Second Fiddle: Around the NASCAR Busch Series · S.D. Grady · Thursday April 19, 2007
The Busch Series, sometimes known as Cup Series 2, continues to serve up a Sunday preview loaded with your favorite Nextel Cup drivers. Pleasure is derived from watching the very best drivers battle it out. More fans than ever crowd into the track on Saturday to watch the secondary circuit race. ESPN signed on to air the series for the next eight years. Somebody is confident that this is a money making deal. I wonder who?
Every week as the winner is crowned, reporters and fans start hollering about how the Cup drivers dominate the series, using it as a lengthy practice session for the Sunday 500. You normally have to dig about halfway down the standings to find a â€˜Busch regular' driver. Whose series is this? This year, it belongs to Carl Edwards. Last year, Kevin Harvickâ€¦see the growing pattern?
Aware of the indifferent image this series currently suffers from, NASCAR is promising changes. Will they be enough?
The Car of Tomorrow, besides introducing new safety measures into the sport, provides one of these changes. The physical makeup of the COT is so different from the current model run in the Busch series, the Cup drivers seeking an edge over Sunday's competition will lose the advantage on weekends where the Cup series and the Busch series run together. NASCAR likes this. It encourages the Big Boys to stay home and leave more of the field to the up and comers in the sport. Great!
Except, NASCAR created a small problem over the past few years. By allowing so many Cup drivers to compete on a weekly basis, the Busch boys are now virtual unknowns. Seasoned veterans of the sport are checking their programs to figure out just what Busch driver is running this week. When the Nextel drivers decamp, leaving the list of no-names with the track to themselves, the vast number of armchair fans will simply pick up their remotes and change the channel.
Also, Anheuser-Busch's contract for naming rights to the series ends in 2008. Come 2009, the same year that the COT goes fulltime in Cup, ESPN will be airing theâ€¦Wal-Mart Series? Or Samsung Series? Or possibly somebody else. We will have no famous drivers and no brand name on the TV listings to bring back the NASCAR fan seeking a little bumping and banging on a Saturday afternoon.
Is there a solution? NASCAR need only look to Friday night, Craftsman Truck Night, for inspiration. This series has a fan base that is devoted, a little insane and happy. Unlike the Busch boys, the Trucks have a different look and feel to their races. What's so special?
#1. They drive trucks, not carbon copies of their Sunday cohorts.
#2. They didn't graduate from Miss Daisy's School of Polite Driving. The trucks' boxy body allows for more physical confrontation on the track than the aero-dependent cars.
#3. Each of the top drivers' names is associated with the Truck series, not the Cup series. Skinner, Bodine, Sprague, Kvapil, Crawford, Musgraveâ€¦
It is a unique, thrilling experience, watching a truck race and well worth a race fan's time.
The heat is on. A forty million dollar naming contract and the fans' continuing interest relies upon the ability of NASCAR to fix the Busch Series. During these next two years, more needs to be done than discourage the stampede of Nextel teams from borrowing the track on Saturday. The current lack of recognition for the worthy, but aging series must be addressed. NASCAR needs to find a new name, market the young rising-star drivers and create a physical difference in the racing that the fans can see. Excitement and intrigue need to become part of the Busch Series race once again. Otherwise, this series is doomed to vanish in the mists of indifference.
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