Is Running The Nationwide Series Full Time Hurting Cup Drivers?

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.

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20 Responses to “Is Running The Nationwide Series Full Time Hurting Cup Drivers?”

  1. knobcreekfan says:

    TC – I am with you. Concentrate and commit to Cup. If your car is not handling the way you want it, spend hours with your crew chief and engineer making it right. Don’t be running off to practice/qualify your truck or NNS car.

  2. rain says:

    TC – I do understand why. Cup drivers fill seats and attract bigger sponsors..but it does make for VERY predictable racing and wins. I do not think Kyle and Carl’s problems are a result of running both series. Kyle has been a victim of mechanical issues, wrong place/wrong time, his own immaturity and possibly pay back from other drivers. As for Carl, I think other teams have caught up with Rousch this year…and of course, luck is part of every win.

  3. steve says:

    I don’t have another reason so you may be right, but I wonder why they would fall off this year given that last year they had to spend lots of time testing their Cup cars.. if anything, they ought to have more time available this year.

    And somewhat tangential, here’s an idea for the Nationwide series that could deal with some of their problems: each car would have two drivers per race, with only one of them able to be a full time Cup driver. You’d still give young drivers exposure without taking away the Cup drivers who pull in fans and it would allow the Nationwide series to be known as something other than Cup-lite. I know NASCAR would never go for this, but I think it would be a lot of fun to watch: cars would have to be set up to match both drivers styles, add another element to pit stops where drivers change, the strategy of deciding which driver goes first and which is saved for the finish and so on.

  4. windowlicker says:

    I’m not going to agree with this. Carl Edwards finished second (barely) in both series last year. Clint Bowyer won the Busch championship & finished fifth in cup. Not too shabby. Could Clint have won the cup championship last year if he wasn’t running the entire Busch series? I highly doubt it. Could Carl Edwards have won the cup championship if he didn’t run Busch last year? Who knows? Pure speculation. He might have because the points were so close. Then again, he may have pulled a Kyle Busch (who didn’t run a full Busch season) & finished 12th.

    While it might inconvenience the cup effort, I don’t think it necessarily hurts it. When these guys have to start in the back because they didn’t qualify the cup car, they seem to be in the top 10 in short order.

    Running that full Busch season may actually help the organization. It seems that BB&T is the #33’s primary sponsor a whole lot more this year than the #07’s last year. Is this a result of Clint winning a championship? I’d say a championship had something to do with BB&T stepping up. With Shell & maybe Jack leaving RCR at the end of the year this could be critical if RCR can talk BB&T to step up just a little more & give them a half year of primary sponsorship. It might be the difference between a 2 car & 3 car operation.

    While the cup guys running full Busch seasons definitely hurts the smaller Busch guys, It’s not killing the cup guy’s cup seasons & it’s potentially helping out the owners financially to keep cup guys in cup rides.

  5. T.C. says:

    OMG, the world is ending… Knobcreekfan agreed with me and windowlicker disagreed. Those two things have never happened on the same post. SAVE US!! Hahaha

  6. vdeputy says:

    I think having the Cup guys running full time in Nationwide has a negative impact on both series. First, Nationwide had become so boring since it is the Kyle and Joey Show. I’d prefer to see the young guys racing one another. Lot of young talent in Nationwide. I’d love to see one of them have a chance at the championship.

    I think running in Nationwide does hurt the Cup guys. Jimmie has won 3 championship by focusing like a laser on getting that Sprint Cup trophy. I just don’t believe you can spread yourself too thin and do the best job in either series.

  7. RAEckart says:

    If a driver is too tired (and I believe you’re right, especially late in the season, during the Chase), it’s his own fault.

    But the Nationwide Series right now needs these drivers to bring sponsors to the series, otherwise it’d be in financial trouble worse than the Truck Series.

    That being said, it would be reasonable for NASCAR to make a rule saying if you race Cup, you can only race 7 other races in a given series for a single owner. So Carl Edwards can race for the Nationwide Series, but he’s got to put together 5 rides.

    And Carl could do it. He and Kyle Busch attract that much attention. Plus, it would spread sponsor dollars out to more owners. At the very least, Z-line has to do deal with several owners to pull off a Nationwide program with Kyle. But they’d do it.

    And Kyle could still run for the Truck championship, but with 4 different rides. Joe Gibbs could sponsor 7 Nationwide and 7 Truck races. That way, if Joe thinks a driver needs more seat time, he can do it. But beyond a certain number of races, they have to look at putting him in another Toyota ride,

  8. Ross says:

    You know what else makes me think the world is coming to an end? Windowlicker wrote 4 paragraphs without mentioning Timothy Peters!!

    I think running NNS certainly helps drivers like Joey Logano — more track time is good.

  9. patycak says:

    I have always wondered why cup drivers were ever allowed to race in busch. To me, that is the proving ground for the next generation of cup drivers.

