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Nationwide departure should spur a rethink for NASCAR’s “AAA” series

Sep 18, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT

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NASCAR’s “AAA” series will have a fresh title sponsor for 2015. And wouldn’t it be a perfect time for the series to make a few other changes as a result?

This is purely hypothetical, but thinking ahead, a rebranding effort of what is now the Nationwide Series that focuses primarily on its series regulars and limits the frequency of Sprint Cup Series stars participating would be an excellent, forward-thinking move.

NASCAR has a bevy of stars in its pipeline, in Nationwide, Camping World Trucks and regional series, but Nationwide is the biggest offender when it comes to burying its own stars beneath the Cup drivers.

Case in point: only six of 26 Nationwide races this year have been won by non-Cup regulars. Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger have a pair of wins apiece and Sam Hornish Jr. and Trevor Bayne have solitary triumphs. Meanwhile Kyle Busch, who isn’t eligible to score Nationwide points, scored his series-high 10th win of the year last Saturday at Chicago.

Only Hornish and Smith have a realistic shot at this year’s title of that batch, and they have a combined three wins in 26 races – on a purely statistical level, that’s not exactly championship material.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has won back-to-back Nationwide titles and moved up to Sprint Cup for his rookie season in 2013, which is how it should work in theory. But when you consider the previous five champions from 2010 and back – Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick – are all Cup regulars, you know there’s a problem.

If it’s possible, NASCAR needs to think about expanding its rule where drivers can only score points in one title and put a cap on number of Nationwide races the Cup regulars can run. Perhaps exploring alternative venues where Nationwide can be standout events is another option. Some of the recent Nationwide circuit additions – Montreal, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Iowa to name a few – have produced some of the more exciting races in recent memory, particularly because they haven’t featured many Cup regulars.

Or, here’s another crazy but potentially cool idea, as suggested by Dan Patrick Show producer Paul Pabst (the DP Show airs on NBCSN and Audience Channel 239 on DirecTV): have Nationwide adopt a soccer element where the bottom three full-season drivers in Cup are relegated to Nationwide, and the top three Nationwide drivers promoted.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping Nationwide on the Cup undercard at perhaps one third to one half of Cup weekends. But allowing Nationwide, under its new title sponsor, to forge its own identity away from the Cup regulars, and away from the Cup circuit, could be better for the series’ growth and visibility as a whole.

  1. wallio - Sep 18, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    Its simple. Keep it as it is now where a driver has to declare for his championship, but only allow him 10 outside races besides that. He could race any combo of Trucks, Busch, or Grand-Am they want, but don’t let them score owners points either. That’ll stop owners from ringers.

    And bring back the old V6 rules Busch used to have.

  2. mtracy1172 - Sep 18, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    I think relegation is brilliant. That will solve numerous problems. It gets Sprint Cup regulars out of Nationwide races, provides a reason to watch Nationwide races, and eliminates the group that currently practices start and park. It wont happen but it would be great!

  3. gafopr - Sep 18, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    I would make the truck series the “AAA” series and the Nationwide series (for now) a second series competing for the Chase. Have owners with more than one team split them between the 2 series and after the 26 races the top 10 in points from each series qualify for the Chase (plus the wild cards). You make the Chase a lot more interesting plus strengthen the Nationwide series and the truck series.

  4. bmcgrath2 - Sep 18, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    I am just one man with one opinion, but here is what I would like to see:

    1. As many night races as possible
    2. At least 1 “Roval” on the schedule (Kansas, Daytona, etc.)
    3. Cap entry lists to 30-32 cars. (Get rid of the Jeff Green’s & Kevin Lepage’s who just start and park)
    4. At least 4 races with a lap segment based structure. (Heat races & a main event)
    5. Bring back IRP to the Brickyard weekend (Get rid of that awful Sat. race at IMS)

    None of these will probably ever happen, but they need to do something to bring some excitement to the lower tier series. It’s gotten pretty vanilla.

  5. ijusth - Sep 18, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    while I completely agree with the author and most of what was commented the reality is that money talks. Sponsors pay big bucks to get a cup driver there and that is also what helps draw the crowds. If that isn’t taken into account this will never fly

  6. posirep - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:04 AM

    Relegation wouldn’t work in NASCAR.

    The bottom 3 drivers are usually start and park drivers…

    and to top it off, one of those 3 is usually Joe Nemechek…who already runs both series.

    • indycarseries500 - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:07 AM

      but Joe isn’t eligible for Cup points so is he in the bottom three?

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