|Daniel Suarez wins at Dover International Speedway, Oct. 2, 2016.|
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Early this morning, NASCAR released a new rules package for 2017 that places limits on the number of starts a Cup driver can make in the XFINITY and Truck series over the course of the season. It also clearly states that once each series starts its respective Chase, no Cup drivers will be allowed to participate.
What do the rules say?
According to NASCAR, in the 26 races leading up to the XFINITY Chase, drivers who compete full time at the sport's top level, and have been for at least five years, will have a maximum of 10 starts to use. These drivers are banned from the four Dash4Cash races, too.
Drivers who have fewer than five years of full-time experience in Cup, such as Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, may still race freely in the XFINITY Series, but they're not allowed to compete for the title. Once the XFINITY Chase is underway, no five-year veteran Cup drivers will be allowed in the field, but those with fewer than five years are only prohibited from racing in the season finale.
For the Camping World Truck Series, which runs a shorter schedule than the other two series, top tier drivers will have only seven starts to use in the first 16 races. Again, only drivers who have raced fewer than five years in Cup may participate in Chase races, with no Cup drivers in the final race of the NCWTS Chase.
How will these rules affect the races?
The new rules mean that last-lap passes -- like the one Joey Logano made on Elliott Sadler a couple weeks ago in Charlotte -- won't be allowed anymore. Had Sadler won that race, he would have been locked in to the next Chase round. Instead, he had to continue to points race.
The same scenario happened the next week at Kansas, where the undisputed King of the XFINITY Series, Kyle Busch, was leading in the final laps. Again, Sadler was behind him, and he had to play second fiddle to a Cup driver again, instead of moving to the next round with a win. Daniel Suarez also might have been able to race Sadler for the win, given the chance.
Because Sadler and Suarez missed out on wins and had to continue racing for points, their teams were on edge for every pit stop, every part they put in the car, everything. Though every week is stressful, when a team is locked into the next round of the Chase, they get a little bit of leeway and are free to experiment a little bit with the setup in attempts to hit on something for the next round.
Races where XFINITY Series regulars missed out on wins got under fans' skin this season, and Twitter and Facebook exploded. Fans demanded that Cup drivers be limited from the lower series, so that the younger guys could actually get experience, get fans, and learn what they need to learn before competing with the Harvicks and Buschs of the sport. This isn't a new outcry of injustice; fans have been calling for limited Cup driver involvement for years. So why now? Why did it take so long for NASCAR to react?
Maybe, just maybe, they realized that the Chase format was tainted when they had drivers leading who couldn't win the title but could put the field two laps down. Maybe they grew tired of the angry tweets. Maybe the voice of reason, Dale Earnhardt Jr., discussed it with them. Perhaps they've been talking about it for years and decided this was the right time. Whatever the trigger was, they acted, and it's a good first step.
You can't expect them to take Cup guys out of the series altogether. The argument is true. The Cup drivers are the draw for ticket sales to the lower division series, so there's a certain economic aspect that can't be ignored. So while the Cup drivers are running their limited starts, do yourself a favor, get to know an XFINITY driver. Don't get to know them because they drive a Chevy or a Ford or because they drive for a certain team; get to know them because you like them. Maybe you like their driving style, maybe you read a story about them and it piqued your interest. At any rate, get to know them, and start following them. These young drivers are the future of our sport, and they're working hard to try to show you that they're worthy of your respect.
Fans have called for this action for years. Now that the new rules are in place, NASCAR Nation needs to stand behind the sanctioning body and support the drivers in the lower series.
What can fans do to thank NASCAR for putting these rules in place?
If you're going to a race next year, see an a XFINITY race. You might even get two for one. Twice this season when the XFINITY series was rained out the day before the Cup race, either ticket became valid for a Sunday doubleheader.
There are lots of ways to show your support for the XFINITY and Truck series. Buy the drivers' merchandise, watch the races on TV, follow the up-and-coming drivers on social media. The worst thing fans can do now is let them see empty stands. We wanted this, so stand up, find a driver and support him or her.
Overall, just show NASCAR that you wholeheartedly support our sport's future. Fans displaying excitement and a love for racing can make a difference. Watch the rest of the races this year, and get ready for a great 2017.