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NASCAR Cup drivers: Having us in lower divisions not necessarily a bad thing

Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch won the Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 15.
Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch won the Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 15. Getty Images

Matt Crafton is a top NASCAR Truck Series driver and figures to be happy about a recent rule change that will limit veteran Cup drivers from competing on his turf.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

“I love racing against the Cup guys when they run Truck races,” Crafton, the 2015 Truck champion, said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “I love going and competing against them because the only way we’re going to get better is to have somebody to be able to chase. I’ve always loved it when Kyle (Busch) has raced against us and Kevin (Harvick) and all those guys. I enjoy it a lot.”

Under the new rules – announced earlier this week and effective for the 2017 season – Cup drivers with at least five years of experience will be allowed to race in no more than 10 Xfinity races and seven Truck races.

Cup stars such as Busch, Harvick, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have routinely raced in the lower divisions throughout their careers. Former driver Mark Martin won more Xfinity races (a then-record 49) than Cup races (40) during his NASCAR Hall of Fame career.

Critics of the practice say it takes away attention – as well as victories and prize money – from regulars on those circuits, many of whom are young and struggling to find their way in the sport. Supporters say the Cup drivers help promote the popularity of those lower-tier races. Sponsors also like to see Cup drivers involved in as much competition as possible.

It’s important to have Cup racers out there because growing up as a young race car driver, I learned that you only get better when you’re racing against people that are better than you.

Joey Logano

So, although the practice won’t be completely eliminated in 2017, there will certainly be fewer Cup drivers competing on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, when Truck and Xfinity races usually are run.

“It affects the sport a lot,” said Logano, who has 27 career Xfinity victories and has competed in 13 races on that circuit this season. “I want to race all the time. So if I put my race-car driver hat on, I think, ‘Man, this kind of stinks,’ because I want to drive. But when you take that hat off and look at it from more of a global view, I understand it.”

Having Cup drivers drop in and take lunch money from drivers who are usually younger and less experienced isn’t the only issue.

“It’s important to have Cup racers out there because growing up as a young race car driver, I learned that you only get better when you’re racing against people that are better than you,” said Logano, who raced part-time on the Xfinity circuit for one season before moving up to Cup.

Under the new rules Cup drivers with at least five years of experience will be allowed to race in no more than 10 Xfinity races and seven Truck races.

That’s something young drivers such as Charlotte’s William Byron, who has won six races as a Truck rookie this season, have taken from periodically competing against Cup drivers. Chase Elliott is the only Cup driver scheduled to run in Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 Truck race at Martinsville.

“It’s important to have those guys in the series and I learned a lot from Kyle (Busch) when he raced (at Martinsville) in the spring,” said Byron, 18. “(I’m) seeing the things that he did that sometimes you don’t know to do or you don’t think are possible at the time. The experience level definitely helps those guys, but they’re obviously really talented and it’s important to get out there, learn to do restarts with them and how to capitalize getting to pit road like they do so well. Those things are going to be important.”

The new eligibility rules also prohibit Cup drivers with at least five years of experience from running in the final eight Xfinity and Truck Chase races (the final regular-season race and the seven Chase races), or in Xfinity Dash 4 Chase races. Any driver earning Cup points will not be eligible to run in the Xfinity and Truck Chase-finale races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

85 Career Xfinity victories for Kyle Busch

“Having them out of the Chase next year might help the series regulars get a chance to advance to the next round like we don’t have right now,” Byron said.

The sponsorship issue might get tricky. Busch, whose 166 career NASCAR victories includes 85 in Xfinity races and 46 in Truck events, told USA Today that his Xfinity sponsor has already signed for more than 10 races next season and the deal will have to be renegotiated.

But that also might free up more sponsorship opportunities for Xfinity and Truck regulars.

“Sure, if you get more wins or are way more consistent, it can’t hurt to help that process be a little bit easier,” said Truck driver Timothy Peters. “I always enjoy racing against those guys because it does make you better. I think it’s fair and if we can get there and win – maybe before we’ve won two a year and now we can win four a year – that definitely is going to help our argument and leverage a little more when it comes to trying to find that sponsor.”

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