Nationwide departure should spur a rethink for NASCAR’s “AAA” series

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NASCAR’s “AAA” series will have a fresh title sponsor for 2015. And wouldn’t it be a perfect time for the series to make a few other changes as a result?

This is purely hypothetical, but thinking ahead, a rebranding effort of what is now the Nationwide Series that focuses primarily on its series regulars and limits the frequency of Sprint Cup Series stars participating would be an excellent, forward-thinking move.

NASCAR has a bevy of stars in its pipeline, in Nationwide, Camping World Trucks and regional series, but Nationwide is the biggest offender when it comes to burying its own stars beneath the Cup drivers.

Case in point: only six of 26 Nationwide races this year have been won by non-Cup regulars. Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger have a pair of wins apiece and Sam Hornish Jr. and Trevor Bayne have solitary triumphs. Meanwhile Kyle Busch, who isn’t eligible to score Nationwide points, scored his series-high 10th win of the year last Saturday at Chicago.

Only Hornish and Smith have a realistic shot at this year’s title of that batch, and they have a combined three wins in 26 races – on a purely statistical level, that’s not exactly championship material.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has won back-to-back Nationwide titles and moved up to Sprint Cup for his rookie season in 2013, which is how it should work in theory. But when you consider the previous five champions from 2010 and back – Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick – are all Cup regulars, you know there’s a problem.

If it’s possible, NASCAR needs to think about expanding its rule where drivers can only score points in one title and put a cap on number of Nationwide races the Cup regulars can run. Perhaps exploring alternative venues where Nationwide can be standout events is another option. Some of the recent Nationwide circuit additions – Montreal, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Iowa to name a few – have produced some of the more exciting races in recent memory, particularly because they haven’t featured many Cup regulars.

Or, here’s another crazy but potentially cool idea, as suggested by Dan Patrick Show producer Paul Pabst (the DP Show airs on NBCSN and Audience Channel 239 on DirecTV): have Nationwide adopt a soccer element where the bottom three full-season drivers in Cup are relegated to Nationwide, and the top three Nationwide drivers promoted.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping Nationwide on the Cup undercard at perhaps one third to one half of Cup weekends. But allowing Nationwide, under its new title sponsor, to forge its own identity away from the Cup regulars, and away from the Cup circuit, could be better for the series’ growth and visibility as a whole.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”