According to NASCAR’s own literature the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series are the two most popular forms of motorsports in the USA and in that exact order. NASCAR also suggests that 75% of its fans are fans of the Nationwide series. However, despite the fact that these two race series are generally staged at the same tracks and even for the most part during the same weekend, with the Nationwide event being a day earlier than the Sprint Cup, there are distinct differences between them.
The Sprint Cup series can be regarded as the prestige NASCAR event. It is staged over thirty six events during the course of the season. Essentially there are two different parts to the Sprint Cup series in terms of points. Although all the teams take part in all races after race twenty six there begins what is known as the “chase of the cup.” At this time the points for the top ten drivers on the leader boar, together with those within 400 points of the leader, are reset at a higher level, from 5050 for the leader to 5005 for the tenth place driver. This group of drivers then race over the final ten events of the season in a challenge to lift the Cup and gain the financial rewards that attract to the driver and the team.
Conversely, the Nationwide Series is a more straightforward series of 35 point scoring races. With this event the drivers and teams will be focused upon accumulating as many points as possible in an effort to win the series and cup. In other words there is equal opportunity throughout the thirty five point scoring events.
There is also a difference between the cars operating within the two race series. In this respect the nationwide car is not as long (105” to 110”), nor does it have as powerful an engine as its Sprint Cup counterpart. Although they both use V8 engines the compression ratio of the Nationwide car is lower than the Sprint car. The Nationwide car is also lighter by around 100 pounds and has a spoiler and front splitter instead of a wing and spoiler. In most other respects the cars are relatively similar.
Rather like the relationship that exists between the Formula 3000 series and Formula 1, the Nationwide series is seen as a proving ground for the younger and less experienced race driver. In other words it is within this less prestigious series that the driver will learn his craft and prepare him or herself for the step up to the Sprint cup. In this respect therefore, it also serves as a showcase for their improving talents and they remain hopeful that this will help them to attract the attention of Sprint Cup team owners. Having said that it is not unusual to find the top flight drivers, for example Dale Earnhardt junior, also competing in the Nationwide series, which provides them with the ability to familiarise themselves with the track. Although some are critical of this cross-over of talent into Nationwide, many of the less experienced drivers in this series feel it is helpful to their development to race against these more proficient drivers.
Finally, and perhaps to those involved the most important difference between the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide series is the money. Although the calculation of the winning purses in both series are complicated by a number of factors, including the drivers previous and current year position, their sponsors and other issues, generally the Nationwide series winnings will be significantly less. Similarly, Nationwide teams are likely to attract lower levels of sponsorship funding.
It is clear then that, from a financial aspect, the Sprint Cup series is the place to be. However, it is evident from the fan base observations that both of these NASCAR events provide an exhilarating and exiting racing experience.