By far, one of the hottest topics this year has been the number of Cup drivers crossing over and making themselves at home in the Busch Series. When the discussion of whether this is good or bad for the sport comes up, one of the main arguments is how the Busch teams are adversely affected by the influx of Cup drivers. Rarely, however, has anyone mentioned what ill effects it could have on the Cup teams. That is, until Tony Stewart found the wall at Lowe’s this past Saturday night.
I’ve always thought that one of the major negatives of Cup drivers pulling double duty is the risk of injury. Despite every safety effort made by NASCAR, this is still a dangerous sport. A driver doesn’t know race to race or even lap to lap whether or not they will be involved in an accident that will force them to the sidelines. By adding an additional 200 or 300 miles of racing each week, their odds of being hurt increase.
This past weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway is a prime example. Stewart was pulling double duty and was involved in a wreck in Saturday night’s Busch Series race. The accident was bad enough that it forced a trip to the hospital for x-rays on his shoulder. While Stewart was sore, he was cleared to race and got back into his car for the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday evening. Then, one of the worst possible scenarios happened. Stewart wrecked hard again in the Cup race, forcing another trip to the hospital. This time, x-rays on that shoulder found it fractured. He will likely run just a handful of laps at Dover this weekend before handing the driving duties over to Ricky Rudd.
The problems may not end this week. What if it takes Stewart longer than expected to heal? Totally sitting out a race, maybe two, is an option but don’t look for Stewart or any other driver for that matter to take it if they can crawl into the car. Heck, I’ve seen drivers so hurt that they have to be lifted in and out of the car by their crew members just so they can each get valuable points. However, the rules about having to start a race to earn points is an entirely different debate I won’t get into here.
My question is, do the benefits of running both series outweigh the potential problems? Stewart won’t likely suffer the ill effects of this in the long run. He’s solidly in the top 10 and is almost a sure lock for the Chase. What would happen, though, if this injury happened one or two races before the Chase and Stewart was right on the borderline of making it? Now the hopes of another title for his entire team have been dashed, all because he felt the need to get another race under his belt. Not only is he hurting himself, but he’s hurting his team, his sponsors and a long line of people who basically earn their living based upon his results. Is that fair to them?
For a long-term example of what types of problem this can cause, you need to only go back five short years to find an example of a driver’s career that was forever changed by running in an extra Busch Series race.
Steve Park was 10th in the Cup Series points standings when he was injured at Darlington while running in the Busch Series. Most likely, he was headed for his career-best points finish in Cup, but that all quickly went by the wayside when he got hurt. Not only was his season in obvious jeopardy, but possibly his career and his life. He missed the rest of that season and part of the next, and to this day many people still point to that wreck and say he hasn’t been the same since.
I know that racing is what these drivers love, and they want to race whenever they get the chance. They can’t afford to go into a race thinking that they will be hurt. While none of us can predict what will happen from one moment to the next, why do so many consistently tempt fate? There are advantages to running both series, but do they outweigh the possible negatives?
Just this week two current drivers, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, who are running full-time in the Busch and Cup series, have said they plan to scale back their Busch efforts in 2007. So maybe the “problem” of the Buschwhackers is being solved by the drivers themselves as they see what toll that running in both series takes on themselves and their fellow competitors.
Will those two pulling back eliminate the problem of the Cup drivers overrunning the Busch Series completely? No, it won’t. However, seeing what happened this week with Stewart might open the eyes of some more drivers and make them realize that what gains they are trying to make by running extra races could put their main goal of a Nextel Cup championship in serious jeopardy.
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