Second Fiddle: Around the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series · Toni Montgomery · Thursday September 7, 2006
I took some criticism earlier this week for crying about the presence of the Cup drivers in the Busch Series, and I notice I've seen several comments to that effect on my articles recently. So, I thought I'd flip it around and try the other side of the opinion for size, just to see how it feels. What follows, I hope, is a valid argument that the Cup drivers in the Busch Series are not causing a problem and are in fact bringing huge benefits to the series. This is a learning experience, because arguing for these points gives me a chance to really put some thought into them and perhaps weigh the entire argument more fairly as I look at it from the opposite side. Some of these arguments even began as suggestions from fans who truly do believe that Cup drivers have enhanced Busch Series competition. So, let’s try this on for size…
First argument for the Cup drivers in Busch: this is racing, not baseball. There are no rules against Nextel Cup drivers competing in the Busch Series or any other NASCAR Series. There are no rules keeping these drivers from competing in any series at all, actually. Any driver that is licensed by the sanctioning body and qualified to compete on a track is free to attempt the race. That's the way all racing series work: making rules to exclude certain drivers would impinge upon the rights of the competitors to compete and would likely open an even bigger mess. If Cup drivers can't compete in Busch or Truck Series races, how could NASCAR allow Busch or Truck drivers to compete in Nextel Cup races? Take Mark Martin, for example. Is NASCAR prepared to say he can't run a part-time Cup schedule because he runs in the Truck Series? Restricting driver participation also opens the whole issue of who really drives in what series. Is Kenny Wallace really a Busch regular…or is he a Cup driver, since he attempts most Cup races? There’s also the matter of Cup rookies: they need track time, and some compete full-time in both series to get it.
Then, there are those weekends when the companion events are sanctioned by another series, such as ARCA. NASCAR has no say over who competes in races run by another sanctioning body, and it makes no sense to exclude certain drivers from running on Saturday at some tracks while allowing them to do so at others simply because of who sanctions the races. Bottom line, there is just no fair and consistent way to use rules to allow some drivers and exclude others. Using rules to exclude drivers goes against the spirit of the sport of racing in general; it should be the best competitors in the best cars lining up to determine a winner. Having rules to exclude anyone from the field corrupts that concept.
NASCAR would also be doing a disservice to the Busch Series to exclude the drivers that help to draw the fans to the track. Let's be realistic: fans show up to see the stars. They show up to see Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, not Regan Smith or Kevin Grubb. The crowds at the Busch races just continue to grow because fans get an extra opportunity to see their favorite Cup drivers race at ticket prices that are probably a fraction of what they pay for a Cup ticket. It makes watching the stars of NASCAR race in person more accessible to more fans. Those grandstands are getting fuller and fuller because of the Cup drivers, and not the Busch drivers, no matter how much success (or lack thereof) those Busch drivers have.
This same idea carries over to the television broadcasts, and is backed up by the fact that ratings for Busch Series broadcasts are higher than they have ever been. The reasoning is simple: more fans are tuning in on television to watch their favorite Cup drivers race a second time on the weekend. All of this added attention for the Busch Series both in person and on television can only be a benefit to the series. The fact that the Cup drivers are growing the series and enlarging the crowds makes them more marketable because sponsors can reach a larger audience than they ever could before. Given all these points, it's obvious that the Cup drivers are helping to grow the Busch Series faster and larger than it would have likely done with only the Busch drivers to promote as stars.
The presence of the Cup drivers also benefits the young up and coming drivers working their way through the Busch Series. They are getting to race and test their skills against the absolute best drivers out there on a regular basis. If they are paying attention, the youngsters are also getting a priceless chance to learn from these veterans every week. This can only help them to hone their skills and also to prepare for a possible future in the Cup series. These days, drivers are getting a chance to learn much earlier in their careers than used to be possible before. Face it, it is no longer “normal” to have the time to allow a rookie to learn and grow in the Cup series. Sponsors and teams can’t wait; they need to be ready to race when they get there.
Drivers like Denny Hamlin prove this system is working. He's poised to lock himself into the Top 10 in Cup points in just his first season, and I'd argue that it's not only his natural talent, but the lessons he learned racing with the Cup drivers during his time in the Busch Series that has helped him attain that success.
If some teams or drivers feel they are being pushed out of the sport by the Cup drivers in the Busch series, perhaps if they can't be competitive in the series, they shouldn't be there anyway. Again, this is racing, and the 43 fastest cars and drivers should be the ones who get to race. There is no room for drivers or teams that can't keep up. As for funding, they might have it if they ran competitively enough to get air time on television so they'd be attractive to a sponsor. What company would want to support a car that runs in the back all the time? Plenty of young drivers do successfully move up through the Busch Series ranks, proving that drivers who have the talent to be there are successful even with the Cup drivers present.
OK, I think that's enough. Yes, there are valid arguments to make that the Cup drivers are good for the Busch Series. But I still think that's only one side of things, and I still think there is more to the issue than what has just been said here. I can write up some compelling reasons for it…but I still don't necessarily believe it.
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