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So just how to solve the Nationwide tour dilemma?

  So if Chevy put its Camaro in the game against Ford's new NASCAR Mustang, would that help pump up the Nationwide series? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.  
   Whither Nationwide?
   NASCAR's Joe Balash, who runs the Nationwide series, will hold a meeting with team owners in Charlotte this week to discuss options for the 2011 season, in particular how to deal with the issue of Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Triple-A series.
   NASCAR executives have struggled to define, or redefine, just what the Nationwide series is for several years now.

   First, there was an attempt to give it an 'international' touch, with events in Mexico City and Montreal.
   One possibility now is to define the series as a 'pony' car tour, a 'muscle' car tour, with Ford Mustangs competing against Dodge Challengers. However Chevrolet has steadfastly declined to put its new Camaro into the game, preferring to keep its NASCAR logo 'Impala.' And Toyota has no 'pony' car in its lineup at all.
   Ford has been a major back of the Nationwide Mustang marketing concept; General Motors' refusal to put its Camaro out there too has been a stumbling block.

     NASCAR's Joe Balash: Will this week's meeting with Nationwide team owners move the Triple-A racing series in a more dynamic direction? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And there is much, much more to the whole Nationwide issue.
   For example, should NASCAR bar Sprint Cup drivers from that tour, or handicap them?
   Kyle Busch just won his 11th Nationwide race this season, beating Kevin Harvick in Saturday's 300 here.
    But the crowd was disappointing. One problem for the Nationwide tour is that tracks are no longer able to sell only double-header weekend tickets, forcing fans to buy a Nationwide ticket if they want to see the Cup event, because Cup events no longer sellout. And promoting stand-alone Nationwide events doesn't seem very economically viable. 
   Nationwide TV ratings are generally holding at 1.2 or so. Last week's Kansas Nationwide race (on ESPN2) earned a final national household coverage rating of 1.2 -- averaging 1,537,801 viewers, according to the network.
   Busch and Harvick are Cup tour stars, and Nationwide tour points leader Brad Keselowski is also a Cup regular, as is Carl Edwards, a Cup regular running the full Nationwide tour.
   Edwards says he'll run the full Nationwide tour in 2011, even if NASCAR adds rules that bar him from racing for the championship. Sponsorship, Edwards says, works for him and team owner Jack Roush.
   Justin Allgaier has been the top Nationwide-only racer. In fact he's the only non-Sprint Cup racer to win a Nationwide race this season. However his ride with car owner Roger Penske is probably going to end at the end of this season, for lack of sponsorship.
   One question is do such cross-over Cup racers help or hurt the Nationwide series? The Cup stars of course provide solid fan appeal; but they usually run with the backing and technical support of a major Cup team owner, which makes it tough for independent Nationwide team owners to compete.
   In fact the Nationwide series sometimes looks like Cup Lite.
   However major corporate sponsors, particularly in these tough economic times, tend to prefer big names rather than risk their money on up-and-comers who might not pan out.
    And Nationwide racing has become major-league expensive...and it's about to get even more expensive, with the changeover from the current Nationwide cars to a new car-of-tomorrow version. The new Nationwide COT has raced at Daytona in July, Michigan in August, and Richmond in September, and it will race next at Charlotte this week.
   There have been complaints that the changeover is too expensive and will drive some current Nationwide team owners out of the sport.
   The COT concept is not only about safety but about cost-cutting; however the COT has not really cut costs on the Cup side.
   The entire Nationwide tour appears to be somewhat of a dilemma, with no obvious solutions.


  Well, here's one successful NASCAR Nationwide marketing promotion. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Forget COT - Cup tells you

Forget COT - Cup tells you its no cheaper and teams have to change existing equipment.
Let the cup drivers run for 1/2 or no points.



