NASCAR announces 2020 driver participation guidelines, procedural changes

Photo Credit: Noel Lanier/OnPitRoad.com

NASCAR competition officials announced procedural changes Wednesday for the 2020 season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, unveiling the driver participation guidelines for the sport’s national series, reducing the size of the Xfinity Series field from 38 to 36 and setting the schedule for the Dash 4 Cash and Triple Truck Challenge bonus programs.

Driver participation rules for Xfinity and Gander Trucks races feature only slight changes from the previous season. Under NASCAR’s current rules, drivers with more than five years of experience who earn points in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series were limited to driving in seven Xfinity Series events and five races in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Under the 2020 guidelines, drivers with more than three years of premier series experience will be limited in their lower-series participation. The amount of Xfinity Series races allowed for those veterans will trim from seven to five. The allowable participation for the Gander Trucks will remain at five races.

As in years past, points-earning Monster Energy Series regulars above the three-year experience threshold also will be barred from participating in the regular-season finale and playoffs for the other two national circuits. Events in the Xfinity Series’ Dash 4 Cash and the Gander Trucks’ Triple Truck Challenge will also be off limits.

Wednesday’s announcement continues a trend of reducing the impact of Monster Energy Series drivers in the Xfinity Series and Gander Trucks in an effort to better showcase those series’ competitors.

“We’ve made small tweaks since then, and this is third tweak, but the goal is to find a happy medium or that sweet spot where it works for all of our stakeholders,” said Meghan Miley, NASCAR senior director of racing operations. “We hear from the fans that we need to get Cup drivers out of Xfinity and Trucks, and they want to just see the regulars, but we hear from the younger drivers that, ‘Hey, we want to race against these guys because they make us better.’

“We also work with all the teams within the garage to make sure it’s working with the way they run their businesses, so we really loop in all of our stakeholders to get all of their feedback.”

While there’s a temptation to label the revised guidelines as a “Kyle Busch Rule” that cracks down on the Monster Energy Series star’s success in lower divisions, Miley says that the limits are not intended to single out one driver.

“That’s always something people bring up,” Miley said, “and while what Kyle is doing is no less impressive and he’s an extremely important owner in our Truck Series, we take into account what’s been the trend here for all of our teams in the garage, all of our stakeholders and really what is best for everybody, not just one person.”

In other procedural changes announced Wednesday:

Xfinity Series field size set at 36 cars: Competition officials will reduce the field from 38 to 36 for the 2020 season. The decrease comes on the heels of a move from 40 to 38 cars this year.

As with this season, the purse money that would be marked for the 37th and 38th finishers will be redistributed through the field.

“This year, we looked at what we did going into the 2019 season, seeing how it worked and then decided that we could probably go a little further,” Miley said, “the goal being that we take the prize money for those positions and put it back into the teams. All of it goes back into the teams, and you’re really taking care of the teams that are reinvesting in the sport and racing full time.

“It’s wanting to have the most competitive teams racing in those series to make them the best series they can be, and I think this is a good opportunity to strengthen the field and support those teams that are reinvesting back in the sport.”

The field for each race will be set with 31 starting positions based on qualifying speed, four provisional berths set according to the rule book, plus one provisional spot reserved for past series champions.

Dash 4 Cash schedule set for 2020: Competition officials announced that Texas Motor Speedway will join the four-race slate for the Xfinity Series’ Dash 4 Cash incentive program. Bristol, Talladega and Dover return to the schedule, and Homestead-Miami Speedway enters the format as the qualifying event to establish eligibility for the first bonus payday.

The Dash 4 Cash series will be back for its 12th season as part of the Xfinity Series schedule.

“Time flies,” Miley said. “I would say that this program, backed by Comcast, has really grown over the years. The teams have gotten so into it.”

Unlike “The Trip,” the eligibility and general requirements for the Dash 4 Cash are not changing. It’s a testament to having a fine-tuned program that consistently serves fans and tracks alike.

“In the format of Dash 4 Cash, you qualify the week before so those drivers that have qualified are usually in market and working really closely with the tracks, who do a really good job of promoting these events as well,” Miley said. “Then again with the fans, you go on social media after and the fans talk about how much they love seeing these series regulars battle it out and then go for that bonus. So there’s just excitement generated throughout the industry for it.”

Triple Truck Challenge back for second year: Officials also announced the return of the Triple Truck Challenge, which debuted earlier this season as a bonus program for Gander Trucks regulars. The 2020 version takes on a new look, moving to earlier in the season with three new tracks. The program will also shift to race weekends as companion events to other national series; all three races in “The Trip” were stand-alone events this year.

Gander Trucks drivers will compete for extra cash at Richmond, Dover and Charlotte.

Eligibility for ‘The Trip’ tweaked: Officials removed the entry deadline requirement for both drivers and teams aiming to compete for the Triple Truck Challenge. The detail figured into this season’s three-race series, keeping veteran Greg Biffle from vying for more bonuses after he won the first leg of the program. The same technicality would have kept other post-entry drivers out of the Triple Truck Challenge running.

“I think with everything, once you get through the first year or even the second or third year, you take a look at it and see what always needs tweaked or maybe updated,” Miley said, “and we found with the format of the Triple Truck Challenge, it really didn’t make sense to have those entry deadline rules in there. If anything, it could potentially take away from the momentum of what the program’s all about. So we felt that with this format and for these events, it probably made sense to remove those and so we’re going to do that for 2020.”

The entry deadline requirement for eligibility will remain in the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program.