Will The Cup Dominance In Nationwide Truly Be Stopped In 2011?

By Brody Jones

A few days ago, it was announced that NASCAR was now enforcing a new rule to where you can only pursue a championship in one series. For example, Carl Edwards can run all the races he wants in the Nationwide Series, but he can no longer accumulate championship points in the series since he is competing for the Sprint Cup championship. While this rule is intended to be a step in the right direction, the big, glaring question in all this hoopla is, does this new rule really change anything? And, to be brutally honest, the answer is a very sad “no”. Last year was a total disaster in the win column for the Nationwide Series drivers with only one full-time driver (Justin Allgaier) winning a race, along with an ESPN analyst (Boris Said). The other 32 races were won by Cup drivers and that trend is not looking to improve in 2011.
In a series where the ever-widening gap between Cup teams (Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush-Fenway, etc.) and Nationwide-only teams (Baker Curb Racing, Tri-Star Motorsports, Team Rensi, etc.) is growing more and more every day, things do not look to improve greatly in the win column for the Nationwide-only drivers. Out of those drivers, the only ones that can most likely make any positive impact in the win column is former Cup driver Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, Jason Leffler, Justin Allgaier, Aric Almirola and perhaps Trevor Bayne. The rest of the drivers in the series are left to fight for a top-20 finish and there is a good chance that drivers that are consistently outside the top-20 in points could make the top 10 in Nationwide drivers points under the new system, only further devaluing and demeaning the driver’s championship and making the owner’s championship, which very few fans really seem to care about, more important than a driver’s title in the series.
Sure, an argument can be made to the extent of “At least Cup drivers won’t run away with the championship.”, but they’re still likely going to win an over-whelming majority of the races and that trend doesn’t appear to show any signs of slowing down unless NASCAR goes a step further and actually puts some sort of limit on how many races in a lower-series that a Cup driver can actually enter, but this doesn’t seem to be in the works anytime soon. They will continue to take sponsors from Nationwide-only teams, leaving them in the precarious situation of having to find “ride-buyers” in terms of surviving from race to race. Teams like Nashville’s Baker-Curb Racing and others were dependent on ride-buyers to survive the 2010 season and the sad thing is a lot of these “ride-buyers” truthfully don’t have any true credentials deserving of a ride in the Nationwide Series, but teams are in dire need of that cash they bring to keep the team going.
However, by the same token, this is the first step that NASCAR has taken to do something about the Cup drivers wreaking havoc on the lower series, which is eerily reminiscent of sixth-graders at the playground beating up on fourth-graders just because they’re “at a lower level than they are”. For years, the Nationwide-only winners on the tour had become very few and far-between due to all the Cup drivers running the full-schedule and winning championships. That would be like a star Major League Baseball player double-dipping in AAA baseball and clobbering the less-experienced youngsters. Hopes spring eternal that this will be the first step in turning the Nationwide Series back into the proving ground for young talent that it once was.
So what exactly is the solution here? Do you limit a Cup driver to 15 Nationwide races a year or do you leave things as is and hope the problem goes away? While NASCAR has made a well-intended effort to curb this influence, in reality, it’s like an Eskimo in need of an ice box. The problem is increasingly apparent to just about everybody except those in a position of power to really do anything about it. One thing the Nationwide Series drivers do not need in terms of a blow to morale is another season like 2010, where teams like Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske, and Roush-Fenway made an absolute joke of the series. But as pessimistic as it is to admit this, it looks like more of the same in 2011 for the Nationwide Series.