NASCAR should not let a

NASCAR should not let a driver score points in the Nationwide Series after the driver starts more than 15 Cup races in the same year.
Jonesy Morris

I could write a thesis about

I could write a thesis about this, but I'll keep it at a few lengthy points. I used to go to the Busch Series races at Charlotte in the 80's through the mid 90's because my dad and I liked the series. There were a handful of Cup guys in the field, but they weren't running for points. Until the Cup drivers began running Cup-backed cars, the racing was good. Now, there are almost no competitive regulars, and a third to half of the field each week is made up of Cup drivers. Six of the top 10 drivers in the points are Cup regulars. It's a shame that NASCAR has ruined this series over the last 12 years by allowing their greed to keep the Cup drivers running full time. In other sports, the only reason you "play down" is if you're on a rehab assignment. In NASCAR, it's more money for the super-rich Cup drivers, and the track owners think it's the only thing that puts butts in seats.
The real question is, does NASCAR really WANT to fix the Nationwide Series? They tried to have their cake and eat it too over the last 12 years by letting the Cup drivers take over the series, but it did not work. The actual fans of the secondary series were alienated and quit watching, and the people who show up to watch Cup drivers in non-Cup races aren't regulars in the stands anyway. Here's my suggestions to begin to fix it:

1) If a driver runs 7 or more races on the Cup tour, then they cannot earn points for Nationwide races. This will still allow some Nationwide drivers to run a few Cup races to get a feel for the Cup cars, and will keep the Cup regulars from getting any Nationwide points.

2) Limit the Cup drivers to running a maximum of 7 Nationwide races. I don't care if they show up at a few tracks to spice up that race, but no Cup driver should be running more than that and we definitely don't need them running all of the races. They rob all of the sponsors from the regulars, and they have far superior equipment. Either run Cup full time or Nationwide full time, but not both. Sorry, Carl. This goes for the Cup owners also. If a Cup owner fields a car for the Nationwide series, they will only acrue points if there is a non-Cup driver running the car for that race. No more of this putting Cup drivers in your car each week to try to win the owner's points.

3) Scale back the schedule. It's okay to have companion races with the Cup race, but it's not a necessity and NASCAR needs to cut back on the travel if they are going to shrink the budgets for these teams. 1 trip to Fontana, Phoenix, and Texas is a plenty for this series. Replace the current 2nd dates of those far-away tracks with Martinsville, Rockingham, and either a 2nd Darlington race or one at North Wilkesboro if they get it back in shape. All of those trips by the crews are day trips and aren't far from home. It might also help to cut the schedule back to 32 races. Gateway had two races which appear to be going elsewhere, and NASCAR can find one more to get rid of for even more cost cutting.


Just doing those few things right there would improve the racing, cut costs for the series so that hopefully some more non-Cup teams could enter cars in the series, and it would get me back to the track and in front of my TV to watch these races. Right now, I almost never watch and rarely even look at the results. The feeder system/series to the Nationwide and Truck series can also use an overhaul, but we'll save that for another time.

Stick a fork in it; it's

Stick a fork in it; it's done. No amount of life support can save it.

Nascar itself is to blame, not the economy. If they are just now holding meetings to see what can be done to keep the series afloat, they've waited about 8 years too long.

"Here Lies the Nationwide Series...
killed by corporate greed, mismanagement, and oversized egos."

For me and 15+ buddies, all

For me and 15+ buddies, all the Cup drivers entering and dominating Cup Lite, er Nationwide, have ruined our interest in it. The new cars are cool, but not interested in seeing Sunday's drivers make a mockery of the NW race. Until the Cup drivers go, we won't be watching NW anymore. If they don't ban cup drivers from Trucks, and do it damn soon, we won't be watching that either.

Cup drivers have caused the cost of racing in both NW and Trucks to increase dramatically. Sponsors can only demand a cup driver because A: Nascar lets them and B: the other teams have one so we want one. They are taking rides and sponsors from young upcoming drivers and older or washed up cup drivers who may go back to make a living in the series. If the sponsor can't have a cup driver, and costs are lower to sponsor non cup drivers, they will still sponsor in the series.

Nascar needs to wake up. They have ruined Nationwide, it has no identity any more. Gone are the days of seeing the Busch regulars duke it out ON OCCASION with a Mark Martin. If they can't regulate it to 1-2 cup drivers per race, just ban any full time cup driver from running it. Same with Trucks and do it soon before it's too late.

Cup Backed Nationwide drivers

Cup Backed Nationwide drivers are NOT winning! Nationwide's Cup backed teams win, because of the drivers. Examples: Stenhouse, Bayne, Truex ,Coleman ,Debennadetto... etc. So it seems to me, the problem is NOT Cup backed Nationwide teams. It is the Cup drivers. As a Huge Kyle Busch fan (of years) I would sacrifice seeing Rowdy in the Nationwide races if it will create better racing for the series.

