NASCAR debate: Working Overtime

MADISON, Ill. – Having waited out Friday’s power outage and then suited up for back-to-back races in Saturday’s egg-frying temperatures at Gateway International Raceway, NASCAR drivers who double and even triple dip on the sport’s top circuit might still consider this past weekend a vacation.
That’s because after races in the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series, it was a day off Sunday in the Sprint Cup Series.
But not even a break in the Sprint Cup schedule could keep some of NASCAR’s top names away from Gateway International Raceway during the weekend. There were six full-time Cup drivers in the Nationwide race, including Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, and three in the Camping World race, including Harvick, who pulled double duty Saturday.
Some have likened the drivers’ participation in the lower ranks to a major league baseball player suiting up for an MLB game, a Triple-A game and Double-A all in the same weekend.
Not those who do it, however.
“I’m a race car driver . . . that’s what I do,” said Cup driver Max Papis, who finished 15th in Saturday’s CampingWorld.com 200. “The more time you sit your butt in a car, the better you become. It’s a way for all of us to get better.”
In a debate that’s picking up speed in NASCAR circles, though, many wonder how much longer the talented and wealthy Cup drivers will be allowed to start their engines in the Nationwide and Camping World series. Or if NASCAR permits them to continue, could there be restrictions placed on the Cup regulars to level the playing field?
The last four champions in the Nationwide Series have been regulars in the Sprint Cup series: Kyle Busch in 2009, Clint Bowyer in ’08, Edwards in ’07 and Harvick in ’06. And heading into Saturday night’s race at Gateway, four of the top points leaders in Nationwide were No. 1 Keselowski, No. 2 Edwards, No. 3 Busch and No. 5 Harvick.
Earlier this month, NASCAR CEO Brian France said he was aware of the issue and indicated that changes could be on the horizon.
“We like Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series,” France told reporters. “We need to make sure the stage is not crowded out so much so that we can’t give opportunities to Nationwide young regulars who need that experience.
“And you know what, in my discussions with the Sprint Cup drivers, they agree with us. They think just that way, too. The owners certainly agree with us. So there are going to be some things that we can do.”
The debate has been ongoing, but no one in NASCAR, including drivers, seems to know which prohibitive measures would make sense or even be feasible.
Edwards, a native of Columbia, Mo., admits that Cup regulars have an obvious advantage in experience and resources. He’s suggested that NASCAR address those issues, perhaps limiting practice time for the Cup drivers or starting them at the back of the pack.
“The only thing I would agree with competitively would be minimize the amount of practice the Cup guys have . . . because we are at the same track usually,” Edwards said. “Maybe just give us 30 minutes of practice or something like that, for the Nationwide Series. But other than that, I don’t see how I’m any different than any of these guys I’m racing against.”
Some Cup drivers, at least when they start racing in multiple series, aren’t convinced there’s an advantage.
For starters, the cars are different.
A Cup car has more horsepower than a Nationwide car (850 vs. 750), is slightly heavier (3,450 pounds to 3,400) and runs about five miles faster (200 miles per hour to 195). The Camping World truck is similar to the Nationwide car, but runs 10 mph slower than a Cup car.
“There’s different reference points on the track, different braking points,” Papis said. “You don’t want to be saying, ‘Let’s try this’ with this car. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Then there’s the fitness level required to compete in multiple races. Often times, drivers will wrap up one race and then report for qualifying for the next race.
“The first time I did double duty, I finished practice with the Nationwide car, ran all the way down pit lane and when I got to the Cup car, I was out of breath,” Papis said. “That’s the last thing you want to do for your Cup (qualifying run). It’s definitely easier now that I understand how everything works, but to me, it can be a distraction running two cars on the same weekend.”
n NASCAR schedule, Page 2B

Jeremy Rutherford