Editor’s Note: Miss out on any of the season preview articles from last week? No worries…just click on the links below to get to the prediction you want to see…
After an anxious two months of anticipation, the offseason is finally nearing an end! With Daytona testing a distant memory, it’s less than two short weeks before the engines come to life and the 2007 Nextel Cup season hits the ground running.
Before the cars take off, though, it’s time to take a look at the issues that’ll make a difference in what’s bound to be one of the most important years for the sport in recent history. With anything from talented rookies to Toyota’s entrance in the sport making headlines, there’s plenty of topics for the Frontstretch faithful to weigh in on. Be sure to check out this space all this week to get our writers’ predictions on what’s bound to be NASCAR’s biggest season yet!
Today’s Season Preview Topic: The Busch Series has been ravaged by Buschwhackers taking all the money and the TV time, causing longtime teams to close up shop and leaving several Busch-only drivers scrambling for any ride they can get. With the Cup onslaught continuing in the series for 2007, is there any chance for someone other than a Cup driver to salvage the series by taking the title? Will NASCAR fix the Busch Series rules for ’08 and beyond, and how?
Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: Right now, the series is in the toughest shape I’ve seen it in since I first started following NASCAR as a kid in the early 1990s. There’s some question as to whether there will even be a 43-car field to show up and run the 300-mile race at Daytona, as so many Busch-only teams have closed up shop due to the Buschwhacker invasion last year. Expect this to be a problem that continues to dog the series, forcing NASCAR to finally make some sort of change to encourage teams to move to the Busch Series for 2008 and beyond.
As the Busch teams have disappeared, the Car of Tomorrow has caused Cup owners to be a little more hesitant to put their drivers and cars in the Series to replace them. But when you’ve got drivers like Carl Edwards still among those taking part in the full schedule, the Buschwhacker problem won’t disappear; it’s going to be tough for any of the Busch-only wheelmen to break through and take home the title trophy. At least with Steve Wallace, Stephen Leicht and Mike Wallace among those running full-time with well-funded teams, there’s a much better chance Busch-only drivers will take home more than two wins this year.
Nikki Krone, Assistant Editor: The 2006 season wasn’t typical, in my opinion. There were more Cup drivers running full-time last season then there are supposed to be this year, so I think Busch guys may have a better season. In fact, I think a Busch-only driver will win the championship. As for NASCAR fixing the Busch Series for 2008 and beyond… they will not.
Toni Heffelfinger, Assistant Editor: Fix? Why would they fix it? As far as NASCAR is concerned, everything is just hunky dory over in the Busch Series… you can’t fix a problem if you don’t see it. As for anyone other than a Cup driver taking the title, is anyone other than a Cup driver even running full-time in Busch in 2007? The rookies and the regulars all seem to be shoved into shared time rides with Cup drivers. I’m serious… I have no idea who is even running for the title in Busch this year, and I write about the series. That’s how bad it’s gotten.
Kim DeHaven, Public Relations Coordinator: You can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist… or rather, that you refuse to acknowledge. A non-Cup driver will not win the title in 2007 or even challenge for a spot in the top-five positions in the points standings.
Amy Henderson, Driver Interview Coordinator: With a smaller number of full-time Cup drivers being greedy enough to run for both titles in 2007, it’s possible a Busch driver can break through… about as possible as them being abducted by aliens. The Busch Series is on life support, and NASCAR is making no move to do anything but pull the plug. They COULD easily fix the series in any number of ways – but they will continue to ignore the problem by pretending there is no problem. NASCAR is in very real danger here – unless they reestablish a development series, there will not be enough good drivers to replace the number of older drivers that will retire in the next five years. The Nextel Cup Series will then be a series full of David Ragans and Todd Kluevers… and that won’t be pretty.
Becca Gladden, Senior Writer: I don’t totally agree with this premise, particularly the word “ravaged.” It’s unlikely that a Busch Series regular will win the title this year, and NASCAR may make some rules adjustments to the series in the future, but there is too much at stake financially to eliminate the Buschwhackers altogether.
Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: The Busch Series is HISTORY! Not only will NASCAR refuse to do anything about “Buschwhackers,” they are raising the price for sponsorship of the series to the point that Anheiser-Busch itself has said “C’YA!” It’s just further proof that Brian France cares nothing about the sport of stock car racing… only about the money they can make. The series is SUPPOSED to be the development ground for the future of the sport, NOT a subsidiary of the parent company helping to raise the bottom line. NASCAR will NOT fix anything about the Busch Series until it totally ceases to make money for the Royal Family.
Mike Neff, Senior Writer: The odds of a standalone Busch team winning the title are still going to be remote this season. There are going to be four or five Cup regulars running the entire schedule, along with other Cup-backed teams with drivers in the series. Most likely, one of those Cup drivers will take the title. Fortunately, with the CoT taking over most of the Cup series in the next year, the benefits to Buschwhackers will hopefully be diminished enough so that there isn’t any need to tweak the rules going forward. There will still be Cup-backed Busch teams with development drivers, but Cup regulars running the full schedule will hopefully trail off dramatically.
Cami Starr, Senior Writer: I think the chances of a Busch-only driver winning the title is between slim and none this year. The Cup guys totally dominated last year, and any Busch driver that ran well in 2006 has now moved out of the series. As far as a fix by NASCAR, I’m not sold on the fact that they want to change it. In their view, they are getting more viewers and people in the seats because the Cup guys are driving on Saturdays. We all know the almighty dollar is NA$CAR’s top interest; why change that now?
Beth Lunkenheimer, Contributor: For the majority of the 2006 season, you could hear the cries from fans and writers everywhere; Buschwhacking stinks! As much as I’d like to see a Cinderella story of some small Busch-only team that runs away with the title and shows the Cup drivers their place, I don’t see it happening. The Buschwhackers have the monetary backing of the large Cup teams, giving them the edge over the Busch-only contingent, and they also hold the edge of extra track time each weekend, running both series at the same track. Like 2006, I expect the 2007 season to be dominated by Cup drivers, with just one or two weeks when a Busch-only driver manages to break through and win. Despite that, NASCAR probably won’t make any rules changes for ’08 and beyond. They’ve already commented how viewership of the Busch Series races is up because people want to see their favorite drivers no matter what, and I have talked to plenty of people who only watch the Busch Series because of the Cup drivers running those races. While the health of the series may be in danger, NASCAR isn’t going to be willing to give that up.
Vito Pugliese, Contributor: Nope. Not a chance in hell. Kevin Harvick won the Busch title last year by 824 points over Edwards, another Cup regular… the closest true Busch driver to Harvick was Paul Menard in sixth place. He was only 1,573 points back; that means for Menard to have had a shot at the title, he would have needed to win nine races in a row, AND have Harvick stay home on Saturday. Keep in mind Menard runs from the DEI shops, too, so there is a level of Cup technology and influence from a top team that is being transferred, as well.
With Menard off to Cup in ’07, the only thing that can help salvage any sort of hope for the existing Busch teams is to go to a completely different body-style car. There has been talk that new retro (is that an oxymoron?) pony cars such as the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro might be the ticket to help level the playing field. These designs are fresh, exciting, distinguishable amongst brands and not exactly aerodynamic. It’s a perfect compromise; there are too many similarities between the Busch and Cup cars right now for the true Busch teams to stand a chance. A car design that shares virtually nothing with a Cup car might be an equalizer for this series and help create some excitement and differentiation of its own. It used to be Cup drivers would show up to help get people in the stands or to the track to watch the show. Now, it’s just another practice or test session for the parent Cup team, a substantial money maker, and a way to move some more diecast cars and t-shirts. That’s not good.
Tommy Thompson, Contributor: The trend towards promoting young drivers to the Cup level while continuing to allow them to develop their skills by acquiring more “track time” in the Busch Series is becoming more and more commonplace. There are no pure Busch Series competitors with the equipment to compete for the title against the Nextel Cup teams.
Unfortunately, NASCAR will not amend any rules to correct the inequity of the “big league” drivers participating in Busch. They first need to admit that there is, in fact, a problem… something they have yet to do.
How do YOU think the Busch Series will fare this season, and how can NASCAR fix it? Feel free to offer your personal previews below in the comments section.