My suggestion would be to Allow Cup drivers in EITHER Trucks, or Nationwide, but not both. There needs to be a pure field of competitors.
If the competition is not even, then the racing will never be any good.

They need to take ALL cup drivers away from Nationwide- Only Handicapping them, or limiting their appearances does NOT HELP THE RACING get better!!

The Busch -- sorry,

The Busch -- sorry, Nationwide -- series was supposed to be a "minor league" feeder series to Cup; the influx of ride-buyers (and the Cup drivers are nothing if not that) has destroyed this aspect. The solution for the Busch -- darn it! -- Nationwide Series is simple: Use it to fill in markets where a Cup race is not economically justified. North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, even places as far afield as [cough] Portland, Oregon. Run the races the same day as the Cup events, or near enough so that running both series would destroy any chance of winning both (due to missing qualifying or drivers' meetings). Nothing less than physically prohibiting Cup drivers from appearing will work -- and then "how does one define a 'Cup driver'?". (Who's going to class Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Conway the same? [long pause] Didn't think so.) Removing Cup Drivers removes the money they bring, which will force costs down, as well. The Series can be salvaged; the question becomes: Is anyone out there smart enough to *do* so?

The CoT has made it MUCH

The CoT has made it MUCH cheaper to get cars on the track. You can have 2 cars in your stable and run EVERY single race on the calendar. The reason why the Cup teams aren't spending any less is because they CHOOSE not to. So, if they return the Nationwide Series to it's former glory as a development series than the costs can go down making it much more manageable to find sponsors. Since they won't have to worry about beating out Cup drivers they can focus on what they are supposed to be doing, which is learning the tracks and how to race each other. The nice thing about re-building the Nationwide series is that it will help re-build the cup series. Instead of seeing crap drivers filling the field they can get some real developed talent in there.

And this from Scott, in email

And this from Scott, in email bag:

Mike, thanks again for the chance to offer an opinion on NASCAR’s Nationwide dilemma.

As I tweeted earlier, I like the idea of limiting Cup drivers to allow development of younger talent, but there goes some (a lot?) of track/series drawing power. And sponsors want to pay for a name they know, and a name that will get some recognition from the TV talking heads.

To me this goes back to the issue that NASCAR hasn’t done much to promote NNS-only drivers, beyond a select few that I’ve come to the conclusion are (1) believed to be Cup material (Allgaier, Bayne) and/or (2) have some name recognition factor (cough, cough, Wallace), so in a sense they’ve created their own problem.

Adding new car makes sense for safety/smoother transition to Cup CoT, and the Cup teams w/NNS programs will be able to reuse old C/CoT chassis, but timing in general is horrendous with the current down economy and dearth of sponsors. Maybe NASCAR could offer a “rebate” program to NNS-only teams if they buy an old chassis instead of trying to build their own from scratch.

A big problem for the Nationwide Series is the fact that with only 45-47 Cup rides available, there will always, always be more drivers wanting to move up than seat available. And with guys like Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin hanging around longer, there is an additional stagnating effect on driver development. Cup becomes like the old Russian Politburo, with a bunch of old guys being watched intently by some not-much-younger guys waiting for one of the gray-hairs to catch a cold and die so they can move up.

Enough griping, what do *I* think NASCAR should do?

1. Limit Cup drivers to X number of NNS starts -- say half for argument’s sake. Give them full points for the races they run, including (and esp.) owner’s points. A “Cup Driver” is defined as someone who has attempted to qualify for at least two-thirds of the past 30 Cup races (tried to come up with a formula that would allow someone like Reed Sorenson to part-time w/Red Bull without losing NNS ride).

2. NASCAR should put some of its money into a driver development program with NNS teams subsidized for giving rides to drivers with less than 5 years experience in either trucks or NNS. Not sure where will the money come from but NASCAR needs to find a way to incentivize teams that run NNS only or that give young talent a chance to gain on-track experience. This may increase overall sponsorship as well as the bottom-line cost of becoming a sponsor will decrease, perhaps enticing more businesses to jump in.

