The Frontstretch: My, How (Busch) Times Have Changed by Amy Henderson -- Monday June 19, 2006

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My, How (Busch) Times Have Changed

That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time · Amy Henderson · Monday June 19, 2006


There's been a lot of excitement this week about David Gilliland's upset win in the Busch Series race at Kentucky on Saturday night. I admit it; I was on my feet, hollering like a banshee for the unknown, underfunded rookie to win. Sure, in part, you had everyone rooting for the underdog in that situation. I wonder, though; were there others like me who have just been wanting someone (anyone!) to beat the Cup drivers over in the Busch Series?

Just a few years back, the Busch Series wasn't like this. Sure, a few Cup guys have always run Busch races, but there were fundamental differences; they didn't greedily compete for the Busch championship, and there were only a handful running in each race. Contrast that to 2006, where seven guys are attempting to win both titles, and some races find half the field made up of full-time Nextel Cup drivers. Love it or hate it, the changes have everybody talking.

For or against, the history of Buschwhacking bears looking into. The NASCAR Busch Series as we know it officially began in 1982 as the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series. (Prior to that date, NASCAR ran a similar series, the Late Model Sportsman Division.) The first race was held in February of 1982 at Daytona – and the race winner that day was none other than – guess what – a Buschwhacker! The victorious driver that day was the late Dale Earnhardt.

Throughout the 1980's, the Busch Series went on to develop its own stars apart from the Cup series, with names like Tommy Houston, Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, and Larry Pearson. These drivers raced for championships of their own; running full Busch Series (then Grand National) schedules, they were not simply sticking around in order to have a stepping stone to a career in the then-Winston Cup series; they were in the series to stay, and they were there do race. These Busch-only drivers weren't alone, though. Cup star Bobby Allison became the first driver to “sweep” a race weekend in 1984, winning the Busch Series Mello Yello 300 and the World 600 at Charlotte. Darrell Waltrip was the first road course winner in Busch, and Earnhardt was a shoo-in to run a few races a year in the series. Busch Series, champions, though, never came from the Cup garage. Veterans Ard, Ingram, and Pearson accounted for the first six titles, establishing a firm identity for the growing series.

However, the focus of the Busch Series began to change somewhat heading into the 1990's. When young Rob Moroso won the 1989 series championship, the series began a shift towards becoming a proving ground for up-and-coming racers. Moroso was killed in a 1990 accident in his street car, but he set the table for young drivers like Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek, and Johnny Benson, all of whom competed in the Busch Series in the early 1990's on their way to Nextel Cup careers. These drivers still had to race the likes of Earnhardt, Mark Martin, and Dale Jarrett in the Busch Series, but none of these Cup stars interfered in the championship battles that Labonte, Nemechek, and Benson would go on to win.

However, with the success of these drivers upon graduating to the Cup series, the die was now cast as to how the series would be used in the growth of NASCAR. The tide of the Busch Series really began to turn in the late 1990's, when Cup car owners realized they could own their own teams in the Series as a place to both preserve and develop their future Cup talent. In 1998, the Busch Series champion was the Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He repeated his title run in 1999, both times beating what would become Roush Racing driver Matt Kenseth, who finished second and third in both those years. Since that time, only one team whose ownership is completely independent of a Cup owner has won the series championship – ppc Racing with driver Jeff Green in 2000.

In 2001, following the death of Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick was tapped a year earlier than planned to begin his Cup career. Harvick took over the Richard Childress Racing Cup ride, but also finished the season in his RCR Busch ride – winning the championship along the way and changing the face of the Busch Series. In the last five years, Cup influence on the Busch Series has continued to skyrocket as a result, both behind the wheel and behind the checkbook as teams look to create a farm system as well as a practice ground for their current and future Cup drivers. It's not the same Busch Series that Ard, Ingram, and Pearson dominated twenty years ago. That’s why seeing an underdog Busch Series team and driver is refreshing; for while the Cup involvement in the Busch Series has meant progress in some form, it’s always nice to be reminded of a simpler time, when teams who cared about only the Busch Series beat the best of the best in Cup. Celebrating the Busch Series upset of the year; now that’s history.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

06/20/2006 08:56 AM

I did a little research on this, can anyone guess what were the last 5 times any Busch driver with no Cup affliation won a Cup companion event? The answer:

1. Justin Labonte at Chicagoland Speedway in 2004 and the only reason for him winning that race was because of a fuel mileage situation similar to what Jeremy Mayfield did at Michigan last year.

