By Farrah Kaye
Do you remember where you were when NASCAR announced "pick a series"?
What about when Tony Stewart won the season-opener in Daytona? How about Kyle Busch winning at Phoenix? Mark Martin in Vegas? Busch in Bristol?
Sure, this whole "pick a series" (or as I like to refer to it - "check a box") will give us a non-Cup driver Nationwide champion at the end of the season, but what will happen on the road to that championship?
We've had runner-ups like Justin Allgaier (do you remember that in Vegas?), but how long will it take to get the NNS-only winner like we want? Will we see a champion that never wins a race?
And with all of those thoughts, how can NASCAR make it better?
They started with this great idea to let Cup drivers stay in the series but not earn points. We see how that's working out. We understand that for sponsor – and viewership – reasons, Cup drivers need to stay in the series. But for how long? And what about driver development?
When I first became a NASCAR fan, I only knew about the "Sunday race." But on a random Saturday, I caught a "Saturday race" and got schooled on what the Nationwide Series was. On that day, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was driving in the No. 5, which confused me. But there was this driver – Brad Keselowski – who was pretty good.
He didn't drive on Sundays back then, so I would watch on Saturdays to see how he did. My first race at a track was this "Saturday race" series, where Keselowski was wrecked by this guy named Mark Martin (I really was focusing on the Nationwide Series, could ya tell?) on the way to his first win.
Then came this new guy named Joey Logano. He was "the best thing since ‘Sliced Bread.’" Remember him? Oh wait, he's in his third year as a Cup driver now.
What's my point in all this storytelling? My point is there aren't many stories like this anymore. What happened to guys like Matt DiBenedetto or Colin Braun? Guys that had fan bases but were thrown aside so their Cup-driving counterparts could get in the cars instead?
A reader recently asked me "what Nationwide driver will move up to Cup first?" I had to think hard about that answer because honestly with these Cup drivers winning so much, the Nationwide-only guys aren't going to get a chance to win – thus making sponsors happy enough – to make sponsors want to back them in a higher level. Or for a Cup team to see what they can really do.
And what about newcomers to the Nationwide series? With so many Cup drivers sticking around - Busch is only 25 and rumors are already starting that Martin is "auditioning" to come down to NNS for 2012 and beyond – where will those ARCA or truck racers go?
Someone suggested limiting Cup drivers to five NNS races per season. That's not a bad idea. If the Cup teams spread out their drivers they could get almost an entire season (depending on the team). A four-car Cup team could get 20 races if that were the situation. Maybe throw in a Jimmie Johnson once in a while.
No matter what, NASCAR needs to take 2011 to figure out a plan for 2012. Something has to change.
By the way, in case you forgot, the last Nationwide-only driver to win a race was Allgaier at the spring 2010 Bristol race.