Opinion: Rough Ride for Nationwide
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on June 5, 2013 | 1:26 P.M. EST
Interlopers from NASCAR’s top division have taken nine of the first 11 checkered flags led by Kyle Busch’s six wins. (Photo: Getty Images)
What was supposed to be one of the most competitive, compelling Nationwide Series seasons in history has been disappointing.
The year began with high hopes as a truly loaded lineup of series regulars set their sights on the 2013 championship. Since the division debuted in 1982, this year brought with it the promise of watching something sensational take place on the track.
A mix of young stars and veteran competitors dots this year’s list of Nationwide Series regulars including names like Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith, Sam Hornish Jr., Trevor Bayne, Brian Vickers, Parker Kligerman, Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier and Kyle Larson just to name a few. But 11 races into the campaign, the first 10 drivers in the standings are separated by a whopping 90 points with Smith already holding a 28-point advantage over Hornish at the top of the heap.
The non-existent championship excitement has been made even worse by the complete domination from Sprint Cup Series drivers. Interlopers from NASCAR’s top division have taken nine of the first 11 checkered flags led by Kyle Busch’s six wins. It’s been a punch in the gut the series didn’t need and has further muddied its identity.
While Cup Series drivers can’t win a title thanks to NASCAR’s "pick a championship" rule instituted a couple years ago, watching Nationwide teams run for best-in-class is simply hurting the circuit.
The debate whether Sprint Cup drivers should be allowed to compete in the series at all has been going on since the division’s creation. Supporters point to more ticket sales, better TV ratings and an overall increased visibility when Cup drivers compete. Detractors say it hinders younger drivers' and teams’ development, doesn’t entice more fans into the stands or television sets and does nothing more than turn the series into "Cup Lite."
Those are strong arguments on both sides.
However, the time has come for NASCAR to do something and - at the very least - limit the number of starts a Cup driver can make in both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
One of the biggest decisions the sanctioning body made that, over time, led to this oversaturation was dropping stand-alone dates and adding more companion races to the schedule. Of the 33 races on this year’s calendar, only six will be held away from Sprint Cup Series weekends -the first of which takes place on Saturday at Iowa Speedway. It’s simply too easy for Cup drivers to line up a Nationwide Series ride when both circuits are competing at the same track over a weekend.
The evolution away from unique Nationwide-only tracks (a similar problem in the Truck Series) has robbed the division of any identity while also providing Cup drivers with a comfortable path to compete. In an era when many fans are clamoring for more short-track action, NASCAR needs to find a way to take its No. 2 series back in that direction and away from the Sprint Cup Series shadow.
A 10-race cap should be in place for any Cup driver to dip down into the Nationwide ranks. With all due respect to Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick or any other Cup intruder, the majority of fans simply don’t want to watch them run roughshod through the series. It’s become laughable and has done much more harm than good.
While NASCAR has never designated Nationwide as a developmental series, the time has come to do so. The long-term benefits and public relations appeal will eventually far outweigh any short-term pain.
Be honest. Would you rather watch a fully Cup-loaded Nationwide field run at an intermediate-sized track and have Busch, Logano, Kasey Kahne or some other star win running away? Or see young talent like Larson, Ryan Blaney, Kligerman and Alex Bowman battle it out at Lucas Oil Raceway, Gresham Motorsports Park or Irwindale Motorsports Complex?
I can guarantee you I’d buy a ticket to the second half of that question in a heartbeat, and have a strong feeling more than a few race fans agree.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.