By Lee Montgomery
NASCAR officials confirmed Friday that drivers in the sanctioning body's three national series must declare intentions to run in only one championship.
NASCAR President Mike Helton said the move was made to give the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series a "more specific identity," but kept the sanctioning body's intent to keep competition open to any driver.
"Well, the most important element was for NASCAR to maintain its open policy for anybody that wants to compete and has the credentials to compete can compete in any series that they want to compete in," Helton said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "We don't restrict a Cup driver from participating in another form of racing, including other forms of NASCAR racing. And so the desire was to protect that.
"But at the same time there's also a desire for the truck series, the Nationwide Series to have a more specific identity of its own and not be confused with the Cup Series or vice versa."
Helton said the strength of the three series on its own allowed NASCAR to make this decision.
"And the hope for this is that in the truck series when you have Cup drivers participating in it - which we still will - and the Nationwide Series when you have Cup drivers participating in it - which we hope and we think still will - there is a level of focus and a level of exposure offered to younger drivers who have personalities that deserve to get attention and be developed along the way, as well," Helton said.
Helton also confirmed that Sprint Cup drivers Brad Keselowski - the 2010 Nationwide Series champion - and Carl Edwards will not be able to run for the championship, despite lobbying made by many on the drivers' behalf. Both drivers had contracts with sponsors already in place to run for the Nationwide title.
NASCAR considered the "grandfather clause" but decided to make the change immediately. Technically,
Keselowski and Edwards could run for the Nationwide championship this year, forgoing Cup title aspirations. But that won't happen.
"It was considered, and Nationwide had expressed that to us, as well as some of the drivers, ... ‘OK, can you just give me one more year?'" Helton said. "We stuck to the decision once we made it and felt like it was better for everybody concerned, the whole industry, to go ahead and draw the line and not have any lingering effects to it. And we've done that with other decisions we've made. We've also made advanced decisions and put a timeline out there to reach.
"But on this particular one, and we've been talking about this topic for a few seasons, that we decided that it's in the best interest for the industry, even though there were some that get caught up in it, but it's the best overall decision to go ahead and make that call and go ahead and draw the line and say, ‘No,' it starts and stops right here."
Cup drivers can still accumulate owners points in the Nationwide Series, making the likelihood of a split championship a good one. That happened in 2010 as well, as Keselowski won the drivers championship and Joe Gibbs Racing the owners title.
Helton said there won't be a lack of credibility with the Nationwide championship this season, even though it seems likely Cup drivers will continue to win most of the races. Justin Allgaier and Boris Said were the only non-Cup drivers to win Nationwide races in 2010.
"It also goes back to the driving force behind this is to force more exposure and attention to drivers that are developing in that series," Helton said. "... So the effort is worth it to get more attention paid and exposure to the developing personalities that are coming into the sport (who) by the way, while they're competing against the legendary names of the sport.
"And you can debate and argue that, OK, if I win 10 or 12 races and don't win the championship, what's the championship worth? Well, it's still the championship. It's still a big old trophy, still a nice check, still a guy who went out there and competed against 43 teams and became the champion of that series.
"So I think it's still a NASCAR national series championship which I think is valuable and credible."
NASCAR also said it is considering changes to the points system across all three series, simplifying the points to awards 43 to first. 42 to second, etc, to 1 for 43rd. That would apply to Nationwide, too.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said changes could be coming to the Rookie of the Year program in the three series. Raybestos ended its sponsorship of the program after last season. No decisions have been made, he said.