By David G. Firestone
Before I finish for the year, I wanted to take some time and discuss a few things in the NASCAR world that are changing. Some are good, others are not. But all of them are going to impact the 2017 NASCAR season.
First is the big news that there are new rules for Cup drivers in the Xfinity and Truck Series. The two most important new rules are:
*Drivers with more than five years of full-time premier series experience will be ineligible to compete in the final eight races in each series, as well as the Dash 4 Cash races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The final eight races are comprised of the regular season finale and the entirety of the Chase in each series.
*Starting next season, premier series drivers with more than five years of full-time experience will be eligible to compete in a maximum of 10 races in the XFINITY Series and seven races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
I don’t think that the rules go far enough. I am a fan of the idea that the minor leagues of racing should only be used for driver development and/or driver injury rehabilitation. That is how every other sport in the history of ever has used their minor leagues. In my mind, full-time Cup drivers shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the Xfinity or Truck series, unless they have missed some races due to injury and want to judge if they are capable of running a full Cup race, or they lose their ride, and aren’t competing in the Cup series anymore.
Please don’t try to tell me that the Xfinity and Truck races benefit from “star power” of the Cup drivers. That argument makes zero sense whatsoever, because no other sports league does that with their stars. Did the NHL send Wayne Gretzky to the minors to boost their star power? Did the NBA send LeBron James to the D-league? Did the MLB send Mickey Mantle to the minors to boost star power? The answer is no. Mantle and Gretzky did spend time in the minors, but that was early in their careers, where their talents were obvious but they needed some more polish before debuting in the major leagues.
I also got some news last week that proves something I have been saying for some time. Greg Biffle was released from Roush Racing due to a lack of sponsorship. Biffle finished 23rd in the standings, and was the third best of the Roush drivers, with Trevor Bayne finishing 22nd, and Ricky Stenhouse finishing 21st. Roush Fenway Racing has gone from super team to super joke in the last decade. I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.
Why Jack Roush refuses to use the free agency system for his team is perplexing. Roush exclusively uses his developmental program for his Cup teams, despite all evidence that in recent years, it hasn’t worked well. Even teams like Richard Chldress Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing, who were also using their developmental programs for their Cup talent figured out quickly that the free agent market is a great way to boost their teams. Roush seems to be fixated on that, despite that in the last 10 years, it has gotten them nowhere.
Yes, it did work with Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle, but those guys were very talented drivers who would have thrived no matter where they ran. While Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Trevor Bayne are talented drivers, they aren’t on the level of Edwards, Kenseth, or Biffle. That’s not taking anything away from them. You need to be a talented driver to race your way into the Cup Series. Hell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a two-time Xfinity Champion, but when was the last time a driver was Xfinity Series Champion, then went on to win a Cup Championship? Bobby Labonte did it in 2000, but that’s the only example. Roush has more faith in his developmental program and his equipment than he should. The only driver to win in a Roush-Fenway car was Chris Buescher, and he just signed with a Chevy team for 2017.
Now we move on to Brian Scott. This is the sort of thing that just annoys me with professional athletes sometimes. Prior to the race at Phoenix, Scott announced that he would be retiring from driving at age 28. I’d like to quote the Richard Petty Motorsports press release if I may:
“MOORESVILLE, N.C. (November 10, 2016) – Richard Petty Motorsports and Brian Scott today announced Scott, driver of the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, will retire from full-time competition in NASCAR at the end of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Scott has made the personal decision to focus on his young and growing family and also the next phase of his career.”
Let me see I understand this correctly, you are giving up a job that pays very well, where you have no real worries providing for your family, to focus on your family. I looked this up, and I discovered that Brian Scott’s career earnings in the top three series are over $10 million, and that’s just on-track, that doesn’t factor into endorsements. You are also one of the few drivers who has built-in sponsorships. You don’t have as much trouble as some drivers in finding companies to sponsor your team.
Also, you retired to “focus on the next phase of your career.” Someone please explain to me what in the Hell that means? What is this “next phase?” You have worked your whole life to become a race car driver, but now you have retired. I hope you have a decent education, and can find a decent place to work, because very few places pay as well as your previous job, and I’m willing to bet your savings won’t carry through for 18 years.
Something else that went under the radar in recent weeks is that it was announced that Phoenix International Raceway is making some improvements to the track. Now normally, I would be all for it, because that usualy means that there are new fan amenities and some new stuff for the driver. Then I saw what was being done, and I went into shock. Here is the generalized list, according to NBC Sports:
-The start/finish line is shown to be in what is now Turn 2.
-All the frontstretch grandstands would be eliminated and replaced by an elevated RV parking lot and have additional parking behind it.
-The Allison grandstand in Turn 2 will be extended to go through the entire turn.
-Pit road will be moved closer to the infield and have a tighter radius. That will allow additional space between the track and pit road.
-There would be five new garages for competitors.
-The media center would be moved from its present location across from the current start/finish line to just beyond Turn 2.
-The infield care center would move from behind the current media center to between what is now Turns 3 and 4.
-Victory Lane would be moved behind pit road to spot between what is now Turns 1 and 2.
When I saw that the front-stretch grandstands would be eliminated, and that the start/finish line would be moved to turn two, I honestly thought it was a joke of some kind, but the plans that have been submitted clearly show this is the real setup. What in the world is going on here? Was the racing in Phoenix so bad, that the track had to be drastically changed? I didn’t think it was bad. It boggles the mind that someone not only came up with this, but submitted the plans for approval. I can only hope the racing is as good as they want it to be.
As of this writing, NASCAR hasn’t announced a series sponsor for the Cup series. I’m going to start my winter break after Saturday, but if the announcement comes through, I will discuss the new sponsor and new logos. See you in January.