Kyle Busch indicated drivers should have more lower level success before being allowed to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Do you agree?
Adam Cheek: I believe so. At the very least, they should have a certain number of starts in either Xfinity or the Gander Outdoor Truck Series — maybe 10 or 15 in one or the other, something like that. There should be some level of experience at the Cup level.
Zach Gillispie: I completely disagree. Jimmie Johnson only had one Xfinity win and four top fives when he entered Cup. That’s not much success, but look where he ended up. With the severe disparity in performance and budget on each side of the garage area in both NXS and MENCS, NASCAR has left a void open for less successful drivers to fill Cup rides. If it is there for the taking, a driver has every single right to take it.
Amy Henderson: Experience, they should absolutely have (and if they have a Cup license, NASCAR has determined that they have enough of it). Success? Who gets to decide what that even means? Not every driver has had the opportunity Busch has had, never toiling in underfunded equipment. And as much as Busch would have you believe otherwise, talent alone isn’t always enough to land a top-tier ride. It’s as much about who you know and what they can do for you or someone else as it is about success. There are plenty of drivers out there with more late-model wins than much of the Cup field who never get a shot. Winning in the lower series might land a driver a better ride, and maybe if Cup drivers like Busch weren’t filling those seats for several races, there would be more opportunity for that. You can’t fault a driver for taking a ride that’s not competitive if the alternative is no ride at all.
Joy Tomlinson: Drivers don’t need to win in the Xfinity or Truck series to compete in Cup, though it would be advisable. For one, it’s difficult to contend for wins in underfunded equipment. Secondly, Cup drivers like Kyle Busch competing in the lower tiers often snag the victory over Xfinity or Truck series regulars. While I do agree with the sentiment that it gives those racers a chance to beat Cup drivers, it is very tough to do. Finally, winning isn’t the only thing that shows driving ability. Not everyone can win a race, and many top teams win multiple races each year (like Joe Gibbs Racing).
Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are now tied with 17 Cup wins apiece since 2017. Who do you think has been the better driver over that span and why?
Tomlinson: Busch has been slightly better than Martin Truex Jr. since 2017. Busch has a better average finish in both 2018 (8.3) and 2019 (8.6) than Truex (10.7 and 10.9). Busch has also led 743 more laps than Truex since the beginning of the 2017 season. Though Truex has won a championship in that span, he hasn’t been as consistent as Busch has so far. Both drivers are elite and both have their good and bad days, but Busch seems to have the marginal edge.
Gillispie: Truex. While the statistics may show that Busch has a slight edge over Truex, Truex has been in the best stretch of his career, capped off by the 2017 MENCS championship. In a world where championships are emphasized, Truex’s one championship in that span over Busch’s goose egg gives Truex a slight edge.
Cheek: Truex has been more impressive. Busch is the better overall driver, but Truex’s success once he reached Furniture Row Racing and beyond has been exponential; his talent has really shone through and he’s shown how solid of a driver he is. Busch is a champion, and he’s been the better driver, but Truex has shown how great of a driver he can be.
Henderson: Tough call, but I say Truex as well. Even as a JGR affiliate, Furniture Row Racing was at a disadvantage as a single-car team based two thousand miles from the rest of the sport. That Truex delivered the team a championship is a feat that goes under-appreciated at times. In this time span, Truex has gone from an also-ran to a driver who will be nominated for the Hall of Fame if not inducted someday.
Grant Enfinger saw his regular season Truck Series championship translate into a first-round elimination. Should regular season champions get an automatic advancement to a certain point?
Gillispie: Absolutely not. NASCAR does not need to be implementing more playoff rules; there already is enough. With the current format, I like the emphasis that every race matters in the grand scheme of things, something that NASCAR has marketed with this current system. Grant Enfinger collected enough points in every race this season to rightfully earn the regular-season crown, but he did not collect enough points in the first round and was rightfully eliminated from the playoffs. If NASCAR grandfathers someone in, it completely takes away from the notion that each race is important.
Henderson: Well, here’s the thing: this playoff format is supposed to reward the regular season more, but it obviously backfired here. I don’t think you just give a free pass to Homestead, but maybe more playoff points for the season title, so that it would take complete disaster to eliminate them? I don’t know. This is why a one-race championship is such a terrible idea–it’s far from a guarantee that the best drivers all year will even be in it at the end.
Cheek: I wouldn’t be surprised if NASCAR implements it at some point, but I don’t think so. Truck drivers, for example, should battle it out all year to make the playoffs and more or less be on a level playing field come the playoffs. If anything, give them some more bonus points, but all eight, 12 or 16 drivers should all be on a relatively even level at playoff time.
Tomlinson: Well, no, but the Truck Series shouldn’t even have the playoffs (but that’s for another day). Enfinger hadn’t won a race yet this year and finished 13th at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park; he really needed a better finish than that to prove he was a contender. Guys like Ross Chastain, Austin Hill and Brett Moffitt have all won multiple races this year and have shown that they’re talented enough to compete at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Enfinger wasn’t quite there yet.
With Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick still reigning as the Big Three in the Xfinity Series, would it be good or bad for the series if none ended up claiming the championship?
Henderson: It’s not good. The best driver all year should be the champion, or at least one of the best. Nobody else is close to those three, and it would really be a shame to see another driver take it. It’s happened before, of course, and those titles always seem somehow less…that’s not fair to the eventual champion, but it’s a product of a badly-executed system.
Cheek: It’s not the best look, but it’s also not a bad look. Austin Cindric‘s more than likely the fourth-best driver this year, and given a solid playoff run could more than likely put himself in rightful contention for the title. And of course, the elimination format plays with the perception of the Big Three and things like that; heck, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick or Cole Custer could have a few bad races and be eliminated in the first round. Last year, three of the four final drivers were the Big Three and none of them came away with the title. The unpredictability of a label such as the Big Three and having several dominant drivers during the season can resonate both positively and negatively with the sport’s audience.
Tomlinson: It would be bad for the drivers since they won all those races. I think it would depend on if the champion was likeable or if they won during the season (like Chase Briscoe or Austin Cindric). While they are the favorites, they still have to avoid trouble in these last few months to ensure their spots in the final four. It definitely makes for an intriguing storyline.
Gillispie: We sort of figured it out last year when Joey Logano dethroned the Big Three Cup drivers to claim the Cup championship last season at Homestead. There was a lot of criticism because many individuals believed that the best driver did not win. While there is some negativity associated with this connotation, a four-driver shootout regardless of who is in the Big Three provides much-needed entertainment that glues people to their TV sets. They all rightfully got to the final round, and thus, they all rightfully to some degree deserve to win.