Monday, March 12, 2018

Opinion: Kevin Harvick Racing in the K&N Pro Series West is Better Than Kyle Busch Racing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series

Tired of seeing this? You're not alone.
(Photo: Sporting News)
Over the past few seasons, NASCAR has begun imposing limitations on its full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers racing in the lower national series. This process began in 2011, when it was announced drivers would be forced to choose one of the three series in which to score points. This meant drivers such as Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski could no longer run for a then-Nationwide Series championship by competing full-time in both Cup and Nationwide. While the move helped highlight young talent in the lower series, "Buschwacking" (a term coined when Anheuser-Busch sponsored the now-Xfinity Series) remained prevalent, resulting in 2013 Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon winning the series title without winning a single race.

More recently, in 2016, NASCAR prohibited the sixteen Chase drivers from racing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series' championship races in Homestead-Miami (along with bringing the Chase/Playoff format to both series) in an effort to highlight the season champion even more.

Last season (2017), NASCAR limited Cup drivers with more than five years of Cup experience to only ten Xfinity races and seven Truck races in a season, and prohibiting them from racing in Playoff races entirely. (This was only for drivers earning Cup Series points; Elliott Sadler and Johnny Sauter were allowed to continue racing for Xfinity and Truck points respectively.) This year, those limits have grown again, with Cup drivers limited to seven and five races in Xfinity and Trucks.

NASCAR has, however, refrained from imposing these limits on its regional level, leaving its Cup regulars free to race (and even score points) in the K&N East, West, and Whelen Modified Series, among others. While Cup drivers racing in these series is far less common, it does occasionally happen. Busch has a win in his only East Series start, which came in 2009. Ryan Newman participates in the Modified Series, NASCAR's only open-wheel division, when they come to Loudon and Bristol.

And last season, Kevin Harvick participated in, and won, the K&N West race at Sonoma, with series regular Will Rodgers finishing second.

You could see a similar image this week.
Diehard fans of the sport complained, as they always do. But they also likely remember and know Rodgers' name for this very reason. Had Harvick, the 1998 West Series champion, not raced in K&N that day, would they? Harvick doesn't think so.

I'm inclined to agree.

I'll also admit that I am one of many fans who cannot wait for Kyle Busch to win his 100th Xfinity Series race so that he'll be gone from the series entirely. Now don't get me wrong: I don't blame drivers such as Busch for racing in the lower series. They have that right, so more power to them. I also understand the argument that Cup drivers and Cup teams are more attractive to sponsors.

But all three of NASCAR's National Series are on live national television every week. It's not like the Xfinity and Truck drivers don't get enough exposure.

The same can't be said for the K&N drivers. More people probably know the names Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, and Austin Cindric than they do Derek Kraus, Jesse Iwuji, and Hailie Deegan.

This week, Harvick will return to the K&N Pro Series West, running at Kern County Raceway Park on Thursday night in his hometown of Bakersfield, California. And while every driver wants to win, Harvick explains that that is not his main goal. His desire is to bring awareness, exposure, and publicity to the series in which he won a championship two decades ago.

That's exactly what Harvick will do in a few days. More fans will be interested in this race now that he's in it. And with that, more talented young drivers will get much-deserved attention, just as the Xfinity drivers get even when Busch is absent from the Xfinity races. If Cup drivers want to do some extra-curricular racing, I'd rather them take their talents to the regional level. Doing this highlights the lesser-known series and their drivers, while the opposite is true in the national series.

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