How to solve the problem of Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series

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As it typically does every season, the debate about whether or not Sprint Cup drivers should race in the Nationwide Series has once again heated up in recent weeks.

While racing against NASCAR’s best is definitely beneficial for up-and-coming NNS drivers seeking to learn and improve upon their natural talent, there’s no question that Sprint Cup drivers have a field day when they race in NASCAR’s junior league.

Consider these stats: In the first five Nationwide races this season, four have been won by Sprint Cup drivers, the lone race won by a full-time NNS driver was Regan Smith’s win in the season-opener at Daytona last month.

That quartet of NNS wins by Cup drivers includes Saturday’s winner at Fontana, Kyle Larson, who even though he earned his first NNS triumph, is still a full-time Cup driver this season.

Let’s extrapolate things even more.

Of last season’s 33 Nationwide races, just five were won by true full-time NNS drivers, and two others were won by essentially an NNS ringer (now full-time Cup driver), AJ Allmendinger.

Sam Hornish Jr. won early last season at Las Vegas, Smith won last spring at Talladega and Michigan, Trevor Bayne won last spring at Iowa, and Ryan Blaney won late last summer at Kentucky.

And for the record, Allmendinger won both his races on road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio, the only two NNS events he competed in all season.

Take away Allmendinger’s two wins, and that means full-time Nationwide drivers won just 15 percent of the 33 races on the 2013 schedule.

That’s not even one-fifth of the schedule.

NASCAR is in a Catch-22 situation because track owners and race promoters need Sprint Cup drivers to run in Nationwide races to put more fans in the stands.

Many fans will come on Saturday’s to see their favorite Cup driver race in the NNS because it usually takes less of a bite price-wise from their wallet than a Sunday Cup ticket.

There have been countless ideas floated over the years on how to minimize the number of Cup drivers in.

Some are better than others, but no one has ever hit upon the best solution for a compromise to a very vexing problem.

I’ve been giving this problem a great deal of thought over the last couple of weeks and think I may have hit upon a possibility that may just fly.

It’s actually a pretty simple idea, combining fans’ desire to still want – and get – to see their Cup favorites, while also enhancing NNS drivers’ chances of wins and getting more deserved notoriety for themselves and the series.

Here’s my suggestion:

First, there are 23 tracks that host NNS races. Ten of those tracks host two races each season, most in conjunction with a Sprint Cup race weekend.

This part is easy: allow Cup drivers to only drive in the first race at a particular track that hosts two per year, and not in the second race later in the season. Even better, cut off Cup drivers from competing in NNS races after the midpoint of the Nationwide’s 33-race season, effectively capping Cup drivers to participate in a maximum of 17 NNS events each year.

Sure, fans want to see their favorite Cup drivers compete in NNS races. But if fans know they’ll only be able to see “their driver” only once per year at a race in the first half of the season, it shouldn’t be overly hard for those same fans to adjust their schedules and still satisfy their need for speed.

Which dovetails nicely into the next part of my plan to fix the Cup/NNS dilemma.

Create an eight-race format (the last eight races of the season) for the NNS that mirrors the Chase for the Sprint Cup, with only Nationwide drivers eligible to compete in those events.

At the same time, allow the top 15 or even 20 NNS drivers after the second Richmond race (which is also the cut off to determine the Cup series’ Chase) to contend for the championship after resetting the points prior to the start of the NNS “Chase.”

The first race of a hypothetical eight-race Nationwide Chase could be on the same weekend as the start of Sprint Cup’s Chase at Chicagoland Speedway (there are only eight races remaining on the NNS schedule by the time the series returns to Chicagoland for the second time in the season).

Both series would be able to dovetail off each other, bringing even greater overall attention to all of NASCAR.

Admittedly, five of the 10 tracks that hold Cup Chase races also host two NNS races per season – Chicagoland, Dover, Charlotte, Texas, Phoenix.

But my proposal would give more meaning – and increased attention – to NNS drivers to truly win their own series’ championship while not having to share attention – and more importantly, wins – with Sprint Cup interlopers.

And it’s a heck of a lot better than the potential alternative – not being able to see their favorite Cup driver in ANY Nationwide race, if NASCAR were to ban such.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Castroneves OK after heavy crash in Pocono qualifying (VIDEO)

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Helio Castroneves lost the back end of his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet rolling into Turn 1 during qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), in a big accident that will hurt his weekend hopes and force the Team Penske crew to make significant repairs.

