It’s about time, and long overdue.
Of course, I’m referring to the big news this week, that in the wake of many years of domination by Cup drivers in lower series, NASCAR is finally taking strong action to limit the participation of experienced Cup series drivers in Xfinity and Truck series competition. This will allow those series to actually have the young drivers in those series battle more often for wins, and more importantly be left alone to battle with less Cup series driver involvement when it comes to Chase time and Dash for Cash races.
If you’re ever watched one of the rare Xfinity races that featured no top-series driver making an appearance, you know they’re some of the best shows in the sport.
Instead of Kyle Busch or another Cup star coming down to the lower series and dominating 90 percent of the race, you see tight racing between all the best young talent in the sport, often for the lead. It’s what the series was meant to be, and this move will ensure that’s the case going forward starting in 2017, at least for part of the year.
Here’s the breakdown of how the rules will work.
Starting in 2017, “premier series drivers with more than five years of full-time experience” can only compete in 10 races in XFINITY Series, seven races in the Truck series. This allows some younger racers to compete more often in the lower series if they want (think Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon), but prevents a Kyle Busch scenario where he hypothetically competes in 20 Xfinity races and wins 15 of them. Yes, I keep bringing up Kyle Busch, because he is basically the reason this rule now exists. He has essentially ruined the Xfinity Series over the past handful of years with his dominance whenever he competes, and I’m glad there will be limitations on him and others who would do the same. To put Busch’s accomplishments in perspective, 80 of his 85 Xfinity wins came while he was a full-time Cup driver, as did all 46 of his Truck series wins.
Drivers with more than five years of full-time premier series experience “will be ineligible to compete in the final eight races” in Xfinity or Truck series (aka the Chase races), and also can not compete in the Xfinity Series’ Dash 4 Cash races. This is just plain common sense, and I’m surprised it wasn’t put in place for 2016. How does it make sense to have a battle for Xfinity and Truck drivers to advance to next round by winning the race, and a bunch of ringers can come in and steal the show and go to Victory Lane. It makes no sense. Same with Dash 4 Cash, a great setup that only gets cluttered when Cup drivers are there.
Finally, “Drivers earning premier series points in 2017 also are not eligible to compete in the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship Races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”; This will exclude all Cup drivers – which again makes sense. NASCAR wants Xfinity and Truck drivers up front battling for the win and the Championship in the final Chase race, not somebody who can’t earn points and is just there for the paycheck and the checkered flag.
For years I have used the analogy that the way NASCAR has operated its lower series is equivalent to letting Major League Baseball players compete on their off days in the minor leagues. Of course they shouldn’t, as they’re much better players than the minor leaguers. Heck, in the past it was even crazier. Before 2011, a Cup driver didn’t have to declare for one series, and could simultaneously compete in the full Xfinity series schedule and compete for both titles – something that was changed a few years back after Cup guys took home some titles in the lower series.
NASCAR, I understand, is a bit different. Sponsors drive the sport, so if they want a bigger name in the car to put their money on it, they can get that. But how on Earth are young drivers supposed to come up in the series, if the rides designed for them in Xfinity (and to a lesser extent, in Trucks) are already taken most weeks by a guy who already has a Cup series ride? It’s a bit of a Catch-22, and I understand the business implications involved. But in the end, it really does defy logic.
One could argue this rule doesn’t go far enough, and that ALL Cup drivers should be banned from Xfinity and Truck races, or the number of races allowed should be smaller. Even with the rule, Kyle Busch and many other Cup guys will do the allowed number of Xfinity or Truck races, and will steal the show some weeks. And by allowing the guys will less experience to still race without limits, it’s allowing the “next Kyle Busch” to emerge and dominate like he has in the past.
But for now, as someone who wants NASCAR to grow and who wants to see great racing between the stars of tomorrow today (like I saw back in the late 1990s between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, for example), I will applaud this move as a good first step.
The fans have demanded this for years after being underwhelmed by the show at Xfinity and Truck races, and NASCAR finally listened.
Matt Myftiu can be reached on Twitter @Matt Myftiu.
Now is the time to lock in your tickets and campsites for Michigan International Speedway in 2017. Renewals for both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekends are on sale at their lowest prices.
“We are excited to offer our loyal customers the best prices during the renewal period for the 2017 season,” track President Rick Brenner said. “We look forward to hosting them during our NASCAR weekends next year and showing off the Irish Hills area to so many people. The NASCAR Chase for the Championship has been exciting to watch this year and we cannot wait for 2017.”
NASCAR drivers are known to spout off from time to time. It's in the nature of their job to be mad when they just got put in the wall. Many, many things have been said in these high-emotion moments over the years, and no one expects drivers to be happy they got wrecked.
But there is a line you must not cross if you want to have the respect of your competitors on track every week. And Ryan Newman went way over that line Saturday night at Richmond.
After tangling with Stewart late in the race, the two wrecked (along with a half-dozen other drivers), and Newman's Chase hopes were dashed. The two had battled hard on track all race, getting into each other multiple times. In the end, they pushed it too far and Richmond's version of "The Big One" ensued.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- It's easily lost when you look at the overall record books (i.e. Jimmie Johnson's six championships), but the overall trend in NASCAR lately is youth.
The top three finishers Sunday at MIS -- Joey Logano (age 26), Chase Elliott (age 20) and Kyle Larson (age 23) -- are part of an exceptional crop of young drivers who will be dominating headlines in the years to come.
Correct that, they're already doing it ... This was the youngest top 3 ever ... an average age of 23 (Note: 24.7 was previous average age of top 3; and those numbers go back to NASCAR's early days -- happening three times in 1951, 1950 and 1950).
Larson took note of this in his post-race press conference, saying: "It's exciting to see. I'm happy I got here in the first small wave of seats opening up. ... The youngest top three the Cup series has ever had. It's pretty special."
BROOKLYN, MIch. -- As is the case every time he heads to Brooklyn, Brad Keselowski of Rochester Hills hopes to be in Victory Lane at MIS on Sunday. The Michigan native, who has never won at his home track in the Cup series, attempts to become the eighth active driver to do so.
The seven active drivers with wins in their home states are: Jimmie Johnson (7 victories), Denny Hamlin (7), Tony Stewart (2), Aric Almirola (1), Kyle Busch (1), Kevin Harvick (1) and Ryan Newman (1).
Keselowski's best finish at the two-mile track was a runner-up showing in August of 2012. Overall, he has three top fives, six top 10s and a 16.5 average finish in 13 Michigan starts. He does have two NASCAR XFINITY Series wins at Michigan, in 2009 and 2010.
"I get really mad when we don’t win this race and we haven’t won it yet," he said Friday at MIS. "Maybe that means the day I win it, if we win it, I will be ecstatic. It is really a key race for me personally and for the sport. I am glad we get to come here twice a year.”
Also on Friday, Keselowski touched on the recent controversy over his comments about NASCAR announcer and former driver Jeff Gordon.
"My big thing is that I don’t want somebody that is invested in another team talking about my race car in a derogatory form or a perceived derogatory form. I don’t think that is right and I am going to defend my team in those situations no matter who it is," Keselowski said Friday.
… Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth were the winners of last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup races at MIS. Busch won the Quicken Loans 400 in June, while Kenseth recorded his third Sprint Cup Series victory at MIS in August.
… Jeff Gordon had a track qualifying record of 206.558 mph for the 2014 Pure Michigan 400, the seventh-fastest pole winning speed in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history and the fastest in NASCAR history on a non-restrictor plate track.
… The FireKeepers Casino 400 features seven drivers who have won multiple times at MIS. Greg Biffle has four wins, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch each have three wins, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman each have two victories.