Toni Montgomery · Friday March 10, 2006
The Buschwhackers are three for three so far this season. With at least seven Buschwhackers scheduled to run the full season, there is a very real possibility that they could sweep all 35 races this season. I think that may be the reasoning behind trying to make fans believe the seven drivers running the full schedule in both Cup and Busch are Busch regulars instead of Buschwhackers. That argument doesn’t hold water with me.
As far as I am concerned, any driver running full time in Cup is a Buschwhacker, regardless of whether he is also running the full Busch schedule and regardless of whether he is a rookie in the Cup Series. When Denny Hamlin was leading in Mexico, Fox sports commentators repeatedly referred to him as a Busch regular. Maybe some would argue that he is since he is running the full schedule and contending for the championship, but I have one simple criteria for telling the difference. What happens if it rains on a stand-alone weekend?
For my purposes, any driver who would prioritize and skip the Busch race to go elsewhere to run a Cup race is not a true Busch regular. True Busch regulars are those drivers who would stay and run the Busch race no matter when it is being run. Hamlin wouldn’t stay and neither would the other six double dippers. Rain is actually my biggest hope this season to insure that a real Busch regular takes home the championship. I wouldn’t mind seeing it rain on two or three of those stand-alone weekends.
So why the sudden emphasis by the TV commentators that these drivers are Busch regulars? Because there might be genuine outrage if Buschwhackers do sweep the season. If they can establish in the minds of fans early and often that these drivers are Busch regulars, they can bend the statistics to reflect that Busch regulars have won races. Last season no such attempt was made and the final tally shows that Buschwhackers won 23 races to 12 for Busch regulars if you consider Carl Edwards, the only double dipper, as a Buschwhacker. If Edwards total was added to the Busch regular side the numbers become 17 for the regulars and 18 for the whackers. It’s not a big difference, but saying that Busch regulars won almost half of the races looks better on paper.
Portraying those seven drivers running the full Busch schedule as regulars gives those looking to make the stats favorable seven more chances to add wins to the regular’s column. Given that drivers like Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, or Kevin Harvick could win four or five races each can add a lot of padding to the total. It also gives some insurance in case none of the real Busch regulars are able to break through into the win column. That could be important because six of the 12 wins attributed to the regulars last season belonged to champion Martin Truex Jr. who is not running a full schedule this year. Four of the other six belonged to Clint Bowyer and Reed Sorenson who return this season as Buschwhackers. That leaves David Green and Johnny Sauter as the only returning Busch regulars to score a win last season.
There are some hopes for wins by real Busch regulars. Johnny Sauter says he has matured and is looking at the big picture now. How that affects his banzai style and his win total remains to be seen. Paul Menard is the most improved driver in the Busch Series over the last year and has established himself as a regular contender. He is always up front and should be able to grab a win or two this season. Rookie Burney Lamar has already made quite an impression and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put it all together one of these weeks. David Green proved last season that nothing is impossible for perennial contenders like himself, Kenny Wallace, or Jason Keller. But up against the resources and experience of the double dippers in most cases, any of these drivers faces a mountain when trying to climb to Victory Lane. I have no doubt that not including the wins of any double dippers in the win total of the Busch regulars is going to leave a lopsided result in the favor of the Cup side.
If the double dippers win enough races and their totals are listed in the Busch regular column, the effect of Buschwhackers could be written off entirely. If the win total of the double dippers and the regulars comes out as more than half of the total races, it could be argued that the Buschwhackers had a minimal effect as far as winning races and collecting the lion’s share of the purse money. If these drivers are established early in the minds of fans as Busch regulars, many may actually believe the majority of the trophies and the money stayed in the Busch Series in spite of the fact that six of the seven double dippers are running for their Cup owners. Kevin Harvick is running for both his Cup owner, Richard Childress, and his own team, Kevin Harvick, Inc. and is the only one running even part time for something resembling a Busch regular team.
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