Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yeah about those regular updates...

My bad. Life has been busy. Besides, I have Twitter to keep folks updated on what's going on in my life.

Anyway, since the end of the 2010 NASCAR season, folks have tried one way or another to explain how to fix one thing that has gotten totally out of hand over the last decade or so: Sprint Cup drivers winning races and championships in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

I remember as a boy watching Nationwide (then Busch Grand National) Series races where guys like Mark Martin, Harry Gant, and the Intimidator Dale Earnhardt himself winning NNS races. But the thing about that era Cup driver coming over and moonlighting on Saturdays was the fact that a) they didn't race every week and b) they didn't win every week.

Nationwide only drivers competed for wins and championships and attracted top-dollar sponsors throughout the late 90's when NASCAR's boom really got started. That carried over to the 2000 season as well. But then, in 2001, something happened.

A full-time Cup driver also ran for, and ultimately won, the Nationwide championship.

I have nothing against Kevin Harvick, but his running both series is really the catalyst for what we have now: a "junior" series that has dwindling attendance and television ratings, an obvious lack of high-dollar sponsors going after non-Sprint Cup drivers, and unfortunately a class of talent that will never be able to groom their abilities and have the chance to move into a top tier ride.

Harvick, along with names like Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski are the stars of the Nationwide Series. Problem is they also run full-time in the Cup Series.

So basically what you have is a Nationwide Series that has lost its identity. Most folks call it "Cup Lite" (yes I spelled that correctly.)

So how do you fix this problem? Well there are several things that could help, but ultimately it comes down to one thing.

First: the small steps. The new Nationwide car. It debuted at Daytona in July. Junior took it to victory lane first. So folks are automatically in love with this new car. I agree. I got to take a look at one up close that hot July weekend, and I gotta say these new cars that will run full-time in 2011 are awesome. I think the racing is gonna be incredible in 2011 and since they are the little cousin of their Sprint Cup equivalents, the cost of building cars should go down for independent owners in this series because you can race the same car at Bristol that you can race at Michigan or Talladega.

Another option that I think should be implemented, but know very little about, it more stock parts and stock engines. Make the cost of running this series a little bit lower and owners could potentially be able to sign new and retain current sponsors because the cost of the series would be lower. I've heard several drivers say a top-tier NNS team could run on about half the current budgets if NASCAR stepped in and made the rule book a little easier to get along with.

Next, get rid of all these Sprint Cup/Nationwide companion events. In 1996 there were 12 stand alone races. Last year there were 9. If more Cup drivers had to go somewhere else in a weekend more often, I honestly think fewer would want to run the full Nationwide season. Of course with easier ways of traveling and most of these drivers having their own planes to fly around the country in, some one say this option really doesn't matter. Take what you want from it.

Ultimately, it all comes down to money. Didn't we know this was coming? The series has what I would say three times as much money pumped into it yearly than it did a decade ago. The series has built an identity of where it's perfectly acceptable for Cup drivers to race and win on Saturdays. And until NASCAR comes out and declares that this is a development series then Cup drivers are going to continue to win races. Only twice in 2010 did a non-Sprint Cup regular win a race, and a Nationwide-only competitor hasn't won a championship since 2005.

This series will continue to be dominated by Cup drivers until someone says what its supposed to be; what it was designed to be: a development series.