By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas — NASCAR has made a move to try to even the playing field in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Starting in 2017, Sprint Cup Series drivers – with over five years experience — will be limited to participating in just 10 NXS races per season. Cup drivers also wont be allowed to participate in the four Dash4Cash races, or in any of the championship Chase events.
It’s a nice step, and many are applauding the sanctioning body for making this change, but there’s just one problem — Sprint Cup Series drivers competing against the upcoming youth of the sport isn’t what’s wrong with the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The real problem with the series is that Sprint Cup Series teams are allowed to compete and there is absolutely no limit to the resources they can pull from. When you add a Sprint Cup Series driver, in a car prepared by a Sprint Cup Series team, with a big-time sponsor, Sprint Cup Series engineers, Sprint Cup-caliber crew chief, and a Sprint Cup Series pit crew of course you’re going to blow the doors off of the rest of the field.
It’s not even close to being a fair matchup. With the way the Series is currently set up, NXS regulars on non-Cup affiliated teams are essentially one legged men in an ass kicking contest.
Take Jeremy Clements and Jeremy Clements Racing for example. Their team has three full-time dedicated employees at the shop, they have a transporter trailer that they purchased in 2004 and it is currently falling apart. Their spiffy new looking No. 51 Chevrolet Camaros are actually chassis that are in some cases four to five years old.
When Clements pulls into the track, his team hires a make-shift pit crew and attempts to do their best to attract sponsorship so they can actually afford fresh tires for an entire race. It’s a week-by-week struggle.
Compounding Clements’ and others’ shoe-string budget struggle is the fact of who they’re matched up against on a week-to-week basis.
Kyle Busch gets behind the wheel of a brand spanking new No. 18 NXS Toyota Camry prepared by Joe Gibbs Racing — a Sprint Cup Series team with more than 500 employees. The effort is fully supported by sponsors like NOS Energy drink, and Busch’s pit crew for Sunday actually helps him in Saturday’s race as well. When the Sunday pit crew isn’t available, Busch utilizes developmental pit crew members, who are in most cases just as fast.
In addition to Busch, who has been the most stout competition in the Xfinity Series over the past decade, there are a couple of handful of other teams with Sprint Cup Series ties, Sprint Cup Series resources and in most cases Sprint Cup Series drivers. It’s too much for the little guys to overcome, even if they hit an incredible car setup and have a perfect race. We are beyond a competitive advantage.
But there is a very sharp razor’s edge of how to cure this issue. NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan talked to Motorsports Tribune about the issue.
“Two-fold answer. If you wanted to solve the problem completely of Sprint Cup driver domination in Xfinity [banning Cup Series teams] is the answer. Without a doubt,” Ryan said. “You can go back two decades and that is what people have always said about Cup guys dropping down to the Xfinity Series. It’s not about the drivers, it’s about who they drive for. And when they race for Sprint Cup power house Xfinity teams, it’s game over.”
But Ryan explained that it wouldn’t be that simple for NASCAR to pull the plug on Sprint Cup teams competing in the Xfinity Series ranks.
“The problem with that, and the reason I don’t think NASCAR can go down that road, and why it wasn’t seriously considered is that the Sprint Cup teams need those Xfinity operations as de facto farm systems to prepare pit personnel, engineers. That’s where they get people for their Sprint Cup teams,” Ryan explained. “It’s really — in a way, it’s deserved of compliments. They’ve built these well oiled machines. It’s not about cherry picking guys from other race teams and organizations as it used to be. It’s about building blocks for success. I think that idea has merit.
“I think it would be really hard for NASCAR to tell Sprint Cup teams, ‘Sorry, but this new great way you found to develop talent and keep it in house, you’re going to have to disassemble it.”
Motorsports Tribune also sought out Clements at Texas Motor Speedway, and he has an idea to solve the huge gap between the haves and have nots in the Xfinity Series garage, and it’s honestly not a bad plan.
“The problem is the Cup drivers are driving for Cup teams. And we can’t — on most occasions compete with that, especially mile and a half tracks. They just have so much more speed than our stuff,” Clements explained. “So, that’s the whole problem. If you’re a Cup driver and you want to run this series or trucks, it needs to be with a non Cup affiliated team. You just can’t beat Cup teams, it’s just impossible. With all of the advantages, engineering and money they have you can’t beat them.”
Forcing Cup Series drivers to compete for non-Cup related teams in the Xfinity Series would help the health of the series, and would provide a big boost to the on track product. The little teams like JD Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing and others would have big names behind the wheel, which would finally bring some decent sponsorship checks. Meanwhile, the bigger guys such as Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and JR Motorsports (farm team for Hendrick Motorsports) would still have incredible emerging young talents driving their race cars.
This kind of a rule change would perhaps even the deck for the entire series.
In 2016, only one non Sprint Cup Series affiliated team has won an Xfinity Series race and that was Biagi Denbeste Racing at Daytona in July with Sprint Cup regular Aric Almirola behind the wheel. To find another non Sprint Cup affiliated team that has won an Xfinity Series race, you have to go all the way back to the 2014 season, when Kyle Larson won a couple of races in the early part of the year for Turner-Scott Motorsports.
The Sprint Cup Series driver limitation rule is a step in the right direction for the Xfinity Series, but it should do little to keep Cup Series drivers from dominating in the races they are actually able to compete in next season.