Toni Montgomery · Thursday November 10, 2005
There is an alarming trend starting in the NASCAR Busch Series. It started innocently enough with Kevin Harvick. Harvick was to run one more full season in the Busch Series in 2001 before car owner Richard Childress intended to promote him to the Nextel Cup Series for 2002. The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 changed those plans. Childress found himself needing a driver to fill a Cup seat. He turned to Harvick and promoted him early but he also did something a little unusual. He left Harvick in the Busch car as well and had his young protÃ©gÃ© run a full season in both cars.
It was an unprecedented feat and one many considered to be impossible given the travel logistics that came into play when the two series were not racing at the same track in companion events. Harvick surprised many when he took the workload in stride and proceeded to win the 2001 Busch Series championship while also finishing in the top ten in the final Cup standings. That top ten finish in Cup standings is even more amazing when you consider that Harvick ran one less race than his fellow competitors since he did not compete in the Daytona 500.
Along came Greg Biffle in 2004. Biffle wanted to run in the Busch Series. Since car owner Jack Roush did not have a seat available for him in 2003, Biffle had found his own ride. The fact that this ride was in a Chevrolet did not please Roush or his Ford backers so Roush decided to appease Biffle by putting together a Busch package for his driver in 2004. There was only one catch. The sponsor, Charter Communications, wanted to run a full season and they didn’t want to have two drivers. Biffle would have to commit to a full Busch season. Like Harvick before him, Biffle pulled it off but he actually did Harvick one better because he did not miss a race in either series. Just for the record though, Biffle did not finish as high in either series’ final standings as Harvick.
Although he made it to every race, Biffle found the double schedule difficult and decided not to try it again in 2005. Roush still had the car and the sponsor however and Carl Edwards was tapped to do the double deal for this season. Edwards was forced to miss one Busch race when rain in Memphis caused the postponement of the race until Sunday and he had to leave to race his Cup car at Pocono, but he has otherwise made every date on both schedules. Unlike Biffle, Edwards wasn’t daunted by the hectic schedule and declared his intentions to do it again for 2006.
Next came Reed Sorenson. Car owner Chip Ganassi is promoting Sorenson to Cup next season but I guess they figured if Edwards could do it, so could Sorenson. He also announced intentions to run the full schedule in both series to get as much seat time as he could. And with that, the trend was apparently set. Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin are also moving up to Cup while staying in Busch. And now the originator of all of this madness is joining the party. Kevin Harvick has also declared intentions to do both series full time for 2006.
So now we have Edwards, Sorenson, Hamlin, Bowyer, and Harvick all declaring intentions to run full time in 2006. This is an even more alarming trend than the Buschwhackers if you ask me. I consider these drivers different from the ordinary Buschwhacker because they are running all of the races. While there are frequently too many Buschwhackers, they are not always there. The arrival of a large group of double dippers means these guys will always be there. That means there are five fewer spots available for Busch regulars every week. There are also five fewer seats available for Busch veterans or upcoming hopefuls.
Originally, I considered a double dipper like Edwards better than a Buschwhacker because he was running a full schedule. I didn’t consider him doing the same harm to points standings or winnings because I considered him a legitimate Busch regular in addition to a Cup regular. Now faced with a growing number of these drivers, I am beginning to reconsider that position.
And why are so many drivers planning such a difficult task? For exactly the reason given in the last paragraph. If they run a full time Busch season, they will be considered Busch regulars. Why is that important? Because the presence of the large number of Buschwhackers has been doing damage to the Busch points standings and because many car owners are upset with the large shares of prize money they have been taking away. It’s caused such a stir that NASCAR has mentioned getting involved and placing restrictions on the Buschwhackers to minimize their effect on the series. Faced with possible limitations, how do you get around them? Be a Busch regular and therefore not subject to rules aimed at Buschwhackers.
The growing number of drivers doing the double dip is also alarming in itself. It started with one. Then a few years later one more. Then one more just the next year. Now five. What next? Then there were 10, then there were 15, and then maybe 19, like the current number of Buschwhackers we sometimes see now? Remember, unlike the Buschwhackers, these guys will be there every week. If you think it takes away from the individual identity of the Busch Series to have so many Buschwhackers making appearances in any given week, imagine the blow to that individual identity to have that many full time competitors from Cup. At what point does it become impossible to tell the two series apart? At some point it becomes silly to even have two series when the same drivers are running all of the races in both.
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