NASCAR 2011: How New Championship Chasing Rules Affect Nationwide's Cup Drivers

Paul CarreauAnalyst IJanuary 17, 2011

NASCAR 2011: How New Championship Chasing Rules Affect Nationwide's Cup Drivers

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    If you thought it would be cool to see a driver win a championship in more than one of NASCAR's top series in the same season, your hopes are going to be dashed. At least for the foreseeable future.

    It has been determined that this season, each driver is going to have to choose just one series in which they can accumulate points towards a drivers championship.

    How the points will be handed out is still yet to be determined, but the revelation of this new rule is sure to affect some of the drivers who pull double duty.

    Will guys like Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards still run full Nationwide schedules knowing that they have no chance to win the championship? And if they do still run the full slate of events, will their results be any different?

    I am going to take a look at some of the drivers who spent the majority of last season running in both series, and tell you how this new rule change will affect their season, in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

Brad Keselowski

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    Brad Keselowski is the reigning Nationwide Series champion, but unfortunately for him, he won't be able to defend his title. That is assuming, of course, that he elects to collect Sprint Cup Series points.

    Looking ahead to the season for Keselowski, I think not being able to run for a championship in the Nationwide Series will actually be a benefit for him. While getting all the seat time that he possibly can, is crucial to his development, I think it will be more beneficial to him just having to focus on one set of championship standings.

    Last season, Keselowski only managed two top 10 finishes in Sprint Cup action, but they both came very late in the season, giving him some momentum coming into 2011. He finished the season ranked 25th in the standings.

    This season, Keselowski switches over to the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge that teammate Kurt Busch has had success in for the last handful of years. I think this season will be a much improved year for Keselowski. While I don't see him scoring career victory No. 2 this year, he should easily improve on his top 10 total and should compete for a top 20 spot in the points.

    The 2010 Nationwide Series season was obviously very good for Keselowski. He posted career bests all across the board. He had six wins, 29 top 10 finishes and an amazing 26 top five efforts.

    While he has committed to run a full Nationwide schedule, I can't imagine him putting up quite the same numbers this year. With no chance at winning the series title, his sole focus will clearly be on the Cup side.

    There is no denying that Keselowski is a competitor and will still want to win races and he will undoubtedly win some, it will certainly be less than the six that he scored in 2010. Don't expect more than three wins from Keselowski in 2011.

Carl Edwards

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    The new rule change will have far less affect on Carl Edwards than maybe anyone else that runs both series. He has been running fulltime schedules in both of the NASCAR's top two series since 2005 and has had a lot of success in both.

    Last season saw Carl Edwards finish in the top four in points in both series. He was fourth in the Sprint Cup standings and runner up in the Nationwide Series.

    Edwards saw a near two year winless draught come to an end in Sprint Cup competition, with his victory in Phoenix. He promptly followed that up by winning the next weekend, in the season finale, at Homestead Speedway.

    While his points finish was the same as 2009, the 2010 season saw Edwards' numbers drop all across the board. But by no means are four wins, 27 top 10 finishes and 19 top fives anything to be ashamed of.

    Like I said, the new championship chasing format will have little to no affect on Edwards. He has been running both series for so long and at such a high level that it shouldn't have any sort of impact on him. He has already won a championship in the Nationwide Series, which was always a goal, so now he can continue his efforts on winning his first Sprint Cup championship.

    As for his runs in 2011, I think Edwards will improve on his win totals in both series from 2010. I expect him to have at least five victories in Nationwide competition and wouldn't be surprised if he pulled off at least four in the Sprint Cup.

Kyle Busch

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    Kyle Busch is in much the same boat as Carl Edwards. While Busch has only run the full Nationwide schedule once in the last four seasons, a championship winning effort in 2009, he is so dominant when he does run that even missing a few races a year he still remains in the championship hunt.

    If anything, I think that not having to worry about points whatsoever in the Nationwide Series only makes Busch more dangerous. Not that I think Busch ever gives a lot of thought to the points, he cares more about wins.

    In 29 starts last season in the Nationwide Series, Busch scored an amazing 13 wins, setting a new single season record in the process. On the Sprint Cup side, Busch scored three wins, which was his lowest single season total since 2007.

    I think Busch will have a season very similar to last year in 2011. In the Nationwide Series, Busch is there for one purpose and that is to win races. Expect him to do a lot of that this year as well.

    Will he amass another 13? Probably not. But there is no reason to think he can't hit double digits again. That is just how dominant Busch is.

    On the Sprint Cup side of things, you would expect that Busch is really due to have a big season. Once the Chase starts is typically when things begin to really go downhill for him. Surprisingly, in six full seasons of Sprint Cup action, Busch has only finished better than eighth in the final standings one time.

    I expect this year to be his best ever points wise. As far as wins go, I will say he scores five. It just seems like it is his time.

Paul Menard

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    Paul Menard opted to run the full Nationwide Series schedule in an effort to win the championship in 2010. It was his first full run since 2006. And while he didn't win the title, he did post his career best points finish; fifth.