Castroneves looped around and hit the Turn 1 wall with his nose and left side of the car, with the car then tilting up on its side before coming back down to the ground.

The Brazilian got out of the car under his own power without assistance from the Holmatro Safety Team before heading to the infield medical center. He has been checked, cleared and released.

Castroneves told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis: “Good news the hair is still good. Unfortunate for the car. We didn’t have a chance to do qualifying (in practice). I was a bit slow, so the car pushed a bit, it might have been a bit too aggressive. It caught me in Turn 1, and came around, unfortunately spun out on me. Hopefully it’s not a snowball. Now that practice is tonight before the race.”

Castroneves enters Sunday’s race second in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, seven points behind teammate and points leader Josef Newgarden (423-416).

Porsche: Formula E more than a marketing tool, ‘no passing fad’

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Porsche executive board member Michael Steiner is confident that Formula E will be more than just a “passing fad” or a tool for good marketing as the German marque begins to prepare for its entry to the series in 2019.

Porsche rocked the racing world last month by announcing it would be closing its LMP1 program at the end of this year, shifting its focus to Formula E where it will race from season six onwards.

The move sees Porsche follow in the footsteps of many more manufacturers, with Audi, Jaguar, Mercedes, Renault and BMW among those who will also be racing in season six.

Porsche had previously dismissed Formula E as not being of enough technical interest in its current state, but Steiner is confident of its future direction.

“The series is developing in an interesting direction,” Steiner said. Think, for example, of the rear axle with the electric motor, which manufacturers are able to design themselves within the regulations.

“Or take the inverter and the battery management, where there will also be more freedom. In the relatively short term, it is expected that a better battery will be used in Formula E, which will eliminate vehicle changes during the race.

“There are also planned increases in drive performance. And brake-by-wire is coming, along with other things. We have seen the roadmap on the technical side. The regulations will start to open up and the planned developments are very interesting.”

Steiner said Porsche is expecting Formula E to become a strong technical formula, adding: “We would not make such a wide-ranging strategic change for an event that only had marketing potential.

“If Formula E were just a short-term trend or a passing fad, we would certainly not become involved.”

Leah Pritchett has quickest run in NHRA history at 3.640 seconds

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BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) Leah Pritchett had the quickest run in NHRA history with 3.640-second pass at 330.63 mph Friday night at Brainerd International Speedway in Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals qualifying.

She broke her own Top Fuel record of 3.658 set in Arizona in February.

“We’ve looked forward to this night session for a long time,” Pritchett said. “Knowing that Brainerd, this track, this surface, the conditions and what NHRA is able to do to it, lays down the ground work for us to pull out the most power possible. That’s what this team did. They have been working tirelessly at finding small amounts of power here, there and everywhere and to be able to put it on the track tonight was incredible.”

Robert Hight broke the Funny Car time record with a 3.793 at 338.00 in a Chevrolet Camaro SS, the first run in the 3.7s in Funny Car history. He set the speed record of 339.87 last month at Sonoma Raceway.

“I could tell it was running fast and I saw the 3.79 on the scoreboard,” Hight said. “It’s just something you dream about. There are so many things that have to happen and work together for it all to come together. It’s not that easy. This is a big milestone. To be part of a milestone as a driver, this was big for me.”

Tanner Gray topped the Pro Stock field, and Hector Arana Jr. was the fastest in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Gray had a 6.607 at 208.617 in a Chevrolet Camaro, and Arana had a 6.879 at 194.24 on a Buell.

Back racing after F1 test, Norris dominates Zandvoort F3 opener

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McLaren younster Lando Norris made an emphatic return to racing action after the summer break by dominating the opening race of the FIA European Formula 3 weekend at Zandvoort, taking his sixth win of the season.

Norris, 17, moved up to F3 for 2017 after winning two Formula Renault titles last year, as well as linking up with McLaren’s junior program.

The Briton impressed during his maiden Formula 1 test in Hungary at the end of last month, and carried the momentum through to Zandvoort by taking pole position for Carlin for the first race of the weekend.

Norris retained his lead at the start and only came under pressure following a safety car period, with Swedish youngster Joel Eriksson running close for the lead.

Norris was able to create a gap and pull away, completing a wire-to-wire win with almost nine seconds in hand over the pack for his sixth win of the season.

The result sees Norris move to within eight points of championship leader Maximillian Günther, the German finishing third on Saturday at Zandvoort.