    Since the economy is so bad, why don’t the cup drivers buy/own a team and help support the sport that has made many of them very rich? (not saying they didn’t earn it at all!) That way they are still involved but not at the expense of the unknown or little known drivers

  10. Doug in CA says:

    There’s another side to this debate: the Busch series (sorry – at least I don’t call it the Late Model Sportsman series!) is not only a training ground for drivers, but a training ground for crews as well. Tomorrow’s Cup crew chiefs are in trucks and Busch today. (So are some of yesterday’s, of course.) Cup drivers can probably give crew chiefs better feedback than youngsters and are helpful in that regard. TC & Journo: I assume that pit guys start out in trucks or Busch and hope to make the Big Leagues at some point?

    As for a solution, I have no clue. They need Cup guys to put fannies in the seats, but by doing so, it becomes, as vdeputy says, the Kyle, Carl, and Joey show.

    I guess my idea would be to split the series off from Cup – run different tracks, be happy with 10-20,000 fans at the outside, give up on Buschwhackers, and hope for the best.

  11. JT says:

    Here’s how I see it:

    On Saturdays, Edwards and Busch have NNS cars that are fast off the truck thanks to big team budgets. They know that NNS races are shorter, thus their cars are much less likely to go away due to changing track conditions. They have engine packages that take full advantage of the NNS rules, with slightly more HP, but given their Cup experience, they are better suited to deal with the dreaded wheel spin on restarts. NNS bodies produce more downforce and respond better to minor aero tweaks. In short, in NNS cars, Edwards and Busch must feel like supermen.

    But on Sunday, they are faced with the top-heavy, low-downforce COT and 200+ more horsepower. The longer races (especially Day-Night events) give less advantage to cars that are fast off the truck and more to cars with pit crews who can make the right adjustments to keep up with variable track conditions.

    I wonder if Edwards and Busch are sometimes lulled into a false sense of security driving their “perfect” NNS cars on Saturday and wonder why, after 50 laps or so, their Cup cars handle like a shopping carts with one of the front wheels broken.

  12. knobcreekfan says:

    TC – lol.

    window – I agree that (generally speaking) the cup guys running on saturday is good for the $$ side of the teams. Short term it brings more $$ to the team. As you point out, it also is a decent way for sponsors to dip their toe in the water. It can have downsides there too though.

    If marketed correctly, there may be no need for the nationwide sponsor to step up to cup. I was a part of one research study that showed the sponsor of a front running nationwide team scored much better than mid-pack cup sponsors. For about 1/3 the $$ they were achieving better results.

    So, while BB&T has stepped up, one could always question if they needed to or not. In fact, the group that I was working with and funded the study was one of the mid-pack sponsors. The brand folks WANTED to show their management that they NEEDED to be in cup. The brand folks ended up not telling their management team that the study was done and kept doing the cup car. Ahh…corporate politics.

    Now, the main problem I have with the splitting of time is just that…you are splitting time, energy & effort. It takes away from the cup effort.

    1) You can only stay mentally focused at the level they need to focus for so long. At some point your abilities are going to diminish, mistakes happen and lap times fall off. Maybe you simply end up with a top-5 vs a win. Maybe you end up top-10 vs top-5. Maybe though you speed on pit lane, miss your pit stall or wreck.
    2) Similarly, when they start flying from track to track and not getting back to their motorhome until late, that has got to hurt the next day. I travel a LOT. Private jet or not, flying around takes a lot out of you. You just cannot be as rested if you stayed in the motorhome and had a relaxing dinner and in bed at a decent time.
    3) Then, when your car is not handling extremely well, (as you have heard Kyle & Carl whining about) they have not had time to work with their engineer and crew chief to make the proper adjustments. With competition the way it is, if the car is not near perfect you will likely not win on Sunday.

    I cannot remember which win it was this year, but after Martin won, Jimmy said (parphrasing)…we all knew Mark was going to dominate today because he was not mad and complaining in the debrief yesterday.

    The teams that are doing well week in/out dedicate that time to debrief and often with all of the drivers of the organization together. I have sat in on some debriefs that lasted almost 3 hours. At the end of one, the setup they started the race with was drastically different than the one the engineers were thinking about at the start of the conversation.

    Oh and they qualified about 25th and their practice times were not in the top-25 and they finished 3rd. But, if they would have finished 10th, fans/media would have felt they had a good day given the bad weekend.

    Would Kyle or Carl have won the cup last year….who knows. But I think their chances could have been better.

  13. Neon says:

    IMHO (guess that’s redundant, as these are all opines…but here I’m honest) the effect, whether pro or con, is dependent on the individual driver’s talent, physical conditioning and ability to separate and focus on the job at hand. Cup runs what? (36) pts races/ (10) month-year + shootouts and such. That’s more than any other top tier pro series.

    I always think of Kenny Schrader when the topic arises. He had minimal success in CUP, but ran anything w/ wheels at every opportunity. He just likes to race period!

    OK NASCAR exclusives don’t stone me here, but why do you suppose some CUP drivers jump in the Grand Am cars when available? It’s because they are more fun and a release from the oval grind. Same reason Stewart and others run midgets and sprints.

