NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thompson in Turn 5: The Problem with the Buschwackers Is… There Needs to be More of Them!

Of course it isn’t breaking news that there is a large disparity in talent and equipment between Busch Series teams owned by Cup team owners such as Childress, Ganassi, Gibbs, Hendrick and the other big-time Cup players in comparison to the series’ non-Cup-owned teams. Obviously, the Cup participants have both the monetary and engineering resources to put on track equipment that is far superior to teams that compete solely in NASCAR’s second-tier series. Plus, they quite often put their more experienced and sometimes more talented Cup drivers in the Busch cars, creating an insurmountable advantage over Busch Series mainstays. This situation has had a fair number of NASCAR fans crying FOUL for quite some time.

These pirates are generally referred to as “Buschwackers.” And some believe they should be limited or barred from competing in the series. Since that is not practical, I believe for the best interest of race fans, and certainly NASCAR, the goal should be to increase the Cup influence in Busch to provide the very best racing that it can this side of the Nextel Cup Series. Fans need to take a step back and understand what they are arguing for and against when they get on their high horses about the participation of the Cup invaders. Simply put, those critics of the Buschwackers seem to want them eliminated because they are just too much better than the weaker series regulars.

So what? Do those fans want to watch races with lesser equipment than they could be seeing, piloted by drivers that are not really all that good? Shoot, not me! I want to see the best of the best race as much as I can. I would much rather watch Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick race twice in a weekend than Kyle Krisiloff, Marcos Ambrose, Stephen Leicht or Brent Sherman. And the fact is, so do most race fans, based on attendance and TV ratings when the series has a big field of Cup regulars.

There is the fairness argument that the opponents of “buschwacking” like to use to justify their dislike of the situation. The argument is that it isn’t fair to the smaller under-funded Busch regulars that cannot hope to compete with the Cup bunch. And it’s true, with the exception of a rare miracle win like David Gilliland pulled off last year, the little guys have little chance against the big guys. But racing isn’t an exercise in socialism, it is a competition wherein the most able conquer. My answer to those teams is get better, and get more money!

Part of the problem as I see it, is that there is an assumption that the NASCAR Busch Series HAS to be solely a stepping-stone for teams and drivers hoping to one day compete in NASCAR’s premier division. At one time that was pretty much the case, but not today. Busch racing has changed. The local “hot shoe” no longer can pop into the series and make a buck. The price tag to race in the series has escalated to somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million a year per competitive team. Though still a bargain in comparison to Cup competition, nonetheless, only the wealthy and talented need now apply.

So where are the stars of tomorrow going to develop? The same place most of them are learning to race now, In other sanctioning organizations: Craftsman Trucks, USAC, ARCA and the numerous late model series such as the ASA and Hooters Pro Cup. Truth is, in the last few years not many of the “young guns” have stopped in the Busch Series for long anyways.

NASCAR knows the score. Although lagging well behind its senior league in prestige and number of ravenous fans, the series is still a small “gold mine” for the sanctioning body. It is the second-most viewed auto racing series in the country, and presumably the second-most lucrative series in the country, kicking tail on both of the open-wheel series-whatever their names are this year.

And it didn’t get there on the backs of the Busch regulars! Stock car enthusiasts can’t get enough of their stars and the series provides just one more avenue to give the fans what they really want. No matter how much they complain about it.

To keep the sponsors necessary to fund a competitive Busch team, sponsors more and more, like fans, want to see the marquee drivers in the equipment that they are paying for. This point was demonstrated by the controversy in Milwaukee last month when driver Aric Almirola was jerked out of his Joe Gibbs Racing Busch ride in mid-race and replaced by Cup sensation Denny Hamlin. And why? Because JGR wanted to deliver on their sponsors desire to have Hamlin race in the sponsors hometown. And JGR had five million or so good reasons to put the “Buschwacker” in the car.

The worst thing that could happen to the Busch Series is if Cup drivers and teams pulled out of the competition. The best approach for NASCAR is to look at ways to require them to stay and even augment their participation in that series’ events. Perhaps requiring drivers to spend two full seasons in the AAA series before moving up would encourage Cup owners to keep a strong presence in the series. Such a rule might require more “ride-sharing” arrangements between an owner’s developmental driver and the owner’s popular Cup veteran, thus, guaranteeing more appearances by the stock car superstars.

Rather than argue against allowing the best to compete, the debate should be how to get more of the best to compete, and more often!

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