Cup drivers will never stop racing in the Nationwide or Truck Series. They’ll never stop winning. And, in all likelihood, they will continue to dominate those races for many, many years.
Writers and analysts have argued every angle, every pro and every con for a long time, and while NASCAR has implemented a few limitations, the fact remains that NASCAR’s elite drivers will compete in the lower series, and more often than not they will outclass the rest of the field.
It’s refreshing when the regulars get to race without an invasion of Cup drivers to contend with. NASCAR had one of those rare occasions last weekend when Trucks raced in Texas, Nationwide was in Iowa and Cup ran at Pocono. Those drivers deserve time in the spotlight. They’re competing for sponsors as much as wins and championships.
Jeb Burton, son of former Cup series driver Ward Burton and nephew to current driver Jeff Burton, is running his first full season in the Truck Series and earned his first win at Texas on Friday. Prior to Burton’s win, Kyle Busch had taken two consecutive victories in trucks.
The Truck Series isn’t hit half as hard as Nationwide is. Cup drivers have won nine of 12 Nationwide races in 2013. Busch alone has six victories, including three straight between March 16 and April 12. Sam Hornish, Jr., Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne are the only Nationwide regulars to win this season.
Bayne won the Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway on Sunday, the first non-Cup driver to win in the past four races. While Bayne became a household name when he won the 2011 Daytona 500, he’s still working to fully establish his career in NASCAR.
The debate over allowing Cup drivers to run in lower series arises at least once every season. It’s an old, worn topic, but it’s still relevant.
For one, the state of driver development is always pertinent. Nationwide has long been touted as NASCAR’s top development series, priming young drivers for a career in the Sprint Cup Series. While new racers gain invaluable experience racing side-by-side with the big boys, the sponsorship isn’t there for the vast majority of them.
In today’s world of decreased attendance and financial cutbacks, sponsors don’t want to take a chance on an unproven young driver when they can put money on an established winner—or in some cases, and established brand.
Just look at Danica Patrick. This is just her second season running full-time in any NASCAR series and she’s already in Cup. She isn’t better than the top drivers in Nationwide, but she has a huge marketing force behind her that has helped her climb the ladder.
Patrick has set records in IndyCar and NASCAR simply by being a female competitor, and sponsors have flocked to her. Everyone has seen her Go Daddy ads. Everyone knows her name. She gets TV time during races even if she’s twenty laps down. Regan Smith, who’s leading the Nationwide point standings, couldn’t buy that kind of coverage.
Nationwide and Trucks will always depend on high profile drivers to some degree. Big names attract more sponsors, fans and media, ultimately bringing in more money for the series. But NASCAR also needs their up-and-coming drivers to succeed in their own right.
Right now, the status quo won’t change. NASCAR’s stars bring in money and ratings, especially when they win. The young guns will have to find their own ways to victory lane.