Craig Murto: Time for a change

CRAIG MURTO

It’s bad enough that Kyle Busch frequently steals wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

But when a Cup driver such as Kyle Larson takes out a driver competing for the Xfinity Series championship, it’s time for a change.

Late in the 300-mile Xfinity Series race at Kansas last weekend, the always aggressive Larson drove into the back of Xfinity Chase contender Erik Jones on a restart. Jones’ car then slammed into the side of Ty Dillon’s car, leaving Jones with damage that dropped him from contention in the race and may have hurt his title hopes.

It seems fans were not the only ones upset after the Kansas Xfinity Series race. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, indicated on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that fans should expect an announcement soon regarding limiting the participation of Cup drivers in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

NASCAR does not allow any Cup driver who was in last year’s Cup Chase from competing in this year’s season finale for the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s possible NASCAR may extend that prohibition to include all the Xfinity and Camping World Chase races next season.

Ideally NASCAR will prevent any Cup regular, regardless of standing in points, from competing in any of the Chase races in the lower divisions. And it’s probably time to drastically limit the number of races in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series in which any single Cup driver can compete.

Kyle Busch won his 85th Xfinity Series victory at Kansas, extending his record. He has nearly twice as many wins as Mark Martin. The top five winners in the Xfinity Series are all drivers who were primarily Cup drivers when they won those races.

In 2014, 22 of 33 Xfinity Series races were won by Cup regulars. Last year that number rose to 23. So far in 2016, Cup regulars have won 19 of the 30 Xfinity Series races run.

Kyle Busch fans may be happy, but the empty grandstands at Xfinity Series races tell a different story. There always appears to be a better crowd when the series run stand-alone events.

The Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series are places young drivers can learn the skills they need to one day become Cup drivers. They are also series for drivers such as Johnny Sauter or Brendan Gaughan, who competed in Cup, to land. Some racers such as Matt Crafton and David Starr make their careers in these lower divisions.

Those drivers’ stars can’t shine if Cup regulars in equipment provided by Cup teams continually dominate their races. It’s time for a change, before these series have no fans left to upset.

Mike Looney was featured in July as winner of the upset of the week when he beat Lee Pulliam in a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series feature at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford. Well, now give Looney and the entire Billy Martin-owned Late Model team the upset of the year, as they took home the big paycheck and grandfather clock after winning the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 Late Model feature at Martinsville Speedway.

The low-budget “open-trailer gang” surprised everybody by qualifying on the pole. Then they ran out front for most of the feature, and in the end held off a hard-charging Lee Pulliam to grab the win.

Fans at Hagerstown Speedway were winners last weekend, as the weather cooperated for the Third Annual Ernie D’s Fall Bash. Keith Jackson won the 40-lap Late Model feature, Kyle Lee grabbed the Late Model Sportsman win and Tyler Bare took home the Crate Late Model trophy.

If you enjoy dirt racing, there’s still time to make plans to attend the World of Outlaw World Finals at Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 27-29. Sprint Cars, Late Models and Big Block Modifieds wrap their seasons on the dirt track at Charlotte. Tickets are available by calling 800-455-3267, or visiting www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/tickets.

A lot of attention is being paid to the fact that numerous “Pennsylvania Posse” Sprint Car drivers, who race not too far from here at tracks such as Williams Grove and Lincoln, will head to Charlotte to take on the World of Outlaws (WoO) regulars. You can also expect to see some familiar dirt Late Model names take on the WoO Late Model tour regulars as well. And for the DIRT Modified drivers, this may be their biggest race of the year since the closing of the Syracuse Mile.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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