That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time · Amy Henderson · Monday May 1, 2006
One of the hot topics of 2006 has been “Buschwhacking,” otherwise known as Nextel Cup regulars racing in the Busch Series. While drivers racing for championships in both series simultaneously is a new concept, Cup drivers competing in the Busch Series isn’t. In the past, Cup and Busch guys racing together used to be a truly positive thing, bringing fans to the races and allowing younger, less experienced drivers to race with the best.
As do many things that lose their luster after being overused, Buschwhacking was, once upon a time, fun to watch, and unharmful to the Busch teams and their series. Those days are rapidly fading in the rearview mirror as it becomes increasingly likely that one of those double dippers will take the Busch championship going away. Looking back on history, though, it won’t be the first time that a Cup championship driver nearly decided a Busch title.
That almost happened back in 1991, when the Busch Series was still dominated by Busch only teams. No full time Cup driver finished in the Top 20 in points back then, because they only ran a handful of select races. However, a remarkable championship battle unfolded as the year went on. The points lead was swapped three times in the last five races, and the title was decided by a mere 74 points. So, you could understand why a Cup driver taking the wheel of one of the championship cars just three races from the end of the season caused a stir among some teams and fans.
It wasn’t a deliberate move to secure an owner’s championship by the Cup driver, despite the fact that the person in question WAS the car owner. Here’s the story: the championship that year in the Busch Series came down to two Cup drivers as car owners. The drivers? Their little brothers. Terry Labonte owned the No. 44 Penrose Firecracker Oldsmobile driven by his kid brother, Bobby. Rusty Wallace owned the No. 26 Cox Lumber Pontiac driven by his youngest brother, Kenny. With five races to go, Wallace led Labonte by two points. With four races to go, Labonte took a six-point lead. Wallace got it back, leading by 33 points with three races left.
The following week, Wallace suffered one of the hardest crashes of his career at New Hampshire. A rear end weld broke, sending Wallace at full speed into the turn three wall. He climbed from the car…and then passed out. Diagnosed with a concussion, Wallace’s DNF allowed Labonte to grab the point lead back with the series headed to Dover and Martinsville for the final races of the season.
Now, Dover is a brutal track to drive without the lingering effects of a concussion. Feeling like he’d been "knocked upside the head by a two-by-four," Kenny Wallace started the race, but had a relief driver waiting in the pits to take over. Who would be qualified enough to take over for Kenny and keep his title hopes alive? Big brother Rusty, of course, the 1989 Winston Cup champion. Some teams and fans grumbled; surely this wasn’t fair, a Cup driver taking over and possibly deciding the title?!
Kenny Wallace’s rival that year, Bobby Labonte, pushed that notion aside. His response to the naysayers? Terry would have done the same for him. In fact, Labonte said later that his one regret that championship year was that Wallace’s crash kept the two from racing for the title the way that they perhaps could have, as Labonte did hold off the Wallaces to win the title by 74 points.
Fifteen years ago, fans saw what was perhaps the first "Buschwhacking" controversy. It went away quickly because it was, at the time, a non-issue. Funny how times have changed; now there’s a debate on the topic every week, with a dozen Cup drivers swirling around the Busch Series garage to stir the pot. Of course, the intent of their involvement in the series has changed, as have the politics. It’s all about sponsor loyalty these days for Cup drivers doing “double duty,” but that weekend back in 1991 racing in both series was about a different kind of loyalty: loyalty to a family and a race team who had worked all season to bring along a young driver, and the family passion to keep that young man’s dream of a title alive.
That’s History…at its finest.
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