Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday May 28, 2013
It’s time to talk about Kyle Busch again — or, more accurately, a lack of Kyle Busch.
Assuming the Nationwide Series didn’t lose you a few races in, thereby perhaps leaving you blissfully unaware of the scope of Kyle Busch’s dominance in 2013, this year’s Nationwide season has likely been a bit of snoozefest, prompted predominantly by Busch’s return to a Joe Gibbs Racing seat and his subsequent six wins in the season’s 10 races so far.
It’s as though 2012 never happened, or was at least a nice dream that had to end eventually. Last year, Busch’s first (and only) Nationwide run with his own team produced no wins. This followed a four-year period from 2008 to 2011 during which the Las Vegas native won 40 series races, over a fourth of the total run in that stretch.
Remember the simpler times? Sure, Cup guys like Kyle Busch have been cherry picking in the lower series since its beginning, but it was never to this extent. Mark Martin, for instance, is regarded as a prime example of a driver stepping down to run second-tier races fairly often, but he never won more than seven in a season while only competing in about half of the events each year. Busch eclipsed that number every year from 2008 to 2011 while running all but 25 meets, including a full-season charge in 2009 that earned him the championship in his fifth full year of Cup competition.
But imagine a Nationwide Series without Kyle Busch. It’s easy if you try.
Let’s say Busch went the way of, say, Jeff Gordon after his graduation to the Cup level. Gordon has run a mere 11 Nationwide races since he moved on from the series after the 1992 season. Had Busch done the same starting in 2005, his Cup rookie season, how different would the landscape of the Nationwide Series look?
Well, honestly? Not much.
Since he began racing in the Sprint Cup Series full time in 2005, Busch has accumulated 52 wins. That’s 52 races that could have had a different winner entirely.
And more often than not, that winner would have also been a Cup Series regular. Of those 52 instances, only nine times did a series regular finish second, putting them in prime position to take over first in Busch’s absence. All things constant, the other 43 races would still have been won by Cup regulars.
The biggest benefactor would’ve been Carl Edwards. Formerly a familiar face in the Nationwide garage with one championship and five more top three points finishes in the series, Edwards finished second 10 times where Busch eventually won. Those 10 wins would bring his overall series tally to 48, one behind Martin for the most in series history. His win tallies in 2008 and 2011 would have been 10 and 11, respectively. In other words, had he continued on rather than curtailing his Nationwide schedule almost entirely starting last season, this column might have been about Carl Edwards, not Kyle Busch.
Kevin Harvick wouldn’t have had too shabby a win amount sans Busch, either. Harvick finished second seven times, which would have brought his total to 46 wins, rather than his current 39. It’s been awhile since Harvick was regarded as one of the more prominent Buschwhackers (partly because that term went obsolete after Busch discontinued its sponsorship of the series, but whatever), but if you’ll recall in the mid-2000s, he was just as involved in the series as Busch is to this day, even owning his own team.
Other potential beneficiaries include Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (six potential wins each), as well as Denny Hamlin (three).
Four out of these five drivers were Cup regulars the entire time Busch went on his streak. Of the two that weren’t, Logano still would have gained his wins once he was racing full time in the premier division. Only Keselowski would have benefitted as a Nationwide regular, with a second-place run coming at Nashville in 2009.
While Kyle Busch might be the most noticeable part of the problem, he’s certainly not the cause. Cup regulars have been coming into the lower series for a long time, and even if you cut off one head of the hydra, another will almost always jump up to take its place.
However, it is interesting to note the drivers that would have had the best returns if there hadn’t been any Cup guys at all.
For instance, looking specifically at the races Busch won and also taking out the other superstars coming down on a Friday or Saturday, Keselowski would have also been a major benefactor during his days as a Nationwide regular, having been the highest-finishing such driver in five of those races. He’s joined by Mike Bliss, Jason Leffler and Reed Sorenson, all of whom were also the highest-finishing Nationwide regular in five races Busch won.
Imagine something a bit different this time. Imagine not just a Nationwide Series without Busch the last few years, but also a series sans Cuppers in general.
What would that series look like? Who would have been the big winners?
Barring any changes, tune in next week to find out.
Second-Place Finishes to Kyle Busch in the Nationwide Series, 2005-2013 (as of May 27, 2013)
Carl Edwards – 10
Kevin Harvick – 7
Brad Keselowski – 6
Joey Logano – 6
Denny Hamlin – 3
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