of events for Busch, Keselowski, Logano, those types. You’ve got Ryan Blaney running for Team Penske full-time in 2018, and it’s easy to see his schedule in the XFINITY Series No. 22 bump up a bit. The Dillon brothers can still fill out the brunt of the schedule in Richard Childress Racing’s Nos. 2 and 3. Erik Jones’ Joe Gibbs Racing Cup tenure begins next year, and he’s already driving quite a few races for the team in XFINITY, as is Daniel Suarez. Larson will still have the ability to run a good chunk of events in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42.

In other words, don’t expect some massive sea change in 2018. You can bet Busch will still run his seven XFINITY races, and he’ll be a threat at each and every one of them. When he’s not there, drivers like Blaney, the Dillons, Jones, Suarez and Larson will still be there to lock up many of the races during which the series run at the same track on a given weekend.

Unless, of course, the restrictions cause teams to plan for the future and opt to slide XFINITY regulars into their cars for 2018. Unlikely, but could you imagine a full-time competitor in Penske’s No. 22? Or in Gibbs’ No. 18?

For now, especially with the large crop of drivers still able to run in the lower series without much restriction (before the playoffs begin, at least), it seems likely that the genetic makeup of those series won’t change too much for 2018 and beyond. And once the current youngsters graduate to the seven- or five-race cap, chances are up-and-comers like William Byron, Christopher Bell and more will have taken their place. There will always be drivers with less than six years of Cup experience who can rout the lower series without a problem. It’s happened before, it happens now and it’ll continue to happen.

At the same time, if the XFINITY Series — a place where names are made, according to a certain marketing campaign — can slide its regulars into Victory Lane a few more times a year than it is now, it’s doubtful you’ll hear much complaining.

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Aven

I think we will see a drop in sponsorships because of the less exposure, especially in the Dash4cash races and the playoffs. A lot of people watch/attend the lower series races to see cup regulars when the can’t/don’t want to attend/watch the cup races. I think we will see more short fields in the lower tier races in the future and I can see some teams participation dropped entirely because of the limitations.

DoninAjax

So Kyle Busch can’t run the car or truck in a race. The car is still capable of winning. Other drivers in his car have won. So whoever he puts in the car or truck can win and he still steals the money.

SmarterThanYou

So to you, this is still just the “Kyle Busch Rule?” Quite a compliment to name any rule for one performer! And in the weeks the 18 doesn’t win, will you still be pissed if Brad or Joey or “darling Ryan” or “All Time Great” Kyle Larson win?

DoninAjax

Sounds better than the Paul Menard rule…….Who?

Biff Baynehouse

No. The revisions won’t make a demonstrable difference. I think Nascar is righteously taking strategic baby-steps to wean cuppers off of the NXS & CWT, so as not to shock the system. If they see fit to make more restrictions, I think the “years of experience” cut-off could be dropped to 3, perhaps 2 years, & the number of events could also be dropped another race or two. I would support BOTH. I would also like to see exhibitionists made ineligible for owner’s points (same as driver’s points). Regardless & appreciate all movement in this direction.
The latter I would most like to see. Because that is the main reason exhibitions are deployed. The NXS & CWT Owners’ Championship now relies HEAVILY & practically depends on exhibition drivers, which is just an sporting anomaly that defies logic & all sports integrity rationale. For me, this largely ruins BOTH series, or at least what little value there remains after the ruining affect of “chases” & “stages”.
I believe removing owner’s points from exhibitionists would steer the cup drivers, & sponsors, away from the blight of corporate teams that bludgeon the small struggling NXS & CWT teams & make competing in the series unsustainable. If you removed owner’s points from exhibitionists, I believe this would make those same small teams that are not in contention for the owner’s championship more attractive sponsors & exhibitionists.
The only example I can think of that remotely fits this model is the NXS #98 of Biagi-DenBeste Racing. They are part-time (7 events thus far in ’17) & 23rd in owner’s standings, yet Aric Amirola & Casey Mears are the prime reason they have sponsorship (Fresh From Florida, which I credit to FL native Aric for bring on board) & exist in the series. Stick a BK, JL, KyLar or KyBu in seats like that, with sponsors in tow, your looking at a part-time teams that doubles or triples their participation, & can afford MUCH improved equipment. Plus you have an owner’s championships that righteously depends on series drivers, & perhaps more importantly, a championship that is fair & integral. I’ll allow it!

Biff Baynehouse

Furthermore, the days of young drivers relying on exhibitionists for tutelage no longer passes the smell test my friend. That is an antiquated mindset that needs to evolve to more appropriately accommodate: fiscal aspects of struggling undercard race-teams, & the way a new generation of 16 year olds are race ready every year. After-all, & in drastically opposition to former eras, most of the promotable kids now-a-days are teen-agers who experience various categories of go-carting, & other support categories & are good to go big-time after spending a year or two in ARCA & CWT (Chase, KyLar, RyBla, Dillions, EJones, etc., etc., etc.). Not to mention “I-racing” & VR simulators, which is a whole realm of racing preparation that was unavailable at the onset of “bush-whackin'”. Today’s youth take it for granted, but Nascar seems to have been slow to systemically adapt & accommodate the future evolution of accelerated learning curves, not to mention it’s actual future talent. To a degree, clearly Nascar does accommodate youth, but not nearly to an optimal extent. Case in point, how many drivers had their high school final exams & graduation ceremonies disrupted by Nascar events this year alone? Probably a dozen, if not two dozen. So, it seems to me that clinging to the mindset that young drivers rely on the tutelage of dozens of experience vets is nowhere near as applicable in modernity as it was in the past. And that in today’s reality, an over abundance of exhibitionists hinders & disables the development of young drivers (& small teams). Imo, winning is a better way to learn how to win. The learning experience of continually being beaten down by corporate exhibitionists would seem to impart the lesson that “Nascar is unfair & unsporting” lesson.

