Nationwide Series teams expect that NASCAR will allow Sprint Cup drivers to compete in as many Nationwide races as they want next year, but that they will not earn points toward the series championship.
NASCAR has not announced the change, but Nationwide owners believe that when a driver applies for his NASCAR license prior to the season, the driver must declare whether he is racing for points in Cup, Nationwide or the Truck Series.
“I don’t think the Cup guys are going to be getting points at all if they’re running the Nationwide Series,” team owner Rusty Wallace said last week. “Once they get their license, they’re going to have to commit, do you want your points in the Nationwide Series, do you want your points in the Truck Series or do you want your points in the Cup Series? That’s just a guess.”
It’s a guess confirmed by other Nationwide team owners and the most likely scenario, according to NASCAR sources.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France said an announcement would be made in January about the exact changes.
“The idea for us is we want to see the Nationwide Series have its own identity, very similar to what college football does for the NFL,” France said. “That’s a great analogy for us.
“And what we don’t want to see is Sunday and Saturday homogenized, just completely homogenized. So we want to see Cup involvement, absolutely, fans want to see that, buy tickets, we get it. We also want to make sure the Nationwide Series is helping us find stars that stay there for a little while, earn their stripes and move up.”
The last five years have seen full-time Cup drivers win the Nationwide title – Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. Only two races last year were not won by Cup regulars – Justin Allgaier at Bristol and Boris Said at Montreal.
Keselowski isn’t against the rule, but his sponsor, Discount Tire, signed a two-year deal in 2009 to sponsor him to compete for the Nationwide title in 2010 and 2011.
“I’d be very, very disappointed, but the sport is bigger than me as one person,” Keselowski said about the possible inability to defend his title. “I understand that. If you look at it objectively, it’s a long-term solution that can’t be instituted in one year. ... There are too many commitments already made.
“I am one of the fortunate guys in this sport that has a committed sponsor for multiple years to do this Nationwide program. From that side alone, I feel like there should be some sunset to it.”
Keselowski and Edwards say they are committed to run full schedules next year, not just to their sponsors but to the crews that work on the cars.
Busch won the title in 2009 and did not run a full season in 2010.
“I don’t think it’s in our best interest to go out there and run for the championship,” Busch said. “It doesn’t gain us a whole lot. I did become a Nationwide Series champion, which is great. Going forward, being a Cup driver, that’s what you want to win, the Cup championship. That’s where I want to be.
“But with NASCAR making the rule change, whatever the rule change might be, it will be a betterment to the series, it’s to the betterment of the younger drivers, the up-and-coming drivers, and if a sponsor wants to go out and have an opportunity to win a championship, then they’re going to position themselves with a driver that is up and coming and it’s going to help the talent pool in the Cup series grow and get better.”
Team owner J.D. Gibbs said his organization will continue to participate in the series, and the rules likely won’t determine whether it runs a young driver or mix of Cup drivers.
“We’re well over 70 guys that have transferred from Nationwide to Cup over the years,” Gibbs said. “Now we have guys going from Cup to Nationwide. The biggest deal that we do it is a training ground for crew chiefs, drivers and mechanics.”
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