3. NASCAR and its media “partners” need to do a better job of promoting NNS-only teams and drivers, and not just a select few. I look at the coverage provided by SPEED to the Truck Series as an example; obviously the smaller network with fewer obligations can be more focused, but also obvious is the fact that NASCAR’s PR reps for the series are working hand-in-glove with SPEED’s folks. There is a huge trickle down to that as well, as new sponsors and new drivers get additional air-time and attention.

4. Probably the biggest change I’d make is also the most radical: eliminate NNS-only race days. With few exceptions, NNS should race earlier the same day as Cup whenever the two series are co-located, creating doubleheader race days. To go along with this, I am also in favor of shortening the length of most Cup and NNS races to accommodate a 1-day format. This idea gives more “bang for the buck” to fans and hopefully promoters/tracks will like the idea of having 1 day of full(er) grandstand instead of 2 so-so days. Exceptions to this format could be the season-opener at Daytona and perhaps Talladega, MIS and ACS.

It’s not NNS, but I’d like to see NASCAR shorten the overall race season for all series. Cutting the season down will again save money (but not for the tracks losing dates, I know) for teams and should eliminate competition with other fall-winter sports like NFL/NHL/MLB playoffs.

Thanks again for the chance to opine.


The focus needs to go away

The focus needs to go away from the points and more towards the races themselves. Even allowing these guys 7 races per year means they will just spread themselves out over the course of the season and 2 cars will dominate every race instead of 7 or 8. They need to be eliminated completely so that sponsors will come back and moving the races to areas that don't host Cup races actually might improve attendance. Not everyone camping at the race track wants to pay to go to a NW race the same weekend especially when a Cup driver who they will see the next day dominates every week.

Increase the prize money so

Increase the prize money so smaller teams can support themselves on their winnings. Ban sponsors so Cup teams can't use the tour as a cash cow.

In all honesty, I could care

In all honesty, I could care less....

This is an age-old argument that's been going on since the Late Model Sportsman Division became The Busch Grand National or Busch Series and the Grand National became the Winston Cup. When corporate monies sweeten the pot for the GN series, drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Harry Gant regularly took advantage of it for a couple of reasons 1) They're a big fish in a little pond...meaning they had the resources from their Cup garages to produce superior cars/pit crews...finish strong or win races...which in turn made a lotta sponsors happy. (Keep in mind too, those Cup guys back in the day seem to race in only the BIG $$$ GN events, not the whole series for championships) I wonder how many people even heard of Winn-Dixie til Mark Martin was killin' 'em in the series? 2)With the new generation of engineers/mechanics on Cup teams, many have figured out chassis set-up based on GN/Busch/N'Wide Series races the day previous before a Cup race, thus making the Series' races more of a test session, w/heavily financed Cup teams. And if you can win some races and pocket some money, do that too!

Mike, I noticed in your article that you didn't mentioned the ARCA/Truck series and how are they faring? They don't seem to care less one way or another, less t.v. time and on SPEEDTV, but they're still here. So, I said all that to say this. Do nothing....

From the email-bag: NASCAR's

From the email-bag:

NASCAR's Nationwide series?

"You know I got to thinking; I do that occasionally. My two cents is that the demise of the Nationwide/Busch Series by having it saturated with Cup drivers and teams has also contributed to decline in the Cup fan base too.
"If one thinks of Cup as episodic television (which it has become packaged as), then one can see the cast 38 times a year, If the same cast appears on another episodic program of 35 times, the audience is watching the same stars/celebrities 73 times a year. And that isn't factoring in the time of the infotainment NASCAR shows (the NASCAR version of Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood).
"So familiarity turned to boredom and they turn the channel. I remember the networks did that prime time game shows, I think it was Who wants to be a Millionaire or The Weakest Link? Some thought if once a week was great why not make it several nights a week. And they quickly flamed out.
"There are other problems, but that one jumped out at me.
"But the lack of a farm system (Winston Racing Series, Nationwide/Busch Series) has curtailed the fan base growth in recent years. Among the NFL's many successes is allowing college football to thrive. But the time a player is drafted he probably built a local, regional and perhaps national following and probably comes with his own merchandising and marketing presence.
"Yeah, there are the generational transformational stars (Jeff Gordon), but they are a rarity.
"So there needs to be a farm system for them to serve their apprenticeship (Casey Atwood jumps to mind) where they also grow their fan base as they step up the ladder."

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