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A combination race is any sort of racing event where drivers from two racing circuits compete in the same event in similiar if not identical vehicles. These races are sanctioned under the banner of both series and in most cases count toward the championship in those respective series' seasons. On-track racing procedures during these races are nearly always similar to that of a race exclusively composed of drivers in one series, denoted as a stand-alone race. However, because of the complexities of creating an equal playing field and the importance of championship standings, allotment of points, purse, and awards are treated differently in combination races than in stand-alone races.
Combination races are run for a number of reasons, ranked in no particular order:
- Generate larger field of competitors, especially for tracks at the "fringe" of traditional series travel range (e.g. The East-West Combination race at Iowa)
- Generate excitement about another series by combining it with a more popular series (e.g. Winston Cup-Winston West combination events)
- Aid a struggling series or set of series by combining themselves for the sake of increasing championship races or keeping the series alive (e.g. The end of the Elite Division)
- Allow a prestigious event to have a NASCAR sanction while maintaining local involvement (e.g. The Oxford 250)
- Experiment in a new area of the country by co-sanctioning a race with a completely different sanctioning body (e.g. ARTGO/NASCAR Challenge Cup competition)
Combination races are rare practices in the sport since 2000, as no national tour (Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series, and Truck Series) currently has a combination race with any tour. The only four current NASCAR Touring combination races are the East Series-West Series annual event at Iowa Speedway, a pair of Northern-Southern Modified Tour races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, and the non-point Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway.
The rest of this article will explore the nuances and history of combination races between certain series. To find the series in question, simply find the proper listing below on our table of contents.
Winston Cup-Winston West
Winston Cup Series-Winston West Series combination races (both series are known as the Sprint Cup and respectively) were the longest running example of combination races in NASCAR history, spanning from 1954-1997. The idea of combination races were integral to both series in the 1950s, when the Cup Series was trying to make its first fairgrounds in the West and the West Series was trying to find some star-power support as it was getting started. Cup-West combination races are best denoted in three segments: 1954-1970, 1971-1983, and 1984-1997.
From 1954 to 1970, there were multiple Cup-West combination races each year. Nearly every Cup race on the West Coast was combined with the West Series. During these years West Series drivers won the majority of these events, as Cup representatives were slim and most of the championship drivers stayed on the East Coast. However, when Cup drivers made the trip they were frequent competitors for the victory. Drivers who won these combination races were credited with winning races in both series.
From 1971 to 1984, as both series entered the modern era, combination races slightly changed. Combination events were limited to two tracks - Ontario Motor Speedway and Riverside International Raceway - as the Cup Series shed most of its short track events. Also, Winston Cup winners were no longer given credit for winning in the West Series should they triumph in the event. West Series drivers would still receive credit for winning in both series if they won the event (a feat only Ray Elder was able to achieve during this era), in addition to receiving points toward the West Series championship. In 1973 no combination races were held due to a competition experiment by West Series management. Many West drivers still elected to compete in the Cup races normally considered combination events.
While Cup rules remained the same from 1985 to 1997, West Series point allotment for combination races were greatly changed during this final era. Due a strengthening Cup field, West Series directors felt it was in the best interest of their drivers to introduce a series-based point distribution. Under this system, the top-finishing West Series regular would receive 1st place points and in some cases, credit for victory (further explanation in a second), no matter how low that driver finished in the overall rundown. Winston Cup drivers would still receive points based on how they finished in the overall rundown, no matter how many West Series drivers beat him or her. An example: In 1995, eventual Winston West season champ Doug George struggled to a 31st place finish in a combination race at Sonoma but was still given credit for first place because the top-thirty drivers were all regulars on the Winston Cup circuit.
The most confusing part of this system was if a West Series driver was given credit on the series all-time win list. Some years, a top series-finishing effort would indeed count towards all-time victories and in some years it would count (at most) as a top-five and would not be added to the tally of all-time victories. An example of this would be longtime West driver John Krebs, who is only credited with one series victory (a stand-alone race in 1978) despite being the top series finisher in two combination races in 1992. In the previous example of Doug George, he would have had eight victories in 1995 had his two top finishes in the combination races counted. Lastly, based on the number of drivers competing in the race, the top non-qualifying West Series driver would receive points for the next possible position (ex. if eight West Series cars made a Cup race, the highest West non-qualifier would get 9th place points). To help attract more West Series vehicles, a Winston West provisional was in place for a combination race, introducing an extra 43rd or 44th starter.
By 1997 it was clear that West Series drivers were no longer viable competitors with their better-funded Cup Series competitors, as few West Series cars made the races that year at Phoenix and Sonoma (replacing the torn-down tracks at Ontario and Riverside). Thus, the Winston West Series became exclusively composed of stand-alone races in 1998, though the West Series competed in the exhibition race at Motegi, Japan as a non-points combination race.
Busch Series-Busch North Series
In 1987, when NASCAR took the remains of the old North Tour and planned on creating a new tour, they wanted to emphasize that this new series, what is now know as the K & N Pro Series East, would be a Northern Grand National division, a sister with the southern Busch Grand National series (now known as the Nationwide Series). While never being able to elevate the new division to a nationally-followed tour, the series would still gain attention in its early years with multiple combination events with the southern Busch Series. Most of the combination events during the early years would be in the Mid-Atlantic (a sort of "neutral ground", so to speak), but by the time it was clear that the Northern Grand National would never catch the Busch Series, most of the races were shifted to Northern tracks (Watkins Glen, Loudon, and Nazareth).
