NASCAR implemented its “Pick a Championship” rule in hopes of shining a brighter spotlight on Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series regulars.
So far it’s not working.
Despite the fact Sprint Cup drivers who have declared intentions to run for the title in NASCAR’s top division don’t get points for their NCWTS or NWS efforts, the regulars in those two circuits continue to be afterthoughts.
Kyle Busch is the main culprit, winning again in Friday night’s truck series race at Nashville Superspeedway and a strong contender for a weekend sweep in Saturday’s Nationwide event in the Music City.
But Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin to name a few have also joined in the early Cup regular dominance of NASCAR’s number two and three series.
The point standings don’t reflect that supremacy of course since none of those drivers are eligible for the championship picture.
The Nationwide title race heading into the Easter weekend appears to be downright thrilling with veteran Jason Leffler on top of last year’s Rookie of the Year Justin Allgaier by a mere two points. Elliott Sadler is only five back while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson are only eight and nine out of the top spot.
But let’s dive into those numbers a little deeper.
The reality is none of those first five have won a race over the first seven this season and the guy leading the standings has a best finish of only eighth.
Last year there were only two series regulars to win over the 35 race Nationwide schedule in Allgaier and road racing specialist Boris Said.
At the pace this season is on the series will have a tough time even matching that feat.
And if that is the case the sport’s credibility will be an issue as the very real possibility of crowning a champion who did not visit victory lane all season exists.
However the drivers involved don’t seem to mind if a championship comes under a somewhat funky new policy.
“I love it,” said Trevor Bayne, who is running the whole Nationwide campaign for Roush Fenway Racing in addition to his part-time Sprint Cup ride with the Wood Brothers. “I was hoping they didn’t take away the Cup drivers altogether because that’s just competition. We want to race against the best and that’s the only way we’re gonna become the best is if we’re racing against them and bettering ourselves all the time. But I also like the point that we’re gonna be able to shine as champions now.”
Racing against Cup drivers is fine with most all Nationwide-only pilots but keeping the championship in the family is what they’re after.
“I’m all for it,” said Aric Almirola. “It gives our JR Motorsports team an even better chance of winning a championship, but also gives the Nationwide Series a little more of its own identity without completely cutting out the Cup drivers.
“I like having the Cup drivers race in our series. For young drivers, there’s nothing better than going head-to-head against Cup guys during a Nationwide race, while still giving a Nationwide regular the chance to win a championship.”
Whether or not the new regulations cheapen a Nationwide championship or not is still up for some argument although the sanctioning body doesn’t buy into that theory.
“You can debate and argue that, ‘OK, if I win 10 or 12 races and don't win the championship, what's the championship worth?’ Well, it's still the championship,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said. “It's still a big old trophy, still a nice check, still a guy who went out there and competed against 43 teams and became the champion of that series.
“So I think it's still a NASCAR national series championship, which I think is valuable and credible.”
So far I’m not impressed with the new direction but to be fair there’s a long way to go in the season. Perhaps a Nationwide regular will rise up and flex their muscle, win races and go on to take the title.
However based on the first seven races of the year that appears to be a long shot at best and a more likely scenario is a winless NASCAR champion being crowned in November.
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