California might have served as a wake up call for NASCAR. The Busch race and the truck race did not have full fields. The second- and third-biggest racing series in the U.S. didn’t have full fields for their races this weekend. The influx of Cup drivers stealing the headlines and the escalating costs of running teams are obviously taking a toll. What does the future hold?
The first thing that comes to mind when watching the races this weekend was why aren’t there more teams in California? Sure, it’s a long way from home. And the cost of exporting a car to the west coast the week before Mexico puts a strain on any team, but this is the Busch Series. This is the big leagues. If 43 teams don’t want to try and make a race at a major facility near the media capital of the world, something is seriously wrong. Not that long ago, there were 50 or more teams showing up for every Busch race. The cost of running a team was affordable and the exposure for sponsors was at a much lower price than a Cup car. Now, the sponsors are shying away because all of the attention is going to the Cup drivers who are moonlighting in the series. And the cost of fielding a team has become prohibitive for all but the most well capitalized teams.
NASCAR needs to take a hard look at the state of their feeder series. Even last year, there were local teams that would take a shot at making a race. They’d lease a car or build one just for the chance to qualify for a Busch race. Whenever the races were held out West, a local driver or three would show up and take a shot at qualifying. That was often how drivers were noticed. Look at David Gilliland last year. He was with an underfunded team and caught lightning in a bottle. Now he is a Cup driver. This week, there weren’t any local drivers taking a shot at making the race. Two starting spots in the Busch race and two more in the truck race went unfilled. That is just inexcusable, and the blame has to be placed somewhere.
Part of the problem has to lie with the promoters and the purses that they are putting up for the support series. The purses in Busch and truck races are a joke. Outside of the top three or four spots, teams lose money by showing up for a race. The amount of money that is pumped into these tracks that host the races should allow for them to pay some more respectable prize money. If the reward for making a race is higher, there will be more people who try and make a go of team ownership.
Look at Front Row Motorsports. They are attempting to make the Cup races this season. They could run Busch and be almost certain of making every race. However, making one out of three Cup races and finishing near the back of the pack makes them more money and wears out less equipment than making three Busch races. The economics of running the Busch Series just don’t make it feasible for a single-car standalone team to try and run the series.
Blame can also be placed on the team owners. They’ve known for some time how much running a team costs. And for years they were not putting money back into their teams at a fast enough pace to keep up with technology. The end result is that most of the teams that are not owned by Cup owners do not have the technology to compete. Obviously that research costs money and the owners would have to work to get that kind of sponsorship money, but the poor-me attitude has gone on long enough. Cup drivers have always been in Busch. And have usually dominated when they showed up. It has just become more prevalent lately since so many Cup teams are using the series for practice for their development drivers.
Finally, blame lies squarely with NASCAR. The cash cow that is the sanctioning body needs to support the series more and more. The Truck Series is often left to run as a standalone event. The Busch Series has a large enough following that it would make much more sense for the trucks to be paired up with the Cup Series and let the Busch races stand alone. That would bring additional attention to the trucks, and take away a lot of the benefit of Cup teams running Busch efforts. The sanctioning body should also be funneling more money to the teams through incentives or supplements to the tracks to encourage participation and better payouts. The folks in Daytona are turning a blind eye to what is happening in their support series, and it may be too late before they make a change.
The Truck Series offers the best racing on the planet on pavement. If it was marketed more aggressively, shown on a better television network and paired up with the Cup Series, it would thrive and explode in popularity. If the Busch Series was more economically plausible, more teams would run it and local drivers would be more tempted to try and make a race here and there.
The less-than-full fields this weekend are just one symptom of a major problem in Busch and trucks. NASCAR needs to step up and make these series a priority before they fall by the wayside and become another footnote in the history books. C’mon NASCAR, you need to do the right thing and pay the price for teams and drivers that have earned their shot at the big time.