One of the biggest stories to begin the 2011 NASCAR season was the new-and-improved points system. The system itself got a makeover, making it easier for people to understand and follow. Along with the change to the scoring system came the ruling that now drivers could choose just one series in which to collect points.
The days of a driver competing to win multiple championships in the same season are over, at least for the time being. Drivers can still compete in each of the different series, but they can only score points for one. This was good news for any of the full-time Nationwide Series competitors, as now they were competing against just one another for the championship.
The last time the Nationwide Series championship was won by a driver that was not a full-time Sprint Cup driver was in 2005, when Martin Truex Jr. won his second consecutive championship in his final year running full-time in the second series.
Since then Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have each won the championship, all while running the entire Sprint Cup schedule as well.
So now the Nationwide Series championship is up for grabs among just those drivers who don't also make a living in the top series. But the question now becomes, will winning the championship really mean anything?
While getting the trophy and the bonus money at the end of the season will sure be nice perks for whichever driver wins the championship, can they really claim to be the best that the series had to offer?
When you look up and down the current point standings for the Nationwide Series, the answer would have to be a resounding 'no.'
As the series heads into Nashville this weekend for their eighth race of the season, long-time series runner Jason Leffler currently leads the way. He currently leads second-place driver Justin Allgaier by two points, but his early-season statistics are certainly not championship worthy.
Through seven races, Leffler has scored just three top 10's, with a best finish of sixth at the season's first event in Daytona. To further prove that this new system isn't crowning the best driver as its champion, Leffler has failed to lead a single lap thus far this year. For that matter, Allgaier has yet to lead a lap as well.
If we expand further on the current statistics, we find that all seven of the Nationwide Series races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars. Kyle Busch has won four times, while Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin have each scored one victory.
There have been 1,294 laps run in the Nationwide Series so far this year. Of those laps, only 130 have been led by drivers currently eligible for the series championship. Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne are the only two eligible drivers who have led double-digit laps so far.
It's no secret that in the Nationwide Series, the Cup regulars are still the ones that have the premier equipment. Sponsors want to see their cars run up front, and right now, the best way to get them to the front is to have the cars piloted by Cup regulars.
There is no doubt that the Nationwide Series features a lot of talented drivers that are running for the championship. They are just being asked to do more, with unfortunately a little less than their Cup Series counterparts.
Regardless, the fight for the championship promises to be a good one. When it comes down to it, expect to see many drivers fighting for the top prize. Leffler, Allgaier and Sadler all figure to be factors.
Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson are also sure to be right there as the smoke begins to settle.
So while there are plenty of quality drivers fighting for the Nationwide Series championship, the problem is that if the new rules hadn't been put into place, most of these guys would actually be fighting it out for about sixth place in the standings, and not the biggest prize in the series.