I’ve never made any bones about my feelings about the state of the Busch Series and the Nextel Cup owners who are using the series for extra testing time at the expense of the teams who truly want to race the series in its own right, or the costs to compete with these powerhouse teams and drivers. But are Cup drivers themselves bad for the Busch Series?
On one hand, Cup drivers go hand-in hand with the Cup owners. They bring more expensive equipment with richer sponsorship and more highly trained crews. They do get the high-dollar sponsorships for their cars, whether for a full season or a few select races, that the independent Busch teams cannot land, all because of their name. They take purse money too, because their high-dollar equipment almost always trumps the independents’ best efforts. Simply put, they bully the independents out of the playground financially.
Then there’s driving style. While a few Cup drivers ran for (and handily won, see money reason above) the NBS championship, many more drove in a few (or several) select races. These drivers can drive aggressively for the race win because there are no points on the line, only glory. Inevitably this leads to some racing moves that have the end result of an independent Busch team or championship contender (or two, or more) sitting in a smoking heap somewhere. While that can also be said for the Nextel Cup Series, especially in the Chase era, the ramifications are greater in the Busch Series because, once again, of the money involved. The independents do not have the personnel or the technology at their disposal that the Cup teams do, and fixing cars is expensive, painstaking work for teams that often have to turn a car around for a race a week or two away because they do not have the luxury of a huge stable of cars to choose from. It’s one thing when a raw rookie learning the series and its cars causes this damage, another entirely when it’s a driver with enough experience to know, and drive, better.
But on the other hand, having experienced Cup drivers in the field every week is a good thing for the young drivers who are now coming into NASCAR’s top series with much less experience than an earlier generation gained before racing at that level. Racing an experienced driver who races hard and clean, like a Mark Martin or a Jeff Burton, can only help these youngsters. They learn better car control and better self control when they are pushed to perform in a side-by-side battle or tight draft. They can learn by the outstanding example that a conscientious veteran can provide. Drivers who race hard but race right are at a premium in any series, and their example should be available for the next generation to follow.
And then there are a few Cup guys who, for whatever reason, have always raced better in a Cup car. Jimmie Johnson comes to mind. He’s a brilliant Cup driver but has never looked as comfortable in the smaller Busch cars. Jeremy Mayfield and Ricky Craven never showed the comfort level in Busch that they did in Cup either. Simply put, it has to be an ego boost for the small Busch teams and the inexperienced drivers to compete with (and above) winning Nextel Cup drivers. In the long run, it’s only good for face value, but it has to feel good at the time.
Does NASCAR have a very real problem with the infusion of Cup money and ownership in the Busch Series? Yes, absolutely. There are certainly drawbacks to having Cup drivers in there every week as well. But the drivers themselves aren’t all bad for the series. They have a place, NASCAR just needs to make sure they stay in it and don’t overstep their bounds or overstay their welcome.