By admin | March 26, 2011
By Richard Allen
Unfortunately for Ricky Stenhouse, not too many people are aware of the fact that he is leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings. For that matter, until he led some laps in Saturday’s Royal Purple 300 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, it is often difficult to even notice he participates in the races at all.
Over the off-season, NASCAR handed down a ruling that forced every driver planning to compete in the three top divisions governed by the sanctioning body to declare which championship they planned to seek. This, it was said, would allow a Nationwide regular to win a championship and put more focus on those drivers.
The real purpose of the new rule was more likely to simply calm the protests of those who had complained about Sprint Cup driver domination of the lesser series but not limit the number of races those drivers could actually run. As evidence in favor of this theory look to the fact that teams for which Cup drivers compete can still receive owner points despite the fact that the driver is not eligible for the championship.
If NASCAR intended for Nationwide regulars to receive more attention, the new rule has failed. A vast majority of television coverage is center on Cup stars while Nationwide drivers are hardly mentioned. However, if NASCAR intended for the status quo of Cup driver domination to continue while pushing the folly that a regular is leading the points and thus benefiting from the new system, they have succeeded.
Kyle Busch has won three of the five Nationwide Series races run so far with Tony Stewart and Mark Martin taking the other two. Regulars on the series have managed but eight top-5 finishes out of the possible forty top-5s to have been registered this year. Three of those finishes came in Las Vegas where fuel mileage issues hampered several Cup drivers at the end of the event.
And more, many of the regulars who have placed well this season are closely tied to Sprint Cup teams through owners such as Jack Roush, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Ultimately, Sprint Cup driver domination has continued unfazed by the new rules set in place by the off-season edict. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick were in charge for most of the Royal Purple 300 on their way to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes.
For the Nationwide Series to ever be anything more than a warm up for the Sprint Cup race of the following day, measures such as limitations on the number of races a Sprint Cup driver can run and more stand alone races at non Cup venues will have to be employed. However, NASCAR clearly has no intention of changing anything other than symbolically placing a new name on the championship trophy.
While the powers that be in Daytona Beach, along with their television partners, may feel as though this is the appropriate path, the vastly empty grandstands in Bristol and Fontana of the past two Saturday’s suggest otherwise.
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