    Even though it wasn’t part of the post, I feel that the NW series would struggle mightily if Cuppers were not in NW to draw some fans. I like attending NW races (especially Daytona Speedweeks), but I am always amazed at the low number of fans on CUP/NW weekends that don’t show for NW. Gosh, you’re already there and it’s good racing. W/o Cuppers it would be even worse. IMHO!

  14. windowlicker says:

    To all making the distraction/fatigue/lack of focus points. I agree 100%. Running a full cup & Busch series has got to be exhausting physically & mentally and it certainly must have a negative impact, be it large or small, on cup performance & it could be the reason Carl didn’t take home the cup title last year. He was only 2nd by 30-40 points I think. That said, he was still only 2nd by 30-40 points to a guy who ran 1 maybe 2 Busch races in 2008. Was a full Busch schedule the reason? It’s impossible to say given the anything catastrophic can happen at any time nature of this sport. I don’t think Carl will say the Busch season was the reason he couldn’t bring home the championship. I don’t think Jack Rousch will say that, nor the #99’s sponsors either. Bottom line, if the owner and/or sponsor thinks that running a full Busch season is too much of a distraction for a driver, they won’t let it happen.

    vdeputy: “I just don’t believe you can spread yourself too thin and do the best job in either series.”

    The Busch championship has been won the past three years by a cup guy pulling full time double duty & I’ll be willing to bet this year will be won by a cup regular & this trend will continue as long as a cup guy decides to run a full Busch season. So at least in the Busch series they can do their best. As for the cup series, that’s what we’re debating & I do agree that running a full Busch series negatively impacts your cup effort. But to cost someone a championship, I don’t know. I think we will see in the near future someone pull off a double double. Hell, Kyle was pulling off the triple triple for a while last year!!!

    TC: We won’t have to worry about the apocalypse until around 2012 (I have seen things, bad things, in my sleep), so don’t get too worried yet.

    Ross: Timothy Peters rawks!!! You will be a huge fan of Peters after the Kentucky race. Mark my words.

  15. Ric says:

    I actually think Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide series help the Nationwide drivers get better. Instead of the Nationwide drivers only competing against each other, they get to compete against some Cup drivers. I know when I was in sports I learned more by going against people better then me, verses my equal.

    I seem to recall a story (I might have the drivers wrong) Jimmie Johnson talking about a particular race track he just couldn’t get figured out. One time he was following Tony Steward in practice and noticed how he got into and out of the corner. Jimmie tried what Tony was doing and was able to figure out the best way around that track. Jimmie went from have lousy showings there to finishing in the top 10.

    As for Cup drivers competing full time in the Nationwide series, effecting them in the Cup Series I say yes it effects you. You might FEEL rested and 100% when you race the next race, but your body really is not. That constant wear and tear on the body over the long season will start to show. The difference of you being 100% and 99% on the track might be the difference of winning the race or finishing in the bottom 10.

    I think Kyle’s drop at the end of last season was because he was racing way too much. It was taking a toll on his body, and mind. Yes he had some issues, but even when he didn’t he wasn’t finishing that well.

  16. windowlicker says:

    Ric: “I think Kyle’s drop at the end of last season was because he was racing way too much. It was taking a toll on his body, and mind. Yes he had some issues, but even when he didn’t he wasn’t finishing that well.”

    Good point there.

  17. Greg says:

    I heard an idea last year that I thought would work.

    If you are currently in the top 35 in cup points you can race NNS but you would not earn any points. You get thr race prize money, but the the huge purse that is split at the end of the season would stay with the younger NNS teams. The cup drivers would not be eligible for this money. Only race winnings.

    You still have the big names to fill seats, but the NNS champion will be someone not in the Cup top 35.

  18. Journo says:

    Greg- I believe it was Penske President Tim Cindric who suggested this. I agree with you and he that this is a good solution.

  19. Steven T says:

    Watching the Nationwide Series has been a painful experience over the past few years or so. Buschwhacking sucked almost every aspect of the series dry, from sponsorship, to race teams, to the competitive side, everything – Owners have become obsessed with the meaningless Owner’s Championship, and are throwing everything they’ve got at that, Buschwhackers included – Which is depriving good drivers like Stephen Leicht and Brad Coleman of rides for more than a third of the season. It doesn’t help that ESPN’s broadcasts turn into a collective circlejerk over the Buschwhackers in the field (And selected Nationwide drivers) instead of talking about the progress made by Scott Lagasse Jr. or what’s going on with Matt Carter, hell, even the surprising consistency of Ken Butler III.

    Buschwhacking is the cancer that is killing the Nationwide Series, and it’s time to end it. In order for NASCAR to salvage the current Nationwide Series, a total ban on Cup driver participation is nessecary. If Holiday Inn or Citifinancial doesn’t like it, tough. In the old days, sponsors committed to a young driver and helped him build a reputation. If the Nationwide Series was what it is right now ten years ago, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle would have never made it to Cup.

    When a driver like Jason Leffler, who has kept at it like a good soldier at Braun Racing for four years now and is regularly one of the best performing Nationwide drivers is kicked out of his ride for a number of races because Todd Braun wants to win an Owner’s Championship, something is definitely wrong.

  20. Neon says:

    RE Steven T #19: Interesting perspective

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