Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?
While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.
In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.
Should some sort of cap be placed on how many Nationwide and Truck series races a Cup driver can participate in? How can a lower-series team explain to a company’s marketing director that a 10th-place finish in an NNS or CWTS race — in a field littered with Cup competitors — is often times a de facto win?
Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News; @bobpockrass): Yes. Limit a Cup driver to 5-10 races. But with a caveat. Increase to 10-15 if the team the Cup driver competes for fields the car the remainder of the season for a non-Cup driver. That way, sponsors and teams are encouraged to support both a Cup driver and a development driver.
Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine; @ESPNMcGee): I like the idea of a 10-15 race cap for any driver who has declared that they are running for the championship in a higher series. The problem is that these marketing directors you speak of are the problem. Nationwide and Truck series team owners tell me that sponsors want names, not young up-and-comers. So it’s a heckuva Catch-22. Attendance and TV ratings are down because the big-name moonlighters keep stomping the young guys, but the big-name moonlighters are who owners have to put in the car. I think once we went through a growing-pains year of that entry cap, those marketers would come around. But then again, I don’t own a race team and don’t have to take that risk.
Nate Ryan (USA Today; @nateryan): It seems like a great idea, but track owners would hate it. Much of the gate (such as it is) for a Nationwide or truck race depends on having established and marketable talent. As Brad Keselowski has noted, the problem isn’t allowing Sprint Cup drivers to race in lower-tier series, it’s allowing Sprint Cup organizations to field farm teams. The Nationwide Series lost its identity when erstwhile upstart teams such as ppc Racing and Brewco Motorsports were squeezed out of existence. Any serious discussions about reform must start there.
Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; @mikemulhern): No, there doesn’t need to be a cap on drivers, but there needs to be more financial equity in NNS and Trucks. I would institute a financial cap on each team to keep mega-teams from milking the Friday and Saturday shows. The problem is not that Cup drivers are so much better than NNS or truckers, but that the Cup drivers can run for teams with a lot more money to spend. Solve that part of the problem. And a big part of that problem is right under the hood. This sport desperately needs more independent engine men, not huge engine factories in Los Angeles or wherever.
Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): A limit should absolutely be in place. I understand companies in a lower series wanting to sponsor a Cup driver, and those drivers should not be banned from competing. But if you declare for Cup points, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive in more than 15 total Nationwide or Truck series races per season.
It will open up more well-funded rides for young drivers who may be forced to take a start-and-park ride just to stay in NASCAR. Plus it will help establish careers for more drivers who may never make it to the Cup Series simply because there are only 43 spots.
And it’s also something that lower-series teams can’t explain easily, especially to a company who may be unfamiliar to NASCAR. If you were that company, wouldn’t you want to go with the driver who is in victory lane, especially if he’s more recognizable?
That’s why a limit makes sense. A company can have an instant brand with a Cup driver and also have the opportunity to simultaneously build one with a promising and less-recognizable one.
Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): The business of the sport trumps the logic of keeping Cup regulars out of the Nationwide and Truck series. Sponsors dictate the decision more often than not and NASCAR finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. I’d like to see a cap of 5-10 races to shine the spotlight on the regular drivers in both divisions but without the Cup stars in the mix a lot of sponsorship dollars will dry up.
Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): In a perfect world, each of the three series would be limited to drivers who choose to participate full-time on that tour, with maybe a handful of starts open to “guests”. That isn’t realistic, however, for numerous reasons, among them the fact that Sprint Cup drivers attract fans to second- and third-tier races. The competition isn’t exactly fair, but solutions beyond what NASCAR already has put in place are convoluted and messy.
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro