Change is in the Air for NASCAR's Junior Series HAMPTON, Ga. (Feb. 20, 2008) -- In a year of change for the circuit formerly known as the Busch Series, at least one element remains constant: nearly half the field for many of this...
Change is in the Air for NASCAR's Junior Series
HAMPTON, Ga. (Feb. 20, 2008) -- In a year of change for the circuit formerly known as the Busch Series, at least one element remains constant: nearly half the field for many of this season's Nationwide Series events, including the Nicorette 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday March 8, will be occupied by Sprint Cup drivers.
That fact has reignited a debate which has raged for nearly 25 years in NASCAR.
Is the Nationwide Series a feeder program for NASCAR Sprint Cup? Or is it merely a Saturday playground for the world's best drivers?
During his sophomore campaign in the Sprint Cup Series, Clint Bowyer was a bona fide contender to win last season's championship.
The Richard Childress Racing driver credited his days in the Nationwide Series as the springboard he needed to become a NASCAR superstar.
"I love the series," said Bowyer, who finished third in the Sprint Cup championship standings last season. "Look at me, look at my career. Without the Nationwide Series, I wouldn't be here. "It gave me a chance to learn a lot from my teammates and race against good drivers that win Cup races.
Paul Menard used a similar path to land a ride in the Cup Series with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
"Obviously, it's probably the hardest feeder system in sports," Menard said. "You don't see major league baseball players playing Class AAA ball, but you see that in NASCAR with the Cup drivers running Nationwide cars.
"If you can run good in the Nationwide Series, I think you'll run good in the Cup Series. They probably need to do something to cut out the full-timers in the Nationwide Series."
Menard may get his wish.
Rumors persist that NASCAR is considering a new policy where full-time Cup drivers will no longer be eligible to collect Nationwide Series championship points.
Should that rule be implemented, Cup regulars would have little incentive to run the entire Nationwide Series schedule.
But J.J. Yeley believes it would be a mistake for NASCAR to discourage, or even prohibit, Cup drivers from competing in the Nationwide Series.
"Looking back through my experience, if they had limited how many races the Cup drivers could have ran, it would have been easy to go out and run top-five every week or possibly go out and win a race," Yeley said.
Veteran Cup driver Bobby Labonte, the 1991 Nationwide Series champion, is concerned over how the sport's future stars are forced to battle Cup drivers in Cup equipment on a weekly basis.
"It's obviously a strange time for that series," said Labonte, who drives a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet on a limited basis in the Nationwide Series. "Cup drivers would own their own [Nationwide] car that they raced years ago. Kevin Harvick does now, but that's only one.
First-year driver Cale Gale, who will run a part-time schedule in the Nationwide Series for Kevin Harvick Inc. this season, realizes it will be difficult for NASCAR to rewind the clock to the days where the Nationwide regulars dominated the series.
"Obviously, there aren't as many Nationwide regulars as there used to be a few years ago," Gale said. "You had Jason Keller, David Green. Those were the guys that were going to be competitive to win races each and every week.
"But this is where we're at today. This is what we have to do. If the Cup drivers want to race in the Nationwide Series, I don't believe NASCAR is going to tell them they can't do it because it's going to put more people in the seats. "
If NASCAR places a cap in the future on the number of Nationwide Series events Cup regulars can run, Marcos Ambrose, an Australian who will run a partial Cup schedule this season, is confident in the sanctioning body's ability to strike a good balance.
"I think it's great that NASCAR looks to continually change and be fresh," Ambrose said. "NASCAR has been the top motorsport in this sport for decades, and it's for good reason. They're ahead of the curve.
As the Nationwide Series prepares to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the question remains: will a Sprint Cup Series regular continue to dominate the Nationwide Series? Or, will an up-and-coming driver shock the sport by capturing the checkered flag at NASCAR's fastest track in the March 8 Nicorette 300?
Tickets for the Nicorette 300 on March 8 are available by calling 877-9-AMS-TIX (877-926-7849), 770-946-4211 or online at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com