NASCAR Driver Limits Won’t Boost Xfinity Series

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Now, in what cynics tag the “Kyle Busch Ban”, NASCAR has announced caps for Cup drivers participating in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series events.

NASCAR is struggling with brand identity for both the Xfinity and Truck Series, so the sanctioning body is taking a deeper dive into unchartered waters with further rule changes for 2017.

At the start of the current season, NASCAR extended the Chase playoff system down to both the Xfinity and Truck developmental circuits to intensify drama and hopefully get fans to pay attention to the upstart talent in each race series.

Now, in what cynics tag the “Kyle Busch Ban”, NASCAR has announced caps for Cup drivers participating in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series events.

Beginning in 2017, Sprint Cup drivers with more than five years’ experience will be limited to ten Xfinity and seven Truck races. Furthermore, those Cup drivers also will be ineligible to compete in the final eight races in each series, including the Chase playoffs.

The Xfinity Series motto drives home the narrative that “Names Are Made Here”, intending to showcase popular, up-and-coming racers that will bond with the next generation of fans.

However, NASCAR TV ratings are still slumping, and a viewer only needs to tune in to a race to see that fans are not exactly beating down the turnstiles to attend these support events, even with the today’s cut-rate ticket prices.

Certainly, these driver restrictions address fears that Sprint Cup drivers have been dominating the races in the “lower” series. Cup Series regulars have won nearly 75% of the Xfinity races since 2011, including 21 of the 26 regular-season races this year, which surely creates a predictable futility and overshadows the emerging stars of the future.

At the start of the current season, NASCAR extended the Chase playoff system down to both the Xfinity and Truck developmental circuits to intensify drama and hopefully get fans to pay attention to the upstart talent in each race series.

At the start of the current season, NASCAR extended the Chase playoff system down to both the Xfinity and Truck developmental circuits to intensify drama and hopefully get fans to pay attention to the upstart talent in each race series.

But the real problem is the product on the track is lackluster and mind-numbing, with races where a small cadre of Cup drivers runs away from the pack. Exhibit A is Kyle Busch, last year’s Sprint Cup Champion, who has already dropped down to win 9 of 16 Xfinity series races in 2016, extending his win total to 85 victories over his entire Xfinity career. With Busch crushing his competitors and often lapping 75% of the field, the anticipated storyline is known before the wave of the green flag.

Per Jim Cassidy, NASCAR SVP of Racing Operations, the new rule is designed to aid the up-and-coming driver talent, and not target any one competitor or team.

“Certainly, we’re not going to focus on any one participant and make a rule based upon that,” Cassidy said. “What our approach is in this case is making sure that the brands of these drivers have a chance if they are successful on-track, that people understand who these drivers are and that they continue to have a chance to build their brands. The goal is to strengthen the entire sport.”

Then again, capping experienced Cup drivers does nothing to solve the monetary predicament that these developmental series are now dominated by a few mega Cup-owners with large racing budgets. So far in 2016, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has captured the checkered flag in 17 of the 30 Xfinity races among its stable of four cars.

I remain skeptical that these new guidelines will have much impact. A Cup Series regular may still participate in up to ten Xfinity races, and the powerhouse teams such as JGR can cycle through its fleet of Cup racers to uphold their dominance. When you have a dominant team with an annual racing budget that is 10X the size of its smaller competitors, the restrictions on drivers is not going to change much.

Additionally, the wave of successive rule modifications may result in fan confusion as well as unintended consequences, such as sponsors stepping away from these series entirely.

Ideally, instead of relying on the five-year experience threshold, NASCAR could have made a major statement. With the new Chase elimination playoff, the Xfinity and Truck championships should be exclusive to drivers who have declared their eligibility to earn points and compete for a championship in that series at the start of the year.

Regrettably, NASCAR’s hands are bound, as many sponsor budgets are already set for 2017, so it would be unrealistic to completely ban or overly restrict Sprint Cup driver participation. So, instead of Kyle Busch, we can look forward to a rotating parade of Cup stars with less than 5 years of experience, such as Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney, dropping down to steal the thunder from the Xfinity Championship contenders.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano.

 

 

 

 

The NASCAR Guard is About to Change

Erik Jones is one of a healthy crop of young NASCAR stars who are waiting in the wings for their shot at Cup racing.

Erik Jones is one of a healthy crop of young NASCAR stars who are waiting in the wings for their shot at Cup racing.

The names we’re most familiar with in NASCAR aren’t going anywhere just yet. However they’re about to be joined by familiar last names and unfamiliar first names. The new crop of drivers for NASCAR are just around the corner and many of them are sons of the current Cup crop.

Matt Kenseth’s son, Ross Kenseth, just made his Xfinity debut in Chicagoland and was more than impressive with a front row start and 6th place finish. Erik Jones, by now no stranger to those in the paddock, won the race.

Ryan Blaney was right there to take second, Austin Dillon 3rd while Brendan Gaughan interrupted the kids parade finishing 4th and Chris Buescher finishing 5th. Daniel Suarez, Brian Scott, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace, Jr. rounded out the top ten.

Who won? Erik Jones. A real live star in the making, as is at least 8 of the aforementioned drivers. It’s an inevitability that the guard is changing and with it the competition in the Cup series will grow even more hard to call. These boys can drive and everyone has noticed.

The health of any racing series is based on who the up and coming talent is and with NASCAR there’s no shortage of capable hard racing youth. They are the stars of tomorrow who will have the chance, en masse, to compete with their Father’s, their heroes and tighten down on the top twenty at any given race.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. may set NASCAR on the map as a success in it's Drive for Diversity program.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. may set NASCAR on the map as a success in it’s Drive for Diversity program.

Many of the current Cup drivers will still be at full bore competition when these youngsters arrive such as the Busch brothers, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and the list goes on. The Xfinity Series is proving it’s worth as the proving ground for hard upper level racing, a skill these young drivers will need.

Once they were big fish in a little pond and now, even in the junior Xfinity Series, they are big fish in a bigger pond. The lake of predators in the Cup Series awaits.

Most of these drivers grew up knowing little else other than racing cars or karts. Their Father’s and heroes may very well have been line mechanics at their Dad’s car dealerships or sweeping garages in pursuit of a seemingly unobtainable dream.

But dreams are what auto racing is made of, only bigger than most. ‘Go heavy or go home’ is a weight lifting expression but it might as well have been plastered on these kids cribs. They know only one thing, that is to win no matter how hard they have to suffer personally or on-track.

Auto racing is the ultimate in performance based careers. You either run at the front and win or you go home. Going home isn’t on these guys list of things to do. They would rather run barefoot over a bed of hot coals than admit defeat, but when they do lose they learn.

Losing is a horrible feeling, but it’s one that every driver needs to know.

You’ll never know what it’s like to win if you don’t know what it’s like to lose.

 

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