NASCAR announced Tuesday a set of new participation guidelines for the 2018 season, designed to further highlight its abundance of young talent while limiting the number of lower-division races Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers may enter in a given season.
Beginning next season, drivers with more than five years of experience in the Monster Energy Series will be limited to seven races in the XFINITY Series, down from the 10-race maximum established for this season. Drivers at the same experience level will be restricted to five races per season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, a reduction from the current seven-race cap.
The rules also make the regular-season finale and playoff events for the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series in 2018 off limits for any driver earning championship points in the Monster Energy Series, regardless of experience. That marks a change from this year’s guidelines, which stipulate that Cup drivers with five-plus years’ experience are barred from the season-ending eight-race stretch, save for the championship races, which will be exclusive to those series’ participants.
The effect of this year’s participation restrictions won’t be fully measured until the playoffs near for the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series in September, but Jim Cassidy — NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations — said competition officials were eager to set forth guidelines based on compelling fan and stakeholder input.
The two lower national series adopted an elimination-style playoff format in 2016. The guidelines for 2018 are intended to provide an ever-brighter spotlight on those series’ drivers during the postseason.
“Any time we implement a change, we’re going to monitor it closely and make sure we’re measuring the level of success or making sure that if there’s an opportunity to make it even better, then we will,” Cassidy told NASCAR.com. “In this case, we really like what we’ve seen and in talking with all the other stakeholders that we would normally talk to, this has been a very popular subject over a long period of time.
“We’re certainly excited to see what happens during the playoffs, but based upon the feedback that we’ve had, we were fortunate enough not to have to wait till the playoffs to come up with this next round of limitations. It’s good, it’s working in all respects, and this next layer just provides additional opportunity to focus on those drivers coming up through.”
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Additionally, the XFINITY Series’ Dash 4 Cash program, an incentive-based four-race stretch with bonus money offered to eligible series regulars, also will be off limits to any Monster Energy Series driver.
“It’s important for XFINITY from an entitlement standpoint,” Cassidy said. “They are all over the idea of building our future stars.”
Murmurs about the new rules had been points of discussion in recent weeks. XFINITY Series Managing Director Wayne Auton hinted at the change in a July 21 press conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, saying that competition officials had held ongoing discussions with teams about further participation limits. And NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last week that those talks were “pretty far down the line.”
“We’re looking at a further limitation for sure,” O’Donnell added. “We’re trying to land on the right number. A couple more conversations need to take place in the garage area and with sponsors.”
LISTEN: O’Donnell’s full clip
Cassidy echoed those sentiments late last week, saying that arriving at an appropriate number was the product of long-running discussions. He also indicated next year’s changes were not to be necessarily interpreted as a progression toward zero extracurricular participation by premier-series drivers in other national series events.
“I think year after year, it’s just trying to strike the right balance in getting to that place, listening to our fans first and foremost, and then for all the other participants, making sure it continues to make sense,” Cassidy said. “Right now, we like the balance of focusing even more on those up-and-coming stars during that critical part of the season, but at the same time, it’s fun at certain instances to see what they’ve got going up against the best of the best.”
The best of the best in recent history has meant Kyle Busch, who leads the XFINITY Series with 89 wins in his career. Cassidy reaffirmed that the stricter participation guidelines were not intended to single out any driver or organization.
“That is correct. We would, as a sanctioning body, not govern that way for any one situation or circumstance,” Cassidy said. “When we look at things like this, it’s for the sport as a whole and what we’re hearing very clearly from our fan base.”
Several young drivers have made their recent rise to NASCAR’s top level through the XFINITY and Truck series, using them as a proving ground during their climb through stock-car racing’s various levels. Cassidy said the new rules provide an even sharper focus and opportunity for those series’ regular drivers, many of which represent the future of the sport.
“You’d like to think that we are opening the doors for the best talent out there,” Cassidy said. “We’ve got the best drivers in world in NASCAR, and we’re fortunate enough to have a developmental system and a portfolio of great talent that provides a ladder to the very top. Absolutely, you’re trying to find ways to create that opportunity for those drivers and have that path be clear for the best coming up through the ranks.”
Competition officials took the first step toward reducing double-duty participation before the 2011 season, when NASCAR required drivers to select one of the three series in which to collect championship points. The change ended a five-year run of premier-series regulars winning the XFINITY championship by moonlighting full time.