Toni Montgomery · Thursday June 16, 2005
Crap. Now that Shane’s gone I’m going to have to work harder. There go at least three good future columns down the tubes. Fortunately that isn’t what I was planning for this week anyway. Instead, I think this is a good time to see how things worked out for the Busch Series in Nashville on their stand-alone weekend from the Cup drivers. It’s actually the third stand alone weekend for the season, with the first coming in Mexico and the second also in Nashville, but the Mexican race was scheduled on an off weekend for Cup so that those drivers could still participate. Because of that, it doesn’t quite count the same as a true stand-alone weekend where the Cup guys aren’t there.
There were still supposed to be two Cup regulars in last week’s Nashville event because Carl Edwards was trying to run the full Busch schedule and Sterling Marlin had to add a few races to his plans when the driver he shares his car with, Scott Lagasse, failed to get clearance from NASCAR to race on certain tracks. Mother Nature had different ideas when uncooperative weather postponed the Busch race from its original running time on Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. Edwards and Marlin were supposed to be running a Cup race in Pocono at the same time so neither was able to make the Busch race.
Edwards had to rely on backup driver Hank Parker Jr. to take over his ride while Marlin’s team flew truck series regular Johnny Benson in from Charlotte on Sunday morning to drive. That couldn’t have been an easy task for either driver. Parker Jr. spent most of Friday getting the car set up the way Edwards would like it, which doesn’t necessarily mean it was anything near the way Parker would want it. Benson never even sat in the car he was expected to drive until Sunday, the day of the race. Both did a respectable job. Parker came in 20th, which was not bad for a driver who hasn’t run in the Busch Series since 2003. Benson ran near the front all day until encountering problems late in the race but still brought the No. 40 Snapper Dodge home in 18th.
In Marlin’s case, missing this race just means he spent Saturday afternoon and evening doing a lot of unnecessary traveling he wasn’t really scheduled to do in the first place. In Edwards’ case it meant losing the points lead he has held all season in the Busch Series to his biggest rival for the championship so far, Reed Sorenson. In fact, Carl not only turned his points lead over to Sorenson, he was passed by Martin Truex Jr., the defending champion who has marched up the standings on a mission after a dismal start to the season, and Clint Bowyer who notched his first victory in Nashville. Still, Edwards only trails Sorenson by 96 points and isn’t anywhere near giving up his title shot yet. He might be able to pull this off, even minus a race, but he better hope the weather cooperates for the rest of the season. While drivers in years past had big enough margins to miss a few races, Edwards is among tight competition and two events with no points scored could be the end of him.
If it’s any compensation, Edwards might have lost his Busch Series points lead, but he swapped it for a Cup win at Pocono so it’s not like he walked away from the weekend empty handed. Neither did the Busch Series regulars who truly had Nashville to themselves and walked away with all of the points and prize money. Clint Bowyer took home the lion’s share of that with the win. Bowyer probably would have won earlier and more often already in Busch if he didn’t have to compete with Cup drivers almost every week. Bowyer has been solid and impressive this season. He’s also been rather quiet about all of it, almost making you wonder how he got to third in the points standings.
Word has it now that NASCAR is re-evaluating their policies for the Cup competitors running in the Busch races. They aren’t looking to limit the participation of the Cup drivers, but they are looking at a way to let them compete without taking all of the money and points that should go to the Busch regulars. They will still have to race against a growing number of Cup drivers, but with a different structure for driver’s points, such as only awarding them to drivers intending to run for the Busch championship in the order they finished the race, they wouldn’t face the interference that creates such huge margins between the champion and the tenth place finisher or have part time drivers appearing in the top ten.
The points are important but the purse money is vital to the survival of some of these Busch teams. If you’ve ever looked at the listing of who was awarded what after a race, you’d notice the amounts are already much smaller than those given out in Cup races. Some Busch races pay less to the winner than the last place finisher gets in a Cup race and the best amounts of money usually go to the top five or so finishers. If you have a situation like Atlanta where nine of the top ten finishers (the top nine no less) are Cup drivers, how much do you think was left to go to Busch regulars?
A good look at the money distribution policies and who is getting most of it in the Busch Series was long overdue. The idea would be to set up a plan where cars driven by Busch regulars would be eligible for a larger percentage of purse money than those driven by Cup regulars. Hopefully that percentage difference would be much larger. I can see many positives in such a policy and only one drawback. Drivers and media would forever more be fielding the same question they do now in Cup. Why does the guy who finished 12th get more money than the guy who finished fourth? Of course answering that question for Busch would be much simpler than trying to explain all of the Cup “plan” money. Because he is racing in his own series and not someone else’s.
There is one question that would need to be answered once and for all if this plan was implemented. What do you do with guys like Carl Edwards? Obviously if he is declaring intentions on running a full season and pursuing a championship in the Busch Series, he should be awarded Busch regular points. Should his team also get Busch regular money? Whether or not to consider him a Buschwhacker, a Busch regular, or something else has just been for purposes of classifying him on one side of the issue or the other until now but that would need to be definitely determined if changes were to be made to how points and money are awarded.
This weekend is another stand-alone weekend for the Busch Series, but this time there are a number of Cup drivers planning on traveling back and forth to do the double. Apparently Kentucky is not far away enough from Michigan to deter them. We’ll have to wait until next week when the Cup drivers are off in Sonoma and the Busch Series visits Milwaukee. That should be a big enough trip to deter most of them.
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