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Mark Martin: New Xfinity/Truck eligibility rules ‘double-edged sword’

Elliott Sadler reacts to the limit of Cup drivers in Xfinity races. He isn't swayed one way or the other, but says the problem lies in being able to get the Xfinity brand out there despite the Cup drivers' participation.

The new restriction on Sprint Cup veterans competing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series could be called “The Kyle Busch Rule.”

The rule limits current Cup drivers with five full-time seasons of experience to 10 races annually in Xfinity and seven in the Truck series. It also bans them from competing in the final eight races of the year, which includes the Chase and the regular-season finale.

If NASCAR had introduced similar guidelines just more than 10 years ago, they might have been labeled “The Mark Martin Rule.”

Before Busch came along and won a series-record 85 races in 12 seasons, it was Martin who claimed the mark with 49 wins from 1987-2011.

Martin’s true dominance came in the 1990s when the former Roush Fenway Racing was splitting time between what was then the Winston Cup and Busch Series.

From 1993-2000, Martin won 38 times, winning fewer than three races in a year just once in that stretch. The most came in 1993 with seven wins.

Martin was asked by Dave Moody on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio how he viewed the rule’s announcement. Martin said people need to remember that “times change” in life and sports.

“For many, any kind of change they don’t like,” Martin said. “I don’t like change a lot. But we need to make changes as times go on, and circumstances are different. I think it’s OK.

‘In some ways it’s a double-edged sword. There’s gains and there’s losses in making changes and getting Cup guys out of that series. I want to make sure that we keep our series interesting to our fans and interesting to our sponsors so the Xfinity Series doesn’t dry up. We need to keep that thing alive and thriving for all the young guys that need to get that chance to have that experience. We need them to be able to measure themselves against Cup guys. I think it’s OK on one hand. On the other, there’s still going to be an awful lot of Cup guys in the series.”

While drivers such as Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and others still will compete in the Xfinity Series, it will be more in line with the number of starts Martin was making at the peak of his Xfinity success.

After one full-time season in 1987 with three wins in 27 starts, Martin started more than 15 races only once (17 in 1989). This was when the Xfinity schedule was a few races shorter than in it is in 2016.

In Busch’s 14 years of racing in the Xfinity Series, he has started fewer than 15 races only once since his first full-time effort in 2004. He’s earned 10 or more wins three times and he has nine this season with three races left.

“No one really has a problem with Cup drivers racing in the Xfinity Series,” Martin said. “Unless they win too much. Then they shouldn’t be able to race. I don’t completely disagree. I’m not all that interested in watching Kyle Busch demolish the field in every race. I’m just not. But I am interested in Erik Jones giving him a run for his money, or something else like that.”

Martin reflected on his time in the Xfinity Series, when he drove the iconic No. 60 Winn-Dixie Ford. How would a cap on Cup drivers in the lower series have impacted his career? Martin believes he likely wouldn’t be entering the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January.

“It would be tough on me because in the early ‘90s I think I may have gotten fired from Roush Racing at times for not performing,” Martin admitted. “I’ve said all along the success I had in the Busch Series in the ‘90s kept me relevant in the Cup Series when I would go through droughts.

“It would also keep me relevant about car knowledge because I had to battle people that didn’t think I knew what I was talking about setups and bodies and all these kinds of things on the hardware on these cars. I could go over to my Busch car where I had 100 percent say in everything about how the body was put on, how the body was built and every setup and shock that went under that car, and I could go win with that.

“When I could do that, that added credibility to me. And my career, would not have been, I don’t believe, would have been a Hall of Fame career had I not had that to fall back on. Early in the years at Roush Racing, we had some really great years, and we had some years where we weren’t great. If I hadn’t of had the success that I had in that series from a hardware standpoint and a driver standpoint, it would have made it tough to make things go. For me, it was critical at the time. Today’s age, things are quite a bit different.”

Martin will enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame with 40 Sprint Cup wins. The most he ever claimed in one season was seven in 1998. That year in the Xfinity Series, Martin won two races in 15 starts, his fewest in an eight-year stretch.

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