For the past few years, NASCAR fans have been “treated” to watching Cup regulars dominate the XFINITY and Truck Series races. Cup Series drivers have won approximately 70% of the XFINITY races over the past few years, with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski winning the vast majority of XFINITY races they enter. While the dominance of the Cup Series drivers isn’t as telling in the Camping World Truck Series, it’s still there. NASCAR bills these two lower level series as the place for series regulars to make a name for themselves, but that’s difficult to do when you’re racing against Cup regulars. With this in mind, NASCAR has made some changes for both series that will take effect in the 2017 season.
Cup Veterans Limited to Ten XFINITY Races in 2017
NASCAR announced recently that they will be limiting the level of participation in the XFINTIY Series for Cup Series regulars with more than five years of full time Cup Series experience. This means that someone like Brad or Kyle will be limited in how many XFINITY races they can drive in, while other Cup full timers like Chase Elliot, Kyle Larson, and Austin Dillon won’t have any limits placed on them… yet. The new restrictions will give Cup regulars a total of 21 XFINITY races to choose to compete in next year.
Even better for the XFINITY regulars, the ten race limit isn’t all that was announced. The XFINITY Series has a few special races throughout the season called “The Dash 4 Cash Program,” where four drivers are given the opportunity to compete for a cash prize outside of the race winnings. The driver out of the four in “The Dash” for that race who finishes highest in the standings takes home a bonus check. Cup regulars won’t be allowed to compete in races designated for “The Dash 4 Cash Program.” Which races these will be next year hasn’t been decided yet.
Cup regulars competing during the XFINITY Chase can dramatically skew the standings and have a huge impact on who ends up being in the final four competing for the Championship at Homestead. Acknowledging this problem, NASCAR also announced that the Chase races will be closed to Cup drivers with the more than five years of full time Cup experience as well. This will greatly help to level the playing field and ensure that XFINITY Chasers all have the same chance to advance by winning during the final races of the season.
NASCAR Limits Cup Regulars to Only Seven Races in the Truck Series
There are fewer races during the Camping World Truck Series season than there are in the XFINTIY and Cup Series seasons. While there will be 36 points races during the Cup season and 33 for XFINTIY, the trucks will only have a total of 23 races. Cup regulars with more than five years’ of full time Cup experience will be allowed to compete in seven of them. None of those seven races can be during the Truck Chase. That leaves 16 races for them to choose from.
Exceptions to These New Rules
There are almost always exceptions to new rules, and these participation limitations have exceptions. A few years ago, NASCAR announced that every driver has to declare a single series in which they will compete for championship points. This allows drivers who have been in the Cup Series for five years or more to compete in the XFINTIY or Truck Series. This includes drivers like JJ Yeley, Elliot Sadler, Morgan Shepherd, Derrike Cope, and Jeff Green in XFINITY and Travis Kvapil in the Trucks. These drivers will be required to pick a single series to compete in for points, and if that is XFINTIY or Trucks, they will be allowed to compete in every race during the season for that Series.
New Rules Allow Cup Regulars to Compete But Still Keep Spotlight on Up-and-Comers
Jim Cassidy, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, said, “You see the number of drivers coming up through and the desire and the calling of the fan base to say, ‘We’re interested in who’s coming up through the system, and we want to hear the stories, we want to understand who these drivers are,’ so they can begin to formulate and build their future roster of drivers that they root for. All three of the national series provide really an unprecedented level of competition; it’s on us to make sure that we find the right balance, as the league, to say that there is some level of participation by Cup drivers in Truck and XFINTIY and what that balance is.”
This move by NASCAR was the culmination of “a whole mountain of conversation with the industry,” according to Cassidy. It still allows for extracurricular participation from top-division drivers, but is meant give the growing stars of the lower series a bigger share of the spotlight – “Names Are Built Here.”
This writer appreciates the move by NASCAR, but feels it doesn’t go far enough. The lower-tier series are supposed to be for the lower-tier drivers. The competition with the new Chase format is going to be amped up. Barring Cup regulars from Chase races will give Chasers more of a chance.
“Those races are events that we felt would be obvious to say that we want to make sure that we have a better chance of focusing on those drivers running for the Championship. The ability to win and advance is a significant story line and an opportunity,” said Cassidy.
What do you think? Did NASCAR go far enough with this rule change for the 2017 season, or did they stop short of what should have been done?