Top NASCAR drivers are great at waltzing into lower levels of the sport and beating everyone so badly they’re almost in another zip code. NASCAR made rules to cut down on that last year so the series could actually be competitive, and the sanctioning body announced Tuesday that it’s cutting down even more.
Cup Series drivers trickling into the lower levels to run races is kind of like LeBron James showing up at your local D-League basketball game and scoring more points by himself than the other team did combined. So, NASCAR made some new rules to combat that at the end of 2016.
The rules, which began this season, mandated that Cup Series drivers with more than five years of experience in that top level were only allowed 10 races in the lower-level Xfinity Series and seven in the third-tier Camping World Truck Series each season. For 2018, NASCAR announced that the new rules will cut it down to seven Xfinity races and five Truck Series races for that same group.
It doesn’t stop at just capping the races, either. Just like there are this year, there will also be rules on which races experienced Cup Series drivers can enter in the first place:
The rules also make the regular-season finale and playoff events for the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series in 2018 off limits for any driver earning championship points in the Monster Energy Series, regardless of experience. That marks a change from this year’s guidelines, which stipulate that Cup drivers with five-plus years’ experience are barred from the season-ending eight-race stretch, save for the championship races, which will be exclusive to those series’ participants.
Additionally, the XFINITY Series’ Dash 4 Cash program, an incentive-based four-race stretch with bonus money offered to eligible series regulars, also will be off limits to any Monster Energy Series driver.
The announcement phrased the move as to “highlight its abundance of young talent” while also “limiting the number of lower-division races Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers may enter,” which basically means they’re trying to put the “race” part back into “racing” in the Xfinity Series.
And that’s a good thing. Before the new rules in 2017, the Xfinity Series got hard to watch because of Cup Series driver domination. It makes total sense for those drivers to run the lower-level races if they’re allowed, given that it pays purse money to finish well and they’ll do that, but it makes watching the race so terribly boring.
It also benefits race teams to have the more experienced drivers in lower-level cars, since teams compete for both driver and team championships. The owner championship goes to a race car rather than a driver, and any points scored by drivers in that car count toward the title that no one but the owners cares about.
For the past five years, without any type of race caps on Cup Series drivers, the Xfinity Series owner championship has gone to one of two teams—Team Penske or Joe Gibbs Racing—that put top drivers into their lower-level programs.
In only one of those five years, 2016, did a full-time Xfinity driver’s car win the owner’s championship. All of the others went to the Gibbs No. 18 or the Penske No. 22, which were cars shared by multiple drivers or driven nearly full time by Cup Series regulars during the Xfinity season.
As you can tell, it was getting pretty easy to predict who would win the second-tier Xfinity races every weekend—far more predictable than Lewis Hamilton on the 2016 F1 grid, and that’s saying something. It was hard to enjoy as a viewer, no matter how much those drivers and teams enjoyed their victory cash.
It was a good move by NASCAR to limit these drivers in the first place, and it’s even better that they’ve cut the strings again. It’s fun to see and compare how up-and-coming drivers can do against Cup Series competitors every once in a while, but watching them get pounced on every weekend is a bore.
These are the kinds of NASCAR rule changes we can all get behind.