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NASCAR mailbag: How will the limit on Sprint Cup drivers in Xfinity Series races work?

A forthcoming rule change is a popular topic in this week’s NASCAR mailbag.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Each Wednesday SB Nation's NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question email

Is NASCAR really going to limit how many Xfinity Series races a Sprint Cup driver can run in a given year, or is this just an idea NASCAR is testing to see if there is support for such a rule? I ask because it seems like something team owners would be against. How would such a rule actually work?


Floating trial balloons through the media to gauge the public support of potential big changes is a common NASCAR approach, but a rule limiting Cup drivers from competing in Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races does not fall under this category.

When NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell appeared Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR, he was fairly direct in what he said. You don't use phrases like "stay tuned" and we're going to "probably have something to announce fairly soon" without either having the exact rule finalized or in its final stages.

What's important to note is this will likely not be an outright ban on Cup drivers racing in lesser-division events, sources have told SB Nation on a condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly. The forthcoming rule will either have a hard cap on the number of non-premier series races a full-time Cup driver can compete in over a calendar year, or a revision of the current rule prohibiting a Cup driver from racing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series championship finales, and extend it across all Chase races.

To prohibit Cup drivers from racing in Xfinity or trucks would be a monumental undertaking, one necessitating a complete overhaul of the business side of the sport.

A change of this effect would put the onus on Xfinity teams to renegotiate deals with sponsors, many of which included having a Cup driver in a set number of races in return for the team using a lesser-known driver(s) in other events.

Less money coming into the team dictates either new funding be procured to replace the lost revenue source, or expenses be cut. And in a current economic climate where sponsorship is tough to drum up even for the biggest stars -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart are among those who've had unsold races in recent years -- NASCAR would be placing teams in a further bind.

The most sensible solution is restricting when and how many races a driver can run over the course of the season. It offers a compromise to team owners, as they can still sell the allure to a company of being associated with a big-name driver for a fraction of the cost. And it gives NASCAR the platform to conduct a playoff where Cup drivers aren't adversely impacting the outcome, giving the participants a more level playing field.

I for one like don't mind seeing Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and other Cup drivers in Xfinity races, but I do recognize them winning all the time can get old. So why not make it harder for these guys to race in Xfinity by scheduling more standalone races? This way if Kyle or Joey wanted to race Xfinity, it would make them travel between the two places and make it a grind on them? They'd probably get sick of all the travel, yet they could still race Xfinity whenever the two series are scheduled at the same track.


The idea of more standalone Xfinity races has merit and is one frequently touted. Ideally, the schedule would include a heavy dose of short tracks such as Hickory, Myrtle Beach, and the Nashville Fairgrounds, once series staples. Yet for such venues to return, each requires some improvements related to infrastructure (suites, grandstands) and safety, neither of which is inexpensive.

An increase in standalone races also brings with it higher costs for both NASCAR and its television partners. Additional officials would need to be hired by the sanctioning body, going against its recent trend of downsizing to a more streamlined staff due to Cup and Xfinity races often being paired together. Fox and NBC would also need to spend money on separate camera crews and other production costs.

Although none of these hurdles are insurmountable, they are hurdles nonetheless. And with current standalone races failing to generate sizable attendance and TV ratings, justifying the expenditures is difficult.

Can we call this rule limiting Cup drivers from racing in Xfinity "The Kyle Busch Rule?" It only seems appropriate considering this wouldn't happen if Kyle didn't win nearly every Xfinity race.


Among a large segment of fans, the defending Sprint Cup champion is unquestionably the poster child for many of the perceived ills inflicting NASCAR's No. 2 division. But though Busch habitually wins Xfinity races -- he's 9-for-16 this season -- Cup drivers taking victories away from series regulars has occurred since the tour's inception.

In the 1990s, Mark Martin was just as dominant as Busch, winning seven race races in 14 starts during the 1993 season. The difference is Martin was and remains one of NASCAR's more revered figures, whereas Busch falls on the other side of the popularity spectrum. Let's acknowledge, there would be considerably less outcry were Dale Earnhardt Jr. taking home the Xfinity checkered flag near-weekly rather than Busch.

That said, because it does have a nice ring to it, let's go ahead and mandate that this be called the "Kyle Busch Rule."

If you're Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson why even race at Talladega? They have a win are moving to the next round, so really what's the point?


Lest anyone forget, there is a fairly significant race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. And if it's in the same vein as what's transpired the past two years, it should produce a number of questions for next week's mailbag.

Although the suggestion has merit considering the risks Talladega poses, the winners of the first two races of the second round still have plenty to race for. By winning, Johnson and Harvick can deny another title-eligible driver from advancing -- preferably someone formidable like Denny Hamlin or Brad Keselowski, who stand an excellent chance of qualifying for the championship round if they can pull off a win Sunday.

That mentality served Logano well last year when he narrowly beat Earnhardt, thus keeping NASCAR's most popular personality out of the semifinal round. Neither Johnson nor Harvick want Hamlin heading into the Round 3 opener at Martinsville Speedway, a track where he excels, knowing a victory takes him to the brink of a championship. It's to Johnson and Harvick's benefit to see Hamlin eliminated at Talladega.

There is also the matter that by staying in the race, Johnson and Harvick can aid the transfer efforts of their respective teammates -- Chase Elliott (Johnson) and Kurt Busch (Harvick). Such a scenario unfolded two years ago when Logano, already assured of advancing, acted as a wingman for Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. Logano's actions played a primary role in Keselowski winning a race he absolutely needed to avoid elimination.