Home / Amy Henderson / The Frontstretch 5: Great Things About NASCAR’s Lower Divisions, Areas of Opportunity
(Photo: Christian Koelle)

The Frontstretch 5: Great Things About NASCAR’s Lower Divisions, Areas of Opportunity

1. Standalone races

Races like the XFINITY/Truck show at Iowa last weekend used to be much more common, but the ones that are still on the schedule often end up being among the best races of the season in any series. Some of that has to do with the venues, but it’s also because the spotlight is squarely aimed at the series regulars where it belongs.

Along with the four Dash 4 Cash XFINITY races, where Cup drivers aren’t allowed to enter, these races are some of the hardest-contested events you’ll see. Part of that is because when someone (usually a Cup driver) is running away with the race, the action behind them goes largely unnoticed, especially on TV, where the commentators often get tunnel vision toward those big Cup names.

Additionally, there’s a definite uptick in something. Call it morale or maybe something else, but when they’re racing for wins, the competition picks up a notch. Add in a few new names trying to make people remember them at some of these races, and it’s a recipe for excitement.

How can it be better?

Easy. Add a few more stand-alone events to the schedule, including as many unique venues as possible, and there will really be something to make fans take notice of the series. For the Trucks, in particular, there’s a real chance to showcase some of the best smaller venues in the country: South Boston, Myrtle Beach and others. It’s time to try a different direction.

2. Lifers

Over the years, both series have cultivated their own stars. Some are former Cup drivers who found a home where they can gun for titles, like Johnny Sauter, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler. Others, like two-time Truck champion Matt Crafton, found success in one series and stuck around.

Over the years, some drivers, like Ron Hornaday Jr., tried other series and came back to where they wanted to be. Many have cited the less demanding schedules as a primary reason. Others simply didn’t enjoy the greater pressure of racing another division. But whatever the reason, these drivers help forge the series’ identities separate from Cup

How can it be better?

These drivers need to be promoted as a core component of the sport. Fans need to have a connection with drivers. This point goes for all levels, but it’s far easier to find with the Cup drivers simply because they get the most airtime, even on Saturdays. The more fans can connect with the drivers in XFINITY and Trucks, the better off both series—and the fans—are.

That will take a concerted effort because as it stands, race broadcasts often ignore the regulars. That needs to change for the health of these series. If the broadcasts treat the Cup drivers in NXS and CWTS races as simply a novelty among the regulars, it would change the way fans see the series on a weekly basis.

3. A bigger variety of venues

There aren’t as many different tracks on either circuit as there used to be, but the XFINITY and Truck series can provide a great opportunity for both tracks and fans. They’re less expensive for a track to host than a Cup event and they don’t require quite the size of a facility as Cup. That means a track that’s not quite up to capacity for a Cup race could easily host another national series.

As it is, fans get the pseudo-short track at Iowa, Eldora, Gateway and a variety of road courses. Not only are these the standalones both series need, but they’re at tracks that provide some exciting racing. It’s a huge win for fans and teams alike.

How can it be better?

While it seems like fans are in agreement that they’d like to see the two series have more standalone weekends on more tracks, particularly more short tracks, those fans have got to back that up by going to the races. If fans want a Cup race at Iowa, they need to be packing the stands every single XFINITY or Truck series race to the point of sellouts.

NASCAR tried to do right by fans by bringing Rockingham back into the fold with a Truck Series race, which could well have led to an XFINITY event as well, but the fans who clamored for it for so many years simply didn’t show up.

That’s not on NASCAR and it’s not on the track. It’s on the fans and the fans only. Martinsville doesn’t host the XFINITY Series for one simple reason: It doesn’t break even after the sanctioning fee and the operating costs. Why? Fans don’t show up. It’s one thing to give lip service to the short tracks and standalone dates, but fans need to give NASCAR a reason to take those requests seriously and for tracks to buy in.

4. Different drivers with a chance to shine

Not only do these series have the lifers, both have some exceptional young talent on the way, perhaps, to the Cup Series. Fans have the chance to see youngsters as they come through the ranks, and there have certainly been a lot of them worth watching in recent years.

Drivers like Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Chris Buescher made sure fans knew their names before they landed full-time Cup rides, and others like Noah Gragson, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer are making themselves known. Other youngsters are just getting started showing everyone their full potential. They’re generally accessible and personable, giving fans a variety of ways to get behind them.

How can it be better?

Just like the longtime regulars, these drivers deserve the spotlight in their own series. NASCAR and especially the television broadcast partners have got to do a better job of keeping up with them and bringing them and their personalities to fans.

As has been pointed out this year, the races without the Cup regulars have been very competitive and fan favorites. While NASCAR can certainly limit those drivers by further cutting the number of races they can enter, there’s a better way: limit who they can drive for instead.

Once upon a time, Cup drivers would sign on with a smaller team, or a local one for standalone races. It was fun to see who might show up, and the regulars really got to race with them as it wasn’t simply about buying trophies with higher budgets and more experience. NASCAR could simply ban Cup regulars from driving for any team associated with their Cup team. It’s unlikely they’d be contractually allowed to run for another Cup owner, so that leaves the smaller unaffiliated teams who could use an experienced driver behind the wheel for a race here and there.

5. A lot of bang for your buck

Tickets for these series are much less expensive than the same seats for a Cup race, and the shorter races and fan-friendly atmosphere make them a great choice for bringing a family. Kids under 12 can get into races for free with an adult ticket, and that’s how fans are made.

