Editor’s Note: This “Best Of” article was originally published on February 28th, 2006.
It is really hard to get excited about the Busch Series this season. With seven full-time Nextel Cup drivers also planning to run the entire Busch Series schedule, and many more running 10 to 20 plus races, it’s no longer a feeder series, it’s a Nextel Cup practice session.
You can argue that the cars aren’t the same and there is only so much that you can transfer from one to the other. However, I have to believe that if it didn’t help the drivers on the track or the teams with the car’s setups on Sunday, most of the Cup owners would not allow their drivers to risk themselves on Saturday.
The “regular” Busch Series drivers can claim that they like it when the Cup drivers race with them because it makes them better, but you know that they really would prefer to have a chance to actually win a race in their series.
It’s been an annoying trend every season, but this year it’s even worse. They’re called “Buschwhackers,” but many are rethinking that name, since so many of these drivers are actually running both series full-time. Cup drivers Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, JJ Yeley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Reed Sorenson and Carl Edwards will run the entire Busch Series 35-race schedule. Drivers like Michael Waltrip, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Scott Wimmer, Ken Schrader, Casey Mears, Jeremy Mayfield, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton and others are also running in several races this season. With only 43 available spots each weekend, that drastically reduces the opportunity for those non-Cup drivers to compete.
Saturday’s Stater Bros. 300 is a perfect example. 18 Cup drivers took part in that race, with the top-11 finishing positions going to Cup drivers and Biffle earning the victory. With his 12th-place run, Todd Kluever, driving a Roush Ford, was the first non-Cup driver to cross the finish line. John Andretti, driving the No. 10 ppc Racing Ford, finished 19th in one of the few cars in Saturday’s field that doesn’t have Cup affiliation.
And it’s not just that I get annoyed watching the Cup drivers generally dominating the races (usually because they drive for big time Cup owners/teams that like to “dabble” in the Busch Series), but the television broadcasts tend to ignore the smaller “regular” Busch Series drivers. Take the recent race at California Speedway. If someone had just turned on the television mid-race and not known what day it was, they would probably think they were watching a Cup race. They also might have thought that Biffle, Newman, Edwards, Burton, Harvick, Sorenson and Hamlin were the only drivers in the race. For instance, Kenny Wallace finished 24th after qualifying 11th. Why did he slip so far back? Jason Keller qualified 30th and fought his way to a 15th-place finish. Why didn’t we hear much about that? Rookie Burney Lamar impressed everyone by finishing second to Tony Stewart at Daytona, however, 21st was the best he could muster on Saturday. What happened?
I know a lot of people are going to argue that even in the Nextel Cup Series broadcasts, they generally only focus on the drivers who are at the top of the heap, or drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson no matter where they are. It’s one of the television networks’ biggest faults and the complaint of fans whose drivers aren’t always running up front. However, these are the Busch Series races, and they are totally ignoring the drivers whose only racing outlet is that Series, those who put their heart, souls, and often their financial stability on the line just to compete. They are also ignoring those of us who love the Busch Series because of the dedication that these “little” drivers and teams have; the ones who aren’t funded by Nextel Cup owners.
There was recently a story on BGNRacing.com about Kertus Davis and how every next race could be his last. The team is funded by his father, who has gone into debt trying to make their dreams come true. They made every race last year except for five, with only three full-time employees including his father. They did not finish in the Top 30 in the owner points standings, therefore, they do not have a guaranteed spot in the field every weekend. This means that they, like several others in the Series, have to focus almost all of their energy on qualifying just to make the field. But when it’s an impound race, it means they can’t do a thing to their cars after qualifying. If it weren’t for so many of those 43 spots being taken up by Cup drivers on a weekly basis, there would be more open spots for the regular Busch guys, meaning they’d have to concentrate less on qualifying setup and could concentrate a little more on making the car race-ready. But they can’t. So instead, if they make the race, chances are very good they won’t be very competitive, and they will usually have to settle for just riding around in circles.
But most drivers don’t race just to ride around in circles; they race to win. If they can’t win, they at least want to believe they have a chance and be competitive. When they have to compete against all of these Cup drivers and all this Cup money and equipment, there is little more they can do then just ride around. It’s not fun for them, and it’s not fun for many of us Busch Series fans.
So, I will continue to watch the Busch Series every weekend and cheer for the drivers who really are Busch Series drivers. However, it’s going to be real hard to get excited knowing that the likely outcome is one of the many Cup Series teams in victory lane. I hope NASCAR does do something before they destroy a great racing series with so much history, if it’s not already too late.
NASCAR really needs to limit Cup drivers in the amount of races they can compete in every year, before the Busch Series guys (and girls) get pushed out of their own series. I say, if a driver competes full-time in the Nextel Cup Series, they should only be allowed to run no more than 15 Busch Series races. This way, they still get to come out and race “for fun,” while allowing the Busch Series drivers more of a chance to win their own races and their own championship. Unfortunately, I don’t see NASCAR doing anything. I think they are happy with the money the Cup guys bring to the series, both through sponsorship and ticket sales, and as we know, money does make NASCAR go round.