2. The week before Mike Wallace won at Daytona (only because Jason Leffler wrecked leader Michael Waltrip on the backstretch on the last lap).

3.Before that, Bobby Hamilton Jr. won in a rain-shortened race at Phoenix in November 2003

4. David Green at Kansas in 0ctober 2003 was the last time a Busch Series driver earned a companion win when he passed another Busch driver (Bobby Hamilton Jr.) on the last lap

5. David Green at Chicagoland Speedway in July of 2003.

That’s right all the way back to July of 2003 to find 5 Busch drivers in a non-Cup affliated team winning. NASCAR has got to stop this.I think that teams running Cup drivers should only be given driver points. If they recieved no owners points and were forced to qualify on time each week that woould mean the slightest mistake in qualifying they would be going home. Could you imagine if say Kevin Harvick didn’t get to race this year because he spun out in qualifying that would be exciting for teams like David Gilliland’s.

06/20/2006 02:46 PM

I think the saddest thing is how NASCAR thinks its fans aren’t all that bright..(best I can figure). Listening to Brian France, as well as others in the NASCAR front office, speaking on this issue he feels that Cup drivers have always races in the Busch series so why should it be seen as an issue now. Your right Mike, guys used to come from the Cup series to race with a Busch team and for the most part you only had a handful of drivers that did that. Its exactly like it is differences..;-) Well there is the difference in the ticket sales I suppose..or merchindise sales..but that would have no bearing on NASCAR’s desicion-making process when it comes to treating race teams fairly. Add to that that NASCAR allows Cup teams to have not just one, but multiple Busch teams is just inexcusible. The basis of the whole business is the sport of soon as you start letting all your descions be based solely on ticket sales to the point of hurting the sport than its only a matter of time before the business implodes on itself. Listening to NASCAR’s take on the Busch series is like listening to Jack Roush explains how having 5 teams in the Cup series is good as it reflects what goes on in real life. Another bad move by NASCAR..large Multi-Car teams..but thats another topic.

06/20/2006 10:49 PM

Speaking of Jack Roush, how is it that he can have 6 Busch Series teams? I thought the four car limit was for all series. I konw Roush Racing was “grandfathered” into the rule because they already had 5 teams, but that was cup. Last year Roush only had 3 Busch Series teams, Nos. 9 (now 6), 17, and 60. This year he added the 06, 16, and 50. He shouldn’t have been able to do that. I am actually a Roush Racing fan (Biffle is my fav driver) and I’m complaining because it is really just unfair.

06/21/2006 05:49 PM

Your right Trent, on face value when you see a guy like Roush who has 5 Cup teams, 6 Busch teams plus his teams that he runs in other series its really about a monopoly. And its just not him although I would guess that he is the worse offender. What is_really pathetic though is how NASCAR allowed any of this in the first place. Imagine any other sport allowing one individual to own say 4 different ball clubs or what have you…it takes the concept of “sport” right out of it. When you think of how many team owners there really are verses the number of cars entered its really sad. You have Roush or one of the other multi-team owners that has literally a hundred-plus of engineers at their disposal and then you look at Robby Gordans team that has 50 employees,(his words). How fair is that? I always find myself rooting for the underdog and its sad when a single car owner is considered an underdog in racing. There is a really good reason why other racing series have a cap on how many cars an owner can have.


Contact Amy Henderson

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