    Menard had a career season in the Sprint Cup series as well. Entering 2010, Menard had a total of two top 10 finishes for his career. He scored six last season alone and finished 23rd in the point standings. Also a new career best.

    This year, Menard moves over to Richard Childress Racing to drive a fourth car for that team. While I think Menard is poised for a breakout season, I think not being able to run for a Nationwide championship will actually hurt him a little.

    Menard's drastic improvement in 2010 could be attributed to increased seat time by running in the Nationwide Series. With the loss of the ability to run for a title, there is no guarantee that Menard will run a full season in the second series.

    I think that Menard is still a driver with a lot of potential to live up to and that he could still use as much time behind the wheel as possible.

    Overall, the move to Childress Racing should do wonders for Menard's career. I think he is a year away from earning his first career victory, but I think 2011 will be the best season of his career. I expect him to improve on his top 10 totals from a year ago, as well as posting multiple top fives for the first time.

    But I think the opportunity to run for a championship in another series would have helped progress his talents even faster.

Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick had a resurgent season in 2010. He was the Sprint Cup points leader for the majority of the regular season and finished a career best third in the standings. All this while running the most races in the Nationwide Series that he has run since 2006.

    Harvick, the 2001 and 2006 Nationwide Series champion, is in much the same position as Kyle Busch. Over the last few seasons, Harvick has run the majority of the Nationwide races. But by not running the full schedule, he was never in real contention to win the title.

    Now, he will not be eligible for any championship points in the Nationwide Series and that means the one and only thing that matters, are wins. And when you are a driver like Kevin Harvick, and have really nothing to lose, then he will employ a win by any means necessary mentality. And that makes him a contender every time out.

    In 2010, Harvick competed in 28 events and scored three wins. He recorded a top 10 finish in all but two of the events he entered. Look for more of the same out of Harvick in 2011.

    Harvick's Nationwide Series program has quickly become one of the best teams in the series. Regardless of who is behind the wheel, they are an instant favorite. The addition of Elliott Sadler to the program, a proven winner at the top level, only improves an already dominant team.

    Look for Harvick to pick up right where he left off last season. I would expect him to score at least three more victories in the Nationwide ranks again this year.

    While I don't expect Harvick to have quite as strong a season in the Sprint Cup series that he had a year ago, he will still be competitive. He will win at least once and make the Chase for the second straight year.

Joey Logano

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    Joey Logano is a driver on the rise. He has seen marked improvement from 2010 compared to 2009. I would expect him to improve yet again this coming season.

    While Logano has never even run a full season in the Nationwide Series, he is still a regular on the circuit. Last year, he competed in 25 events, the most for him in any season. In those 25 starts, he scored two wins and an amazing 24 top 10 finishes.

    Logano is still just a 20-year-old who can use all of the seat time he can get. I don't think that the new rules changes will affect Logano too much. As I mentioned, he has never even attempted to run for a championship in that series, so nothing really changes in that sense.

    I do, however feel that it is important for him to continue running in the series as much as he can. Any time he can get continuing to learn all of the tracks and what lines work best for him, the more it will benefit him in the long run.

    Expect a fairly big season for Logano in 2011. He should have no trouble improving on his total of two wins from a season ago and that success could also translate over to the Sprint Cup Series as well.

    In 2010, Logano more than doubled his top 10 and top five totals from the previous year. He saw his top 10s jump from seven to 16 and his top five production went from three to seven. I think he will improve on those numbers again this year.

    Logano turned in some of his best performances of the year in the final stretch of the year. He built up a lot of momentum coming into 2011 and I look for that to translate to at least one win this year and even see him compete for a spot in the Chase. Though, ultimately, I think he will fall just short of securing a spot.

Joe Nemechek

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    One interesting driver in this whole ordeal is going to be Joe Nemechek. Nemechek ran all but two events in the Nationwide Series in 2010. He finished the season ranked 20th in the points standings.

    In the Sprint Cup Series, Nemechek attempted to qualify for all 36 events, making 31 of them. He is primarily a start and park driver, having completed just one race last season, a 27th place finish at Talladega at the end of the year.

    It will be interesting to see which series Nemechek opts to collect driver championship points in. I think it would be much wiser for him to collect points in the Nationwide Series.

    At the Sprint Cup level, we all know that Nemechek is financially not in any position to compete with any of the top teams, so he might as well focus on collecting points in the series in which he is able to run full events.

    This isn't to say that I think he should give up in the Sprint Cup. He can still attempt to qualify for all Sprint Cup events, and he can still collect owner's points for his No. 87 team, but there is no real point in him running for a driver's championship at that level if he is going to be nothing more than a start and park driver.

    With the new rules, and Cup regulars not having points counted in the Nationwide Series, if Nemechek devotes his drivers' points to the Nationwide Series, he could easily find a way to score a top 10 points finish in 2011. And a top 10 points finish in any series would do wonders for Nemechek right now.