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.

Dakar Rally Stage 10 video highlights: Cars, Bikes, Trucks, Quads

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After Monday’s Stage 9 was washed out due to weather and impassable course conditions, the 40th Dakar Rally resumed with Stage 10 on Tuesday.

Several top competitors struggled during the course of the stage, with some even being eliminated due to crashes or injuries.

Here’s some of the best video action of the stage, as seen on NBCSN:

BIKES: Matthias Walkner wins Stage 10 of after a major shakeup.

CARS: Carlos Sainz plays it safe in Stage 10

Stephane Peterhansel took the overall stage win while Cars leader Carlos Sainz played it safe and came in third.

TRUCKS: The Netherlands’ Ton van Genugten wins the stage, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, who finished fourth Tuesday, continues to hold the overall lead.

 

QUADS: Nicolas Cavigliasso bests Gonzalez Ferioli in Stage 10, but Ignacio Casale continues to make a push for his second Dakar crown.

Stage 11 is Wednesday and runs from Belen, Argentina to Fiambala, Argentina.