Any Busch Series driver competing in a combination race would be given points for their finish in the overall rundown and would not be given credit for a Northern Grand National victory should they triumph in the race. Conversely, a Northern Grand National driver prevailing in the race would be credited on the series win list for both tours and any Northern driver would receive points credit in both series.
However, when it came to points for the Northern Grand National, these combination races held a hidden complexity. While not applying a series-based point distribution (see above section for details), North GN series directors instead allowed these races to become (in a sense) wild card event. Because all of the North GN championship-caliber teams could not afford the long trips to the Mid-Atlantic, a special "best-of" point system was used. During a normal Northern GN season, there would be 20-24 races in a season, with 2/3rds or so being stand-alone races. The special points system would factor in the driver's best 16-18 finishes during the year, allowing the teams that could afford the trip to the Mid-Atlantic/South for those combination races in an effort to wipe off a poor finish in one of the regular stand-alone races. Thus, a driver with a solid top-ten finish in a combination race could write off a DNF in a previous stand-alone race as a "mulligan". However, a poor finish in the combination race would essentially do nothing for the driver's point standings, making such a trip a calculated gamble. Two drivers nearly used this system to win the championship - Dana Patten in 1989 and Joe Bessey in 1992. Both drivers struggled in multiple northern GN races but, by some surprisingly strong runs in the tough combination races, would manage to be right in the championship hunt.
The last Busch North-Busch Series combination races took place in 2000. In 2001, the Busch North Series became exclusively comprised of 20 stand-alone races.
Today's modern Grand National Division, the Camping World Series, consists of an East-West division. They have run four points-paying combination races thus far in the three years of doing so, one at Elko Speedway in 2007 and an annual event at Iowa Speedway in its third year. Races run are in the series-based point distribution, where drivers receive points and statistical credit for their finish relative to other drivers in their series, not to the whole field in general (e.g., a 10th place finisher in the race would receive 160 points for fourth place had just three fellow drivers from the series finish ahead of him/her).
Also, the top-finishing driver in both series receives credit for a victory, no matter how low the top-finishing driver in the opposite series finishes. In 2008, Brian Ickler (East) and Jim Inglebright (West) were credited with victories on the all-times win list in their respective divisions despite the fact that Inglebright finished 9th in a race dominated by the East Series drivers. Ickler was not awarded with a West win.
The East Series and West Series also run a combination race in the prestigious Toyota All-Star Showdown, which is a non-points paying event hailed as the "Daytona 500 of Short Track Racing". For more information on that event, please visit the page about the event.
For two seasons (1992 and 1993), NASCAR agreed to co-sanction a race at Texas World Speedway with its biggest competitor, the ARCA Bondo-Hyde Series. NASCAR would field its Winston West Series, which matched up well with the mid-level ARCA vehicles. The theory behind the co-sanctioning appears to have been concern among both series that small fields would make the long trip south to Texas had the respective races been conducted independently. Both races would be won by ARCA drivers - Mickey Gibbs in 1992 and Darrell Waltrip in 1993.
The West Series points were awarded on a series-based points distribution, where drivers would receive championship points based on how they finished relative to their fellow West competitors, not how they finished in the overall rundown that factored in the ARCA vehicles. For an example, John Krebs finished 4th in the 1992 event but was credited with the 180 points normally given to a driver who won a stand-alone race. Meanwhile, Bill Sedgwick, who struggled to 43rd, was actually just the 10th place finisher among the West drivers. The 134 points he received despite just completing four laps allowed Sedgwick to stay in the championship lead.
However, top-finishing West Series drivers - Krebs in 1992 and Hershel McGriff in 1993 - were not awarded credit for victories on the all-time wins list, nor were the true race winners, Gibbs and Waltrip. Thus, the final point standings for those seasons showed that there were not an equal number of race winners to number of races conducted.
When the Whelen Southern Modified Tour was created in 2005, Whelen executives requested that an exciting combination race be created so that fans could watch the upstart Southern Modifieds take on the prestigious Northern Modifieds. The result was an event held at Martinsville Speedway in early September an event that in its fourth year of existance is very popular. The Northern Mods have won the first four contests, though Southerner Burt Myers won the 2008 before being disqualified on a technical violation.
Like most combination races, points are awarded on a series-based points distribution, where a driver receives points and statistical credit depending on where he or she finishes in relation of other series drivers, not where they finished in the full-field rundown. Also, the top-finisher in both series receives credit for victories in their respective division. As an example, Brian Loftin (Southern) and Ted Christopher (Northern) were awarded first-place finishes in the 2005 Martinsville race towards the points championship despite the fact that Loftin, as the highest Southern driver, had only managed to finish 12th in the overall race (the top eleven drivers were Northern Modified drivers).
In 2009, the series added a second combination race as both series will make their inaugural visit to Bristol Motor Speedway.