Close Calls: Cup Crowd bullying Nationwide Series into irrelevance

Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane following his win in the STP 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 21, 2013 in Joliet, Illinois. (Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane following his win in the STP 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 21, 2013 in Joliet, Illinois.
(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

By John Close:
Another NASCAR Nationwide race, another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner.

Even a weekend off for the Cup Series couldn’t prevent this recurring scenario as Joey Logano wheeled a Penske Racing Ford to victory in the Nationwide race at Chicagoland Speedway Sunday.

Yawn.

Thanks to NASCAR’s policy of allowing Cup teams to field entries piloted by Cup drivers in the division, the Nationwide Series has morphed into perhaps the most irrelevant leagues in all of motorsports. Year after year, Cup drivers carpetbag most of the wins and steal the lion’s share of the prize money in the Nationwide division.

This year, Cup drivers have won 14 of the 18 Nationwide events contested.  Last year was actually a pretty good year for Nationwide ‘regulars’ as they limited the Cup drivers to just 18 wins in 33 events. In 2011, Cup drivers captured 28 wins in a 34-race schedule – including 11 for 11 to open the season.

In 2010, even Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won Nationwide races as Cup drivers pillaged the division taking 33 of the 35-checkered flags available that year.

2009?

Cup drivers were even more dominant winning 34 of 35 races.

In 2008, the tally was Cup drivers 33, Nationwide drivers 2.

In case you’re scoring at home, that means Cup drivers have won 160 Nationwide races over the last five and a half seasons.

Nationwide drivers?

They’ve totaled 30 victories during the same five and a half year span.

Meanwhile, you have to dig all the way back to 2000 when Greg Pollex was the Nationwide (then Busch Series) championship car owner. Since then, every NASCAR Nationwide car owner champion has come out of a Cup shop.

If you ever wanted a prime example of bullying – the bigger, stronger and faster kids beating up on the vulnerable ones – this is it.

If this sounds like an old rant here, it is.

NASCAR started trading the soul of the great mid-level Sportsman division from the inception of the Busch Series in 1982 by encouraging Cup drivers to compete in the league. The theory was with Cup drivers in the field, fans were/are more likely to purchase tickets to Busch/Nationwide Series events.

On Sunday at Chicagoland, you could have shot off a cannon and not hit anyone in the grandstand. The crowd was thinner than an old $2 suit purchased at the Goodwill Store.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times as race attendance has sagged for all racing events, not just NASCAR or the Nationwide Series for that matter. Then again, fans just may have finally had enough of attending a ‘Cup Lite’ event where a handful of top drivers in fully funded, technologically superior cars beat up on a bunch Cup have-nots.

Regardless of fan attendance numbers, NASCAR’s policy of allowing Cup drivers and teams to compete in – and worse – dominate the Nationwide Series is totally flawed. No other racing division, or for that matter professional sport, allows it’s top level players and organizations to beat up it’s developmental leagues for fun and profit like NASCAR does.

It’s time NASCAR retools the Nationwide Series and we’re not talking about decals to make the cars look more ‘real.’ Unless something is done to reverse the complete competitive imbalance of the division, there’s not much use in watching it anymore.

After all, unless you enjoy seeing a bully kick the hell out of someone to take their lunch money, there isn’t much point, is there?

LAST CALL –

The last major NASCAR touring series race to be held on a dirt surface was on September 30, 1970 when Richard Petty won the Home State 200 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh.

That will change this week when the Mudsummer Classic takes place at Eldora Speedway in Rosburg, OH.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – forever the guinea pig for new things NASCAR – will be the featured division in the special Wednesday primetime show. Instead of a regular flag-to-flag event with on-the-fly pit stops, the Eldora dirt race will feature two-lap qualifying sessions, five eight-lap qualifying races and a 15-lap ‘Last-Chance’ race.

Later, 30 trucks will take the green flag in the 150-lap Mudsummer Classic, which will be divided into three segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps with 10-minute pit stops between each segment.

The event has drawn several dirt racing ‘ringers’ including Scott Bloomquist, Tracy Hines and Dave Blaney. Meanwhile, the rest of the field will consist of a lot of Truck Series drivers who have never raced on dirt before.

This event has the potential to be amazing – a brave new world for NASCAR as it tries to capture some ‘old school’ magic. It also has the potential to be a giant disaster as drivers struggle to put on a show in purpose-built asphalt vehicles that have been adapted to race on dirt.

A gimmick?

Maybe.

An open door to more dirt racing for all NASCAR divisions?

Probably not.

Regardless, there’s plenty of interest as the entire NASCAR world, the biggest Truck Series television audience of the year, and a sold out grandstand of 17,782 fans at Eldora will be watching when the green flag falls Wednesday evening.

You won’t want to miss this.

About John Close

John Close covered his first NASCAR race as a professional media member in 1986 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Since then, Close – a former Associated Press newspaper sports editor – has written countless articles for numerous motorsports magazines, trade publications and Internet sites.

His Close Calls column appears each week on www.CloseFinishes.com, www.MotorsportAmerica.com and www.RacingNation.com.

Close has also authored two books – Tony Stewart – From Indy Phenom To NASCAR Superstar and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – From Desert Dust To Superspeedways.

Close also spotted more than 150 NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck events from 1995-2008. His third book – On The Spot – a volume about the history of NASCAR race spotting, will be published later this year.

You can direct comments/inquiries to Close at www.closefinishes@carolina.rr.com.

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