WHAT IS THE NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES?

It’s not the first time the question has been asked, but lacking a satisfactory answer, it seems worth another go. Yes, I know they race with a slightly different car, and there are some different drivers than what you see in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and they even race on different tracks every once in a blue moon.

Aside from that, it looks like it’s a hybrid test session/audition for the Cup series. Unless you’re just a hard core racing nut (after all, there are only so many hours in a weekend), it hardly seems worth the effort. For the sake of disclosure, they lost this fan about three years ago, with a couple of exceptions.

 

It wasn’t always like this. You don’t have to look hard to find fans who remember names like Jack Ingram, Tommy Ellis, and Sam Ard and if you go back further to the series forerunners- the Sportsman and the Late Model Sportsman Divisions- you can scare up names like Butch Lindley and Ralph Earnhardt. It evolved along the way, but there was something of a distinctive identity, whether it was the tracks, the cars, or even the drivers. Sure, there was some crossover, but if you watch highlight footage from the old days, there are some definite differences.

 

Supposedly, the Nationwide Series is a feeder series for Cup. If that’s the case, then what in the name of Bill France is Kyle Busch doing there? Or Brad Keselowski? Or Carl Edwards? It makes a nice added attraction if they appear at a “hometown” track,but otherwise, there’s no good point to it. Limit these drivers to about five races a season, and that’s it. It’s one thing if a Cup driver- a la David Ragan- loses his ride and comes back like a slumping major league hitter to the minors. It’s even o.k. if a veteran driver wants to go back in the same way you have Ron Hornaday competing in the truck series. Hmmm.

It seems as though we do have a series that is performing the same function that the Nationwide Series is supposed to do: the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The schedule is less of a grind, the racing a little grittier, and there’s generally a good mix of old salts and young bucks trading paint. Some would suggest the NNS should be abolished and the truck series kept. It may be hard to argue that.

I mentioned exceptions to my general ambivalence towards what some derisively call “Cup Lite”: the so-called “opportunity races” that occur at tracks like Iowa and Road America. It’s there you are more likely to see a Ricky Stenhouse or Brad Allgaier in victory lane. Otherwise, I find little interest in Tony Stewart or Denny Hamlin busting on the neophytes.

Perhaps the Nationwide Series is a concept whose time has come and gone. There are a host of other series and cars that scratch the racing itch. The regional series often give fans a chance to connect to an up and comer and follow him up to Cup. Of course, when it comes to what a joke the Rookie of the Year has become, it opens another kettle of fish where driver development comes into play.

If I could be Brian France for a day, I would turn the NNS into a true minor league type series, racing in markets that can’t support Cup, with a focus on shorter tracks, cars that more closely resemble the production models, and a limit on Cup driver participation. If NASCAR has gotten too big to do that, then the series needs to go away. Spend the Saturdays on something like exhibition heats, cash dashes, or something that offers something in the way of entertainment or racing value. Judging from the empty seats, what’s happening now isn’t worth it.

I’m not saying that flippantly. I understand how hard jobs are to come by and lives are affected with seismic changes. By the same token, there’s a racing series that exists that looks like a weak knock off of something that could be very good.

Other articles by Jim McCoy include:

The NASCAR Classifieds
2012 and the Car vs. Driver Question
Songs As NASCAR Awards- 2011 Edition