Toni Montgomery · Thursday April 7, 2005
Before I get into the Busch Series this week, I have to make one correction to last week’s column. In it I mentioned that the only team I could think of off the top of my head that had entries in both the trucks and the Nextel Cup Series was Bill Davis Racing. It seems I completely forgot about Roush Racing somehow. Somehow I knew I should have checked that closer, but to be fair I did say it was off the top of my head. Still, how can I write about the truck series on a weekly basis and forget about one of the power house teams that always finishes in the top ten? Well, all I can say is “whoops.”
Now on to the Busch Series. I was very tempted to make Shane Hmiel the direct and sole subject of this week’s column, but then everyone else did too. Besides, I already took most of my Shane shots in this weeks installment of Miror Driving on Wednesday. Strange thing is, after I decided not to do that, I couldn’t think of another subject to focus on this week. So Shane will still be the inspiration behind this week’s column, but it isn’t just about him. This week, we’ll talk about exactly what a young driver can and should learn from the Cup veterans who race with them just about every week.
While the Busch veterans grumble about the Buschwhackers, the young drivers more often express enthusiasm for getting to race against the best of the best. Most of them feel it’s a good learning experience to face some Cup level competition, especially since many of them are there for the express purpose of learning on their way to the Cup series. There is a certain sense of accomplishment that comes out of beating the Cup drivers for a win too which is felt among all the Busch regulars but even more so among the younger drivers.
Having the Cup drivers come to their level to race gives them a hint of what they might face when they move up. It’s also probably more desireable that they get that taste of the experience in the Busch Series instead of by jumping into any available Cup car on any given week to test the waters. They are far less likely to find themselves racing above their ability if they are on their own turf, yet they still have an opportunity to observe close up and maybe learn some things about racing lines, car control, what kind of moves you can and can’t get away with in traffic and on any given track, and strategy as well as a little about the personalities and tendencies of the drivers they will be facing when they reach the next level of competition. The style of Kevin Harvick is different from that of Matt Kenseth and knowing what to expect from each of them if you should find yourself battling them for a win could be the difference between victory lane and second place someday.
Most of what young Busch drivers can learn from the weekly invasion of Cup drivers is on the track, but there are still some off track things that will be important that can be learned if one is paying attention. Many of the young drivers moving up will likely tell you those little extras are the biggest part of the Cup Series that they were not prepared for. The demands on time, the sponsor, media, and fan obligations are multiplied many times from what they experienced in any other series. Since the Cup drivers are likely to still have these obligations going on at least to some extent when they are racing in the Busch Series, having them in the Busch garage gives upcoming drivers a chance to see some of the dos and don’ts. They can keep this in mind when they may have these same obligations some day.
Perhaps one of the biggest plusses for young upcoming drivers racing against Cup drivers is that it is a golden opportunity to make a good first impression and lay the groundwork for a good working relationship with those drivers. One of the bigger obstacles rookie drivers in the Cup Series have to overcome is the respect factor. They don’t have it from the veteran drivers and have to earn it. It’s important because many drivers will race you the way they expect you to race them. There are also tracks where it’s vital to have other drivers willing to work with you. If you don’t have their respect, they won’t work with you. If they know you are going to knock them out of the way, they may do it to you first.
Since Daytona is the first track most drivers will face when moving into the Cup Series, having already established a good relationship with at least some of the Cup drivers might get you some drafting help. Cup drivers are more than likely to dump rookie drivers they don’t know and trust to the back of the field.
On the other side of the coin, I have to wonder if getting a bad reputation among the veterans while still in the Busch Series will make things even more difficult if you make it to Cup. No impression at all would be better than a bad one in my opinion. This is where Shane Hmiel comes in. He can get a little rough on the track to put it nicely. He can get a little rough off of it too. He’s not doing much toward making friends and earning respect among the veteran drivers or the fans. His actions and ensuing comments about Dale Jarrett on Monday didn’t help his efforts any.
Hmiel seems unconcerned about what Jarrett thinks of him, either not understanding or caring that it could come back around to him in a Cup race one day. He also doesn’t seem to realize there are other veteran drivers besides Jarrett who may be watching and forming an opinion of him that may come into play if he ever makes a go of it in Cup. There are sponsors watching who may decide this driver is not presenting the sort of image they want to represent them. There are definitely fans watching who are forming opinions and most of them are not good. If Hmiel thinks none of this matters, he may want to go have a chat with Kurt Busch, who put himself in much the same hole and now spends a good deal of his time and energy working to dig himself back out of it.
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