MGJ

I would do it like this:

– Cup drivers past their rookie year can compete in a maximum of 6 lower series races per season (6 total, not 6 Xfinity and 6 truck)
– Cup drivers cannot run in the “regular season” finale or the “playoff” races in either lower series
– Owners do not get any owners points in any lower series race where they run a full-time Cup driver
– For any lower series race that runs a full-time Cup driver, the money awarded (purse, contingency, etc) for that car/truck will be cut in half, with the other half distributed among the other non-Cup competitors

Start hitting the owners in their points and pocketbook and they will find a non-Cup driver to run the car/truck.

Upstate24fan

I think the biggest change will be in the playoffs, with Cup guys banned entirely. NASCAR almost had to do this with the playoff system going to Xfinity and Trucks. It’s bad optics to have a playoff built around winning and having Cup guys take the majority of the wins. This is one case where NASCAR is trying to find the right balance of keeping race teams and sponsors happy while providing more competition in the lower series. I for one don’t care about the Cup guys being in there as long as the competition is good. I don’t like to tune in on Saturday though and watch Kyle, Brad or Joey wipe the field out by 5 seconds.

Bill B

I guess we’ll see soon enough but seriously, how much worse can attendance and rating get?
I agree with Upstate, for the chase races, having cup guys take the trophies diminishes the perceived playoff atmosphere. So NASCAR painted themselves in a corner there once they expanded the format to Xfinity and Trucks.

SmarterThanYou

The rule change will have no positive impact. Initially, it will just spread the wins around among the Cup drivers as each takes his turn at dominating. Joey Logano won a majority of the races in 2015 when Rowdy was injured. Was viewership up? Was sponsor money up? Was attendance up? Not a chance. Have any of you uneducated Rednecks ever heard of a business model? (And I use the term “Redneck” to describe a way of thinking (or failing to think) rather than a physical location.)

Let’s use the despised Kyle Busch as our test case. Kyle draws sponsor money for the races he drives. This helps him fund KBM, which in turn helps him fund Erik Jones, Darrell Wallance Jr., William Byron, Matt Tifft, Noah Gregson, Myatt Snyder, Daniel Suarez and a host of others who would NEVER get a ride on their own. Kyle has brought in about 20 drivers to the sport who would have been forever outside looking in if not for KBM and the money he makes off wins and sponsorships. NOBODY in the Cup ranks has brought more talent and better mentorship to young drivers than the Despised One, even if they eventually jump ship (e.g., traitor Byron of the esteemed Oral Roberts University).

As sponsor money dries up (AND IT WILL!), that will mean fewer rides for young drivers, leaving the sport to the legacy names, like Earnhardt, Elliott, Blaney, and Steven Wallace, plus a few has-beens and never-weres. I only watch races where Cup drivers compete, because I have no interest in watching the incompetents wreck every 8-10 laps. I am a snob, but the sponsors count on snobs like me. The rest of you they don’t care about at all. Bye-bye Truck Series, bye-bye NXS, but don’t blame me. I told you how it would play out as Cup drivers are gradually eliminated from ALL events.

Enjoy the fake Dash for Cash and Playoffs while they are still around. Or better yet, support your local short track! This is a rule for morons written by morons, so FS should have its full support.

Ozark_Lee

You are exactly correct on all counts.

RH

The problem is not Cup drivers it is Cup teams. Cup drivers have always competed in the lower series but they didn’t drive cars that were built in Cup shops, with Cup fabrication and R&D budgets. Xfinity teams can’t compete with Cup teams any more than the Durham Bulls can compete with the NY Yankees.

The Busch Series, when there were no Cup teams competing and they went to the short tracks of the Carolinas, Virginia, and TN during the summer, was a wonderful series. It wasn’t the Cup series. The teams weren’t as polished. The drivers didn’t always say the right thing. They cars weren’t as sophisticated. The sponsorship money probably wasn’t as much as today but it was a great series.

The International League isn’t the same as MLB. Their ratings will never compete with MLB. The money is less. But it is still fun and has a large fan base. The Carolina League sure isn’t MLB, but it is still fun and has a solid fan base. Just as MLB understands that the minor leagues aren’t MLB with a different name, NASCAR needs to accept that Xfinity isn’t Cup & it is never going to be Cup. They should eliminate the Cup teams (even if they have short fields for a while), send it go to tracks where fans will appreciate it. Give the teams & drivers room to grow, learn, and build a fan base. NASCAR will be better off for it.

OLD NASAR

NASCAR always says “it wants an equal level playing field ” how is it equal and level when you have CUP drivers running in the lower series?

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