Commentary

Does dipping down hurt Cup chances?

Updated: March 4, 2011, 4:23 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Is racing full-time in two series too much of a good thing?

Paul Menard raced full-time in the Nationwide Series last season while also competing full-time in Sprint Cup. He had his best year in both series, finished fifth in the Nationwide standings and 23rd in Cup.

But Menard believes his Cup results might have been better had he run a limited Nationwide schedule.

"That's really why we're not running full-time [in Nationwide] this year," Menard said last weekend at Phoenix. "It was a lot of bouncing back and forth."

Menard felt his Nationwide commitments took too much time away from interacting with his Cup team and crew chief Slugger Labbe.

"You lose so much contact with your [Cup] crew," Menard said. "Slugger and I couldn't debrief with the Cup car because I had to go jump in the Nationwide car and run practice or qualifying or something."

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesKyle Busch said he gets information from his truck and Nationwide races that he can use in his Cup car.

Kyle Busch sees it differently. A late pass by Jeff Gordon was the only thing that kept Busch from winning all three events last weekend in Phoenix after he easily won the Camping World Truck race and the Nationwide event.

"For me, it's experience on the race track,'' he said in Daytona last month. "That's what I like to do. I learn so many things during the other races that I can correlate to my Cup car.''

Menard believes what he learns in the Nationwide races doesn't overcome the time he misses with his Cup team. He plans to run only seven Nationwide races this season.

"We're just having fun with it this year," Menard said of his Nationwide schedule. "We picked races [at tracks] where I think I need to improve and races where we think we can win."

Pick a few possible winners, but concentrate on Cup. That's Menard logic this season in his first year driving for Richard Childress Racing.

Menard feels more races can lead to less success, a point where oversaturation takes away the advantage of additional track time.

He has a point. Look at the stats.

The last five Nationwide championships were won by full-time Cup drivers. None of them -- Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski -- has won a Cup title.

And none of them finished in the top three in the Cup standings the year they won the Nationwide title. Busch missed the Chase when he won the 2009 Nationwide crown and Keselowski (last year's Nationwide champ) was 25th in his first full season in Cup.

Now look at it from the Cup side. In his five consecutive championship seasons, Jimmie Johnson ran a total of 10 Nationwide events and one truck race. He didn't compete in either series the previous two seasons.

Tony Stewart ran only 12 Nationwide events when he won the 2005 Cup title, and didn't race any Nationwide events during his 2002 Cup championship season. Kurt Busch didn't run a single feeder-league race in his 2004 championship year.

Matt Kenseth competed in 14 Nationwide races in 2003, the year he became the last Cup champion before the Chase was implemented. Jeff Gordon didn't race any feeder-league events during his last title season of 2001.

Edwards has raced full-time in Nationwide during each of his six full seasons in Cup. That's a total of 428 races, including three truck races.

Did it help him or hurt him?

Judging by 2008, many people would say it helped. He finished second in both series that year, losing the Cup title by 69 points to Johnson and the Nationwide crown by 21 points to Bowyer.

Then again, maybe he would have won the Cup championship that year had he not divided his time in Nationwide.

Edwards is one of the favorites to win the Cup title this year. He may run the entire Nationwide schedule again, even though he can't win the title with the new rule of picking one series for a championship.

Edwards, however, still could win the Nationwide owner's championship for Jack Roush.

"I'd still like to win that," Edwards said before the season started. "I guess we'll race the first few races and see how it goes. It could be pretty exciting just going for wins. It's just fun."

But it's still a lot of races for a guy hoping to win his first Cup title.

No one ran more events in the previous six seasons than Kyle Busch -- 461 races in the three series (including this year) since he became a full-time Cup competitor. He has won a remarkable 83 of those races, but only 19 came in Cup.

Many experts consider Busch the most talented driver in NASCAR today, but was he spreading himself too thin by racing so many events?

Busch doesn't think so. He said he passes along information he learns in the Nationwide and truck races to Cup crew chief Dave Rogers.

"My encyclopedia fills up quick," Busch said. "When I'm working with [CWTS crew chief] Eric Philips and [Nationwide crew chief] Jason Ratcliff, they have way different mindsets on how to make a vehicle go faster. I can take all that information I learn back and forth and increase our competitiveness in all three."

Even Busch is cutting back a little this year. He ran 45 events in the two feeder leagues last season. He plans to run 33 to 37 this year (19 to 22 in Nationwide and 14 or 15 truck races).

He also will not race any event that would require him to travel to another venue on the same weekend as a Cup race. That includes Indianapolis, were the CWTS race and the Nationwide event are only five miles away from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Busch still will run at least 69 races this year. Edwards will race 70 events if he runs the full Nationwide schedule.

Is it too much? If Busch or Edwards wins the Cup championship this year, they can say it wasn't. If not, the argument continues.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter