For Nationwide Series to flourish, compromise is in order

12/11/2007 - NASCAR

Carl Edwards said he plans to run the full Nationwide Series next year to try to win the league title in back-to-back seasons.

That's a shame. It probably means a Sprint Cup driver will win NASCAR's No. 2 series for the third consecutive year.

Track promoters are all for it. This is about money, lots of money.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage sent out a press release last week emphasizing his strong feelings for keeping Cup stars in the Nationwide races.

"The people of the Nationwide Series need to decide if they want to be the major league series they are now or go back to being a minor league series," Gossage said in the release.

First of all, it isn't a major league series. Sprint Cup is the major league, last time I checked. Right now, the Nationwide Series, which was known as Busch Series for 26 seasons, is nothing more than a glorified practice session for Cup regulars.

Gossage couldn't disagree more, so I gave him a chance to respond beyond his release. Gossage was in Montana on Monday after attending the funeral of Evel Knievel.

"This Buschwhacking idea is way out of hand and uninformed," Gossage said. "They act like this is a new thing. People forget that the winner of the first Busch Series race [1982 at Daytona] was Dale Earnhardt, two years after he won his first Cup championship."

Cup drivers have competed in the second-tier league since it started. But they weren't racing the full Nationwide schedule and competing for the series title. That didn't happen until Kevin Harvick won the Busch crown in 2006.

Edwards probably will contend for the Cup title in 2008, so he could win both championships. He also could say he won the last Busch crown and the first one with Nationwide Insurance as the new title sponsor.

Nice accomplishment if it happens, but it would reinforce the feeling that
the Nationwide Series is a way for a Cup star and Cup team to run rough shot over the feeder-league regulars.

Alex Rodriguez isn't going to win the MVP award for the American League and Triple-A baseball.

Granted, the situation in NASCAR isn't the same. Cup drivers sell tickets to Nationwide events.

Gossage went on to say in his release that Cup drivers are the reason 100,000 people show up at TMS for its Nationwide events, and the reason the speedway can pay a $1.2 million purse for those races.

"Otherwise, they may have to go back to 8,000-seat speedways and pay $100,000," Gossage said.

An exaggeration, to be sure, but his point is well taken.

Speedways and purses have grown enormously. Cup drivers help fuel the monster and bring the attendance needed to make the Nationwide Series viable at major-market facilities.

So NASCAR officials have come up with a compromise that seems reasonable for everyone. Cup drivers could continue to race in as many Nationwide events as they choose, but they would not earn points.

That plan also has its detractors. Some say it would create a watered-down champion, a Nationwide regular who didn't run as well as a Cup driver who ran the full season in the feeder league.

So what? Is it more watered down than a Cup standout bullying his way to a title in a support league?

At least the new plan would recognize the accomplishment of the up-and-coming drivers trying to make a name for themselves.

Or give the Nationwide-only drivers some form of a Chase playoff to add incentive for those guys late in the season.

NASCAR will switch to pony-car bodies in the Nationwide Series in 2009, which will help distinguish the league from Sprint Cup. Hopefully, NASCAR officials also will follow through with the plan in 2009 and keep full-time Cup drivers from scoring points in the Nationwide Series.

"I'm not sure where I come down on that," Gossage said. "Would it cause Cup drivers to be less likely run the series? Perhaps. Would it affect sponsors' interest? Maybe, and if so, that could make the series less valuable to the promoters."

Cup drivers have to compete in the Nationwide Series now for the league to have a full field each week. Only seven Busch-only drivers competed full time for the final Busch title this year.

But one problem caused the other one. The increased participation of Cup teams made it impossible for Busch-only teams to compete in their own series.

So where is the common ground on which most people involved in the Nationwide Series can agree? Three areas:

" The Nationwide Series needs Cup-driver participation. They sell tickets.

" The Nationwide Series needs an identity separate from the Cup series.

" The Nationwide-only drivers and teams need recognition and incentives to produce increased involvement.

If those three ideals can coexist, the new Nationwide Series can blossom.

Money talks
Want to know why every open-wheel racer in the world would love to compete in Formula One? Just take a look at Fernando Alonso's new salary.

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Alonso agreed to return to Renault for a two-year deal that will pay him $51 million per season.

By comparison, the purse for the entire 2007 IndyCar Series season was about $26.5 million.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.