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Carl beats Kyle in Nashville...but what did we really learn in the first Nationwide stand-alone?

  Carl Edwards at Saturday's finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Trivia question, following up on Carl Edwards' win over Kyle Busch in Nashville: When was the last time a non-Cup driver won a Nationwide race?
   Yes, we are making a point that NASCAR's Nationwide series is still plagued by that identity crisis that has dogged stock car racing's Triple-A tour since, well, 2004 was the last really interesting season.

   Now there's nothing unusual in two of NASCAR's best drivers battling for the win Saturday, and dominating the race. But this, of course, was in the Nationwide tour stop at the track some 30 miles east of the old Fairgrounds track, that legendary, if tiny and quaint, place. And the tour's first stand-alone stop this season.
   Brief recap of the season: Tony Stewart wins Daytona, Busch wins Phoenix, Mark Martin wins Las Vegas, Busch wins Bristol, Busch wins California, Edwards wins Texas, Busch wins Talladega, and Edwards wins Nashville. All Sprint Cup stars.
   In fact if Kyle Busch can win Friday night's Richmond Nationwide race, he'll be just one victory shy of Martin's all-time tour record of 49.
   In Nashville Cup stars swept the top four spots, for the third straight week.  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., fifth, was the best Nationwide-only finisher...which puts him in a tie with Justin Allgaier for the tour lead -- because NASCAR's new rules this season bar Cup regulars from getting Nationwide points, a dubious move by the sanctioning body.
   The new championship rules make it almost certain that this season's Nationwide tour champ may wind up winless. Or at best a one-time winner.
   A legitimate champion?
   So what to do?
   NASCAR promoters like Cup stars racing Saturdays, to pump up the crowds, and sponsors prefer to put their dollars behind well-known drivers, rather than up-and-comers.
   But NASCAR, and the sport itself, would be better served if the Nationwide series had a distinct image of its own.
   The real dilemma is that running the full Nationwide tour is just too darned expensive.
   And that Edwards and Busch are just too darned good.
   But barring Cup drivers isn't a solution. NASCAR's open-door policy of allowing anyone to show up and run is still the right one. But how to level the playing ground?
   What to do?
   Well, it'd be nice if more sponsors were involved in Nationwide racing. And maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s hard-charging PR campaign promoting NASCAR's Nationwide tour will help.
   And it would be nice if NASCAR would scrap this new points system, which penalizes bad days more than it rewards good days (even more than the old Bob Latford championship system).
   And it would be more legitimate if NASCAR would award points to finishers across the board.
   The last non-Cup driver to win a Nationwide race? Justin Allgaier, Bristol 2010. In 2009 only one non-Cup driver won, Mike Bliss, Charlotte; in 2008 only one non-Cup driver won, Scott Wimmer, Nashville.
    NASCAR should perhaps consider a stronger push toward a distinct Nationwide tour identity, along 'muscle car' lines. Why NASCAR hasn't done this is unclear. Ford is using the Mustang, and Dodge the Charger, but Toyota and Chevrolet?
   And NASCAR should certainly rethink this 'common template' philosophy. Let Detroit be Detroit.

  And what's wrong with Carl Edwards running for the Nationwide championship? Why did NASCAR bar Edwards and Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

And what about the abysmal

And what about the abysmal crowd? How long before Nashville gives up? They can't be turning a profit.

The Nationwide Tour will

The Nationwide Tour will never establish an identity until Cup participation is banned. There can be no getting around this. Cup participation has done nothing for the series beyond drain it dry. Making the cars more like "muscle cars" ignores that muscle cars are more hype than substance - the tour was healthier when it ran the same models as Cup and these modern Nationwide cars don't look distinctive at all - they look like dopier versions of the COT even in a "muscle car" bubble.

Forget about muscle cars, go back to the long lean look for the cars, and ban Cup participation.

Get the Cup teams and drivers

Get the Cup teams and drivers out of Nationwide!

In an effort to legitimize

In an effort to legitimize the division maybe NASCAR needs to pick 5 races where only the declared for points drivers may race. They could make them the dash 4 cash races and who ever wins the most gets some sort of bonus from the title sponsor. The series gets its chance to shine, the nationwide guys have extra incentive to put on a good show, and we have a better chance of seeing a winning champion. To make it even better, we spread the 5 specials out and include a variety of tracks so we get to see whos the best at what. My picks would be Iowa, Road America, Daytona, Bristol, and Kentucky. Maybe replace one with Richmond but, I think that be a good mix. A good promotion just waiting to happen, you'd have to admit it be a good show with all the declared nationwide drivers knowing that for these five races regardless of their team or funding they have a chance. I bet they put on the best shows all year!

If Kyle wins this week's NW

If Kyle wins this week's NW race at Richmond, then he really will be something special, as he is not scheduled to compete.

But all snark aside, my position for some time is that Cup drivers do not so much attract attendance as they do sponsors - and that is the key for NASCAR in this economy. Elsewhere I read that only 1/2 of the NW teams racing this weekend have a committed primary sponsor. I have also read that only Hendrick and Gibbs have fully committed sponsorship for their CUP teams this season. Yes, it is all about money, the money from sponsorship to run the teams.

And Kyle Busch is NOT driving the #18 this weekend in NW. Kelly Bires is driving the car, because he comes to JGR “with sponsorship attached.” Look at the entry list - Z-line, Kyle’s sponsor is also taking the weekend off, but Bires gets the ride because he has a sponsor and that sponsor’s money to bring to the table for 2 races. So, Kyle gets to focus on the Cup race and Bires gets a chance to drive excellent equipment.

My experimental solution is to have a NW mini-Chase, with the last 5 races limited to NW-eligible drivers only. No resetting of the points, or any of the other stuff people hate about the Chase. Just 43 (?) NW-eligible drivers, no Cup drivers. This would accomplish 2 things. First, it would increase the likelihood that the NW champion actually wins a race. And second, we would get to measure attendance, TV viewership, quality of racing, etc. on a limited basis.

But I also agree that long-term, the series needs its own identity to survive - and sponsors to pay for developing that identity.

Just a small fix. ;) Dodge

Just a small fix. ;) Dodge uses a Challenger.

Is this a legitimate championship? NO

I think next year you will see less cup drivers. My money is that no cup drivers will run a full season since they can't win a championship.

I think you level the playing field by forcing Cup drivers to drive for teams other than the ones they race for in Cup. Let's put the young guns in the teams with the most money and technical expertise and force the cup guys to drive in 2nd tier teams.

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