Toni Montgomery · Thursday September 8, 2005
The Busch Series championship has the look of being down to a two horse race. Although Clint Bowyer has gained a little ground on points leader Martin Truex Jr., even that race isn’t all that close. The next drivers back are over 300 points behind. The margins back to the second half of the top ten increase to over 800 points. I’m afraid, boys and girls, that the race to the big trophy isn’t going to be all that exciting.
Admittedly, it happens that way sometimes. I have a feeling, though, if things stay as they are and the [[Busch Series]] continues to be an extra practice session for up to 20 Cup drivers per week, you may as well get used to a ho-hum title fight in this series. It’s my thinking that the presence of the Cup drivers is directly to blame for the huge margins that are not going to allow for an exciting Busch points battle.
Those point margins came about in two ways. First, most of the top spots in the finishing order each week are taken by Cup drivers. With superior resources behind the Cup affiliated teams, the Busch regulars have a hard time keeping up for the most part. Three or four Busch regulars are usually sprinkled in the mix, and those drivers are getting good points for their finishing positions, but the majority of the big points paying positions are being taken by Cup drivers. If Truex finishes third he gets those points, but let’s say the next Busch guy finishes eighth. Even though among Busch regulars that driver was second, instead of a five or ten point margin between those spots, there is a 23 point difference. If those same two drivers finished first and second over a four race stretch, there would be a 40 point difference between them. Potential bonus points are not being added in for the moment. If there were Cup drivers taking spots and they managed to finish each race in third and eighth like used above, the margin would be 92 instead. Our second place driver is now over twice as many points behind even though he was the second best Busch driver in both examples.
The Cup drivers are obviously taking points away from the Busch drivers on the front end of the field, but I think they are also taking points away from them in the back as well and that is also making the margins in the standings larger. Let’s say an ordinarily strong driver runs into some bad luck and has two bad weeks in a row. This may require a little bit of theory, but my thought is that if that driver were competing among only teams that are Busch regulars, he is among teams that are more equal and there is a little more leeway for being off just a little bit. He may be able to salvage a 23rd place finish out of the deal, much the way a good Cup team like Jeff Gordon’s can manage even on a bad night but among the proper level of competition. Now let’s say there are 20 Cup drivers in the field. Now that driver might have 20 teams that are going to be tough to keep up with on a good day in addition to the regular competition he is equal too. Instead of 23rd, maybe he only manages 34th in that kind of field. Instead of coming away with 94 points for the 23rd place run, he comes away with 61 points for the 34th place result. That’s 33 additional points lost with the same run but among a different level of competition.
So assuming the Busch Series won’t be altering the schedule to mostly stand alone races and the rules won’t be banning Cup drivers any time soon, are we stuck with boring championship battles with drivers being up to 1000 points apart in the top ten? Unfortunately I think we are. Others seem to have the same thought because the whispers of the idea of instituting the Chase format in the Busch Series have been in the air. Not necessarily from NASCAR mind you, but the thought has been tossed around.
Some of the Busch drivers would like to see the Chase format. That’s not really surprising. David Green, one of the drivers who would like to see the idea adopted in his series, could very well be the driver in the example above. Green got off to a slow start and fell behind in the early part of the season. His team has since gained momentum and stacked up a number of nice results but he’s now 857 points behind Truex. In spite of the strength his team has been showing lately, he’s not bound to be moving up anywhere fast. His progress is likely to be slowed even more by having to race against Cup drivers most week. Paul Menard is another good example. Competing in his first full season, Menard had a shaky start but has been rock solid, racking up one top ten finish after another in recent weeks, but he’s 853 points behind the leader. Green and Menard are surging just like Matt Kenseth is in the Cup series, but thanks to the huge point deficit they have to overcome, they are probably relegated to competing amongst themselves and with David Stremme for seventh, eighth, and ninth in the final rundown because while Stremme is within reach, he’s 248 points behind Kenny Wallace in sixth.
One advantage of instituting a Chase format would be to erase these huge margins and give these drivers a chance to really show the late strength their teams have found. No, on the surface it doesn’t seem fair to erase margins of 800 or more points and put these drivers within sight of the leader who has worked hard to stay up there with the Cup drivers all year, but given that the margins are artificially large because of those Cup drivers, it can also be argued that it is a way to correct the damage their presence has done.
There are some problems though. There will still be Cup drivers running in the Busch races and their presence could cause difficulties in running a chase format. For one thing they will still be taking the lion’s share of the points. There will still be times when the top Busch guy finishes in the top three while the next Busch guy finishes tenth. It could make a chase format useless when the huge margins come back after just a few weeks. Of course, is it really any different from Cup, where ten drivers still have to compete with 33 others on the track? A Cup chaser could finish in the top three while the next chaser ends up tenth.
A Busch Series chase is something to think about. It could help to minimize the effect the Cup invaders have on the Busch Series title fight. It might be part of the solution NASCAR is looking for to make things more fair for the series regulars. Or it could be a complete failure because of the interference. Either way, I think it’s something for NASCAR to consider.
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