Again, standalone races are beneficial because hotel rates for these don’t tend to get raised to a ridiculous level the way they do for Cup races in some areas. There are often autograph sessions where fans can meet many of the drivers, something no longer seen at the Cup level. Post-race traffic isn’t the hassle of a Cup event, and as both series proved at Iowa, the racing is as good as any Cup Series show.

The Trucks often put on the best show of the weekend at some tracks where they share the spotlight with the Cup cars, and the XFINITY Series can do the same when the regulars are on their game. If Cup racing is too expensive for a family, these series provide racing that’s just as good, if not better, more opportunities for driver interaction and some great venues with free tickets for kids, all for a much lower ticket price.

How can it be better?

Again, there’s always a case for more of the races to be standalones at tracks that provide exciting races. But again, fans have to show up. There’s a lot to love about these two series, which are still less affected by many of NASCAR’s mistakes than the Cup Series.

Want more? The only way to get it is to go. And the only way for NASCAR to make fans want to go is to work to bring great venues and make the races about what they’re meant to be: a mix of series veterans and young talent driving as hard as they can for the win.  There’s passion in these series that the Cup Series sometimes seems to lack. Everyone, from NASCAR to the fans, needs to jump all over that.

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

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9 comments

  1. Geez, this is where the Truck Series started. Small tracks, different venues than Cup, servicing the smaller markets, but Nascar sanction fees (as noted above) made it impossible for the owner to make money, and they assumed all the down side risk of poor attendance and bad weather. Safer barriers are not a requirement (they aren’t at Eldora, for one), but it does affect the real or perceived risk. The statements in the article give some other clues… ‘shorter races are more family friendly’, ‘lower ticket prices’, are both very true. But I have seen 3 and 4 day minimum stays at motels for combined weekend shows that is beyond what the market will bare.
    Perhaps first Nascar needs to define the purpose of each series. Cup is the top…but what are the functions of Xfinity and Truck? Are they redundant? Is the business model for track owners, team owners, reasonable and rational for the money taken in? (I am ignoring both Nascar and drivers for the moment) If not, how do you balance it out better?
    I’d suggest that Xfinity and Truck as they are defined today are redundant. Truck, if moved downscale to smaller venues, may be redundant with K&N Series. There appears to be too much, too many being supported by too few. (i do believe that grabbing up ARCA was Nascar’s approach to reducing competition in the Xfinity/Cup space)
    If more races are run at smaller alternative venues, will team revenue from sponsors be slightly or greatly effected? This is complex, but the crowds clearly tell you its broken. Alot of questions and few answers, but defining the purpose of each series needs to be re-examined first..

  2. If we want more standalone races for the lower divisions, then people (especially locals) need to show up and support those events. Iowa will never get a Cup race if they can’t pack the place for Trucks and Xfinity. Most people won’t make standalone races a travel destination (execpt maybe the Truck race at Eldora). The local market needs to support those events to make them successful.

  3. All sports have their minor leagues or developmental series. They typically have low attendance, low pay, and zero TV coverage. Only in NASCAR is there such hand-wringing about what will happen to the minor leagues and the participants in those leagues. Either the drivers will be good enough to attract sponsors and major league teams or they won’t. NASCAR fans should be happy that major teams like Penske and JGR even invest in the minor leagues. If that means they have to send a Cup driver down to satisfy sponsors, why does it matter? The lack of success of the young guns in Cup is directly correlated to the limitation on Cup drivers in Trucks and NXS. These kids beat each other and think they are ready for the Big Leagues. Clearly they are not. Stand-alone races and racing against “lifers” obviously does not prepare them to compete at the highest level. And minor leaguers don’t really deserve a “spotlight” until they have accomplished something other than beating other minor leaguers.

    • True but remember its not the drivers that are promoting themselves to the Cup level, its the teams themselves doing it. So they must feel that they are either ready to be thrown in the deep end or its time to cut the cord.

      • I think the teams are afraid of young talent being poached. JGR let Kenseth go because Erik Jones wasn’t happy being with Furniture Row. After driving for KBM in Trucks, William Byron wanted to move up to Xfinity, but JGR didn’t have an immediate spot for him, so he jumped to JRM/HMS. The big teams don’t want to risk losing the next superstar, so they sign them to contracts and move them up too soon. There is a good chance SHR will push Kurt Busch out to make room for Cole Custer, who really has not accomplished much at the lower level.

  4. It’s a pipe dream to think they will run truck races at other short tracks you’ve mentioned. NA$CAR has no intention of ever going back to the tracks that made the series popular and they’ve mad it abundantly clear they will not go anywhere that doesn’t have safer barriers. South Boston, Myrtle and others do not have them and the costs associated with getting them along with the unbelievably high sanctioning fees will ensure they never get a truck or busch race again. Face it, the tracks they use now is all we’re gonna get. Oh they may shift a date or two here and there and proclaim “look we’ve made drastic changes to the schedule” but that’s about it. They’re perfectly happy running the majority of the races at companion mile and a halfs and having kyle busch drop down 2 divisions to stroke his ego even further.

    • They aren’t going away from tracks they own, and I doubt that they are willing to leave one of the others currently on the schedule for fear of a lawsuit. End of story.

    • A truck race at Myrtle Beach is a pipe dream even if waived the safer barrier requirement, which would not be a good idea there. The facility would need a huge overhaul. The track surface is past the point of being called worn out. Lower horsepower late models put on a good show there, but it so rough that tour modifieds can barely race on it. It’s like racing on aggregate concrete & gravel.

  5. Ah Amy’s (NASCAR cheerleader) fantasy story of the week. Must be nice getting paid to write NASCAR press releases like this.