Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Changes Paying Off In NASCAR Nationwide Series

Ricky Stenhouse is a title cntender again.
Last year, NASCAR announced a major change in the way it awards championships in its three national series. For the first time, the sanctioning body decreed that drivers would be allowed to earn points in only one division, regardless of how many races they ran. In one sweep of the pen, NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Brad Keselowski and fellow Sprint Cup Series regulars Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were eliminated from 2011 title contention, raising concern in some corners that the Nationwide Series would lack in excitement and star power.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Twelve months after that fateful decision, NASCAR has succeeded in putting control of the series back into the hands of Nationwide-only drivers.

A year ago, Sprint Cup drivers held the Nationwide Series in a stranglehold, winning all but four races in 35 starts. It took only four weeks for that mark to be equaled this year, with Elliott Sadler (2), James Buescher, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. opening the 2012 campaign with four consecutive victories. Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano finally broke through with a win for Joe Gibbs Racing at Auto Club Speedway last weekend, but with only a month complete in the 2012 campaign, it is clear that the NASCAR Nationwide Series is “Sprint Cup Lite” no longer.

Kyle Busch has yet to hit stride.
Eliminating Cup drivers from title contention has infused a much-needed dose of excitement into the Nationwide championship chase, as well. Last year, Stenhouse and Sadler battled tooth-and-nail for the title, with Reed Sorenson and Justin Allgaier also spending considerable time at the top of the points table. While actual wins were few and far between, the feeling in the Nationwide garage – and also in the grandstands – was that the “little guys” were finally free to contest their own championship without the suffocating presence of those Sprint Cup regulars.

This year, Sadler and Stenhouse are once again waging war for the championship, with rookie Austin Dillon – up from the Camping World Truck Series – Trevor Bayne and Sam Hornish, Jr., all within easy striking distance. Edwards has left the series to concentrate his efforts on the Sprint Cup championship, while Busch is struggling to wring speed from his new, self-owned team.

The “Big Dogs” aren’t barking as loudly on the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season, and honestly, not many seem to miss them.

1 comment:

  1. Dave, I applaud NASCAR for having the cajones to make this tough decision, but (I'm sure you knew the but was coming) the concern was not just about competition, but also about attendance. I know that with only five races we may not have a large enough sample, but how's the attendance been trending, up or down?