There’s been a lot of talk lately about NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers competing in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. It’s an emotional discussion, with some observers believing the success of those drivers comes at the expense of younger drivers and less-established teams. Much of the ire these days is focused on Kyle Busch, who in addition to his full-time job on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has run 65 Nationwide and Truck Series events in the last three seasons, winning 19 of them.
Some people don’t like that. And honestly, some people don’t like Kyle Busch. So in an effort to balance the competitive scales, they suggest that Cup drivers be banned – or at least severely restricted – from the Nationwide and Truck Series garages.
Track operators generally don’t like that idea, fearing that the absence of Sprint Cup drivers will adversely affect their ticket sales. Take the star out of the movie, they say, and fewer people will watch the movie.
Team owners are understandably split on the idea. Some would love a chance to race closer to the front of the pack in the absence of Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Others, however, sell established Cup stars to their sponsors, allowing them to keep the doors open and field additional cars for young, up-and-coming talents.
Drivers have strong opinions on the topic, as well. Restricting their ability to earn paychecks on Friday and Saturday raises justifiable concern about NASCAR’s role in governing independent contractors and their right to work.
|Busch dominated at Phoenix Saturday|
Despite what you may have heard, that’s not a new phenomenon.
Sprint Cup drivers have competed – and won prolifically – in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series for decades. With two races complete in the 2014 season, Cup and Nationwide drivers have split the bill. Nationwide driver Regan Smith claimed the season-opener at Daytona, with Cup invader Kyle Busch dominating last weekend in Phoenix. Over the last 30 years, however, the scales are weighed heavily against the Nationwide Series regulars.
Non-Cup drivers have won only seven of the last 30 season-openers at Daytona International Speedway. Interestingly, two of those wins have come in the last three years. In addition to Smith’s victory last month, James Buescher (then a regular on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) claimed the checkered flag in 2012. Prior to that, however, it had been 11 years since Randy LaJoie took one for the home boys at Daytona, back in 2001.
If you’re looking for someone to blame, look no further than Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Stewart has held a veritable stranglehold over Speedweeks Nationwide action in the last decade, with seven victories. Earnhardt, Jr. prevailed in three consecutive seasons; 2002-2004.
In the 1980s and `90s, the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., was the man to beat in Busch Series (now Nationwide) action at Daytona. He opened the season with wins in five consecutive seasons – 1990 through 1994 – and also won in 1986. Earnhardt actually swept the first two races of the season in `86, following his Daytona win with a checkered flag at Rockingham Speedway the next week.
While not yet able to claim a February Nationwide win at the World Center of Racing, Busch has been virtually unstoppable in the second race of the season. Whether at Phoenix or Auto Club Speedway, Busch had carried the checkered flag five times in the last six seasons. A number of other Cup drivers have also carried checkered flags in the first two races of Nationwide campaigns. Mark Martin (5), Geoff Bodine (2) and Jamie McMurray (2) are multi-time winners, while Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte, Harry Gant, Michael Waltrip and Bobby Allison all have visited Victory Lane in the first two weeks of the season.
Busch’s 23.5% Nationwide winning percentage is better than that of Waltrip (13.7%), Earnhardt (15.4%) and Martin (20.8%). Waltrip and Earnhardt are already enshrined in the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, Martin will join them very soon. Busch’s 64 wins in 272 career starts far surpass the efforts of all modern-day driver, as well, and he has raised the bar to a level unprecedented in the history of the sport.
Despite those lofty numbers, however, this is not a “Kyle Busch problem.” After all, when is the last time you heard someone complain about Michael McDowell or Landon Cassill – both fulltime Sprint Cup Series drivers – competing in the Nationwide Series? Clearly, competing in the Nationwide Series is acceptable to the vast majority of NACAR fans. Winning, however, must be done sparingly, lest we grow tired of your success.
Solutions to this problem – if it’s even a problem -- will be difficult to pinpoint, and even more difficult to implement.
|Earnhardt also dominated the Busch Series|
Handicapping Cup drivers – technologically or through procedural means – goes against the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship. Every competitor deserves to have the rules fairly and evenly applied, and different rules for different players crosses the line between sport and gimmickry.
Banning owners like Gibbs, Richard Childress and Roger Penske from the Nationwide garage seems heavy handed, at best. They have pumped years of hard work and millions of dollars into the series, and they deserve better than to be sent packing, simply for being too good at what they do.
The Nationwide Series is NASCAR’s top developmental circuit, but it is also much more than that. It is North America’s No. 2 form of motorsport, ahead of IndyCar, NHRA, IHRA, Tudor Sports Car and SCCA. Its in-person attendance and television ratings are the envy of every motorsports entity other than Sprint Cup, and those who see it as nothing more than “Cup Lite” are not paying attention.
The people entrusted with charting the future of the Nationwide Series have a series of important decisions to make in the months to come. Job One in that process is to determine whether there really is a problem, and if so, what that specific problem is.
“Kyle Busch wins too much” is not an issue that needs addressing. For the record, neither is the same statement with Jimmie Johnson’s name attached. Great drivers and great teams win races. Lots and lots of races.
That’s what they’re paid to do, and stinking up the show with a dominant performance like Busch delivered last Saturday in Phoenix should be applauded, not outlawed.
First Two Nationwide Series Races By Year –
· 2014 -- Regan Smith (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Phoenix)
· 2013 – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch (Phoenix)
· 2012 – James Buescher, Elliott Sadler (Phoenix)
· 2011 – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch (Phoenix)
· 2010 – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch (Auto Club)
· 2009 – Tony Stewart (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Auto Club)
· 2008 – Tony Stewart, Tony Stewart (Auto Club)
· 2007 – Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth (Auto Club)
· 2006 – Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle (Auto Club)
· 2005 – Tony Stewart, Mark Martin (Auto Club)
· 2004 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jamie McMurray (Rockingham)
· 2003 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jamie McMurray (Rockingham)
· 2002 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jason Keller (Rockingham)
· 2001 – Randy Lajoie, Todd Bodine (Rockingham)
· 2000 – Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin (Rockingham)
· 1999 -- Randy LaJoie, Jeff Burton (Rockingham)
· 1998 – Joe Nemechek, Matt Kenseth (Rockingham)
· 1997 – Randy LaJoie, Mark Martin (Rockingham)
· 1996 – Steve Grissom, Mark Martin (Rockingham)
· 1995 – Chad Little, Chad Little (Rockingham)
· 1994 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Terry Labonte (Rockingham)
· 1993 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Mark Martin (Rockingham)
· 1992 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Ward Burton (Rockingham)
· 1991 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Harry Gant (Rockingham)
· 1990 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Michael Waltrip (Rockingham)
· 1989 -- Darrell Waltrip, Rob Moroso (Rockingham)
· 1988 – Bobby Allison, Mike Alexander (Rockingham)
· 1987 – Geoff Bodine, Jack Ingram (Rockingham)
· 1986 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (Rockingham)
· 1985 – Geoff Bodine, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (Rockingham)
*Nationwide Series Regular