One of the many problems facing NASCAR going forward is what to do with the Nationwide Series. In recent years it has become a Saturday playground for Cup drivers, and because of this, the series’ developmental mentality and identity have gone away. What was once a place for young drivers to get noticed is now dominated by big name organizations and their big name drivers. This always seems to be a favorite topic of conversation among fans and media alike, especially with two Cup drivers currently leading the NNS points.
While this Cup invasion has really hurt the smaller teams and overall driver development, I’m starting to wonder now this season if it isn’t actually hurting those participating Cup stars as well. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are atop the NNS standings right now, but both have struggled at times this season in their Cup car.
For Busch, the Cup season started off well with three wins in the first ten races. But since winning at Richmond, he only has two top ten finishes. And his great start and disappointing end to 2008 were well documented. His 2009 NNS campaign continues to roll along with two wins and four second place finishes in the last six races, but everyone knows the real money is made on Sundays.
Edwards, while still sitting solidly inside the Chase, has not been the same driver he was last season. His only win this season in either series came a few weeks back in the NNS race at Milwaukee.
I don’t have a ton of evidence to support my theory, but I have to believe competing in multiple series eventually takes a toll on a driver. Not only are they running back and forth between garages (and sometimes tracks), but they are also working with different teams and trying to set up race cars that are drastically different, series to series. Knowledge and information gained in the NNS car doesn’t apply to the COT for Sundays, and vice-a-versa.
Some of you may say that the struggles for some of these teams have nothing to do with the drivers moonlighting, and that factors like not testing probably affect them more. But think about this, no driver has ever won the Nationwide/Busch championship and a Cup title in the same season. Jimmie Johnson has won the last three straight Sprint Cups, and you rarely see him race anything outside his #48 Lowes Chevy.
I understand these guys want to race as much as possible, but I think at some point they need to decide what is more important to them. Running as many races as possible, or being among the small fraternity of drivers who can call themselves Cup Series champions.