Handicapping Cup Drivers in the Nationwide Series

I was driving past a golf course on a day when Dallas hit 107 °F and was amazed that there were golfers out in the midday sun.  We racing fans probably have no business calling fans (or practitioners) of other sports ‘nuts’, as we do some things most people would view as pretty odd as well.  But why not take a page from golf in addressing the perennially troublesome issue of NASCAR Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series.

Briefly rehashing the arguments:  Cup drivers bring people to the track for Nationwide races and raise the series profile; however, having Cup drivers winning the Nationwide series seems to go against the general concept of using the second-tier series to develop the next generation of Cup drivers.  Basically, we want the Cup drivers there, but we don’t want them winning the series.

Why not handicap the Cup drivers in terms of the points they earn toward the Championship?  The table below shows how points are awarded in the Nationwide series. (You also get 5 bonus points for leading a lap and 5 bonus points if you lead the most laps – those aren’t included in the table below.)

Finish Points Finish Points Finish Points Finish Points Finish Points
1 185 11 130 21 100 31 70 41 40
2 170 12 127 22 97 32 67 42 37
3 165 13 124 23 94 33 64 43 34
4 160 14 121 24 91 34 61
5 155 15 118 25 88 35 58
6 150 16 115 26 85 36 55
7 146 17 112 27 82 37 52
8 142 18 109 28 79 38 49
9 138 19 106 29 76 39 46
10 134 20 103 30 73 40 43

How about we handicap all drivers using number of Cup wins? Assuming, of course, that they have one or more because we don’t want to get into the whole division by zero thing. If we accept that the number of Cup wins is a measure of how ‘good’ the driver is, this gives the Nationwide drivers and Cup drivers who can really benefit from running the Nationwide races a more level playing field. It’s like a handicap in bowling or golf.  As a first try, a driver is handicapped by losing x% of the points he wins in a give race, where x is the number of cup wins.  Carl Edwards has 16 Cup wins, so he gets 84% of the points.  In the current standings, that takes him from 3630 to 3049 points.  Not a huge change – it moves him to 6th place.  He’s still competitive, but he’s going to have to run better to be in the hunt for the top prize.

This is obviously not a perfect system, but it moves things in the right direction and it’s simple.  It allows Nationwide drivers to benefit from competing against the best stock car drivers, while still allowing them to be competitive for the title run. I’m against banning Cup drivers from driving in Nationwide cars: there are some Cup drivers who really benefit from the additional experience (e.g. Paul Menard and Reed Sorenson).  A Cup driver stepping in for a few races to drive for a smaller operation can be extremely valuable to the team by giving them feedback on their setup.  Kevin Harvick ought to be able to drive his own team’s Nationwide car.  As Dave Moody likes to say, drivers are free agents – the series shouldn’t be able to tell them where they can or can’t drive. If the drivers are really driving because they like racing, they ought to be up for the challenge of staying in the hunt for the title, even though they are working with a handicap.

Rank Driver Current
Points
Starts Cup
Wins
Nationwide
Wins
Normalized
Points
1 Brad Keselowski
3995
25
1
4
3955
2 Carl Edwards
3630
25
16
2
3049
3 Kyle Busch
3396
20
19
10
2751
4 Justin Allgaier
3261
25
0
1
3261
5 Paul Menard
3171
25
0
0
3171
6 Kevin Harvick
2908
19
14
2
2355
7 Steve Wallace
2857
25
0
0
2857
8 Trevor Bayne
2855
25
0
0
2855
9 Joey Logano
2722
17
1
1
2695
10 Jason Leffler
2720
25
0
0
2720
11 Brendan Gaughan
2669
25
0
0
2669
12 Michael Annett
2643
25
0
0
2643
13 Brian Scott
2549
25
0
0
2549
14 Reed Sorenson
2451
18
0
0
2451
15 Tony Raines
2433
25
0
0
2433
16 Mike Bliss
2394
24
0
0
2394
17 Mike Wallace
2289
25
0
0
2289
18 Kenny Wallace
2280
25
0
0
2280
19 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*
2111
22
0
0
2111

The table at right shows the points B.R. (Before Richmond).  ‘Current Points’ is the way the series is now scored and Normalized Points shows what they would have under my handicapping.  Brad Keselowski still maintains a massive points lead, but face it: he’s done a pretty good job this year.   After handicapping, though, he’s leading over Justin Allgaier, who is now number 2.  Joey Logano is minimally affected since he’s only won one Cup race.  The veteran Cup drivers, however, drop back somewhat significantly in the standings.  (Although I wonder if Kyle Busch had run all the races, whether he might not still be contending for the championship, even with the handicap.)  The sponsors of the Cup-driver driven cars get exposure and publicity for winning races, while the long-term sponsors for the Nationwide regulars get publicity for sponsoring drivers in the race for the Championship.  (Although that may be little consolation to Justin Allgaier given that he apparently is without a sponsor for next year, despite being the top non-Cup driver in the series.)

The manufacturers championship points would probably have to remain the same, since that is (ostensibly) independent of driver.  There would be some issues to be resolved.  I would only want to apply this to current Cup drivers.  For example, if Elliott Sadler were to run full time next year in Nationwide (without a Cup ride), he should earn full points.  It seems to me that there is a big difference between someone who runs full time in Nationwide because that is the best ride they can get and someone whose primary focus is Cup, but who chooses to run the Nationwide series.

It’s not a perfect system, but I think it works.  It’s simple, it’s easily applied, and it accomplishes the goal of letting Cup drivers be competitive, but without running over the Nationwide regulars.

Just a thought.

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