Nationwide purses to be cut again

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- NASCAR will cut the purses for the Nationwide Series by 20 percent next season, a move designed to make hosting the second-tier series a more profitable proposition for race tracks.

It's the second consecutive year the purse will be reduced in Nationwide. NASCAR also cut the purses in the premiere Sprint Cup Series before this season.

"The health and maintenance of the tracks is essential to the health of the entire industry," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told The Associated Press.

"Like in all facets of our business, we have made financial adjustments to ensure the long term strength of the sport."

The Nationwide Series has run a 35-race schedule since 2005, but NASCAR has announced only 34 dates for next year. Gateway International in St. Louis has declined to host either of its two races next year, and Auto Club Speedway in California lost a race when NASCAR cut that track down to a single racing weekend.

It left NASCAR trying to fill the void, which it did by giving Iowa and Chicago two Nationwide races next season.

But, going forward, the sanctioning body needs to ensure that track operators don't lose money hosting the Nationwide Series.

"The purse and the sanctioning fees have gone up a tremendous amount of money over the last 15 years," said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the second largest track operator in NASCAR.

"It's been difficult in this economy to find ways to ease the burden on track operators, who have already reduced ticket prices to help our fans. Cutting the purses is some relief, and a response from NASCAR to us reducing costs for the fans."

The decision comes as NASCAR is making an overall effort to give the second-tier Nationwide Series its own identity. The sanctioning body wants the series to have its own stars and be a breeding ground for future Sprint Cup drivers, but the opportunities are limited because of drivers who race at both levels.

Justin Allgaier is the only driver to win a Nationwide race this year who doesn't also run in the Sprint Cup Series, and the top three drivers in the standings are full-time Cup stars. Martin Truex Jr. in 2005 was the last non-Cup driver to win the series title.

NASCAR is considering not allowing Sprint Cup regulars to race for the drivers championship next season, and wants to do a better job marketing future stars such as Allgaier, Trevor Bayne and Parker Kligerman.

The move could be dangerous because, with tickets as low as $19, some fans can only afford to attend the Nationwide events and look forward to seeing the sport's biggest stars compete in them. In fact, Friday night's Nationwide race at Bristol will be best remembered for the late race fireworks between winner Kyle Busch and series points leader Brad Keselowski -- both full-time Cup drivers.

Eliminating a reason for those drivers to run Nationwide races could deny fans an opportunity to see the same level of racing.

But Smith believes the series is strong enough to weather some adjustments.

"It's a good business still and great racing," Smith said. "No other sport has a successful second level, and the Nationwide Series is a phenomenon when you talk about it in comparison to any other stick-and-ball sport."