Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Big Change

We NASCAR fans really are a conservative bunch. I don’t mean politically; there we are as diverse as any cross section of America. I’m using the term “conservative” as meaning “resistant to change.”
Somewhere along the line we completely missed the change that has come over the NASCAR Busch Series. We can’t even pinpoint when it happened, because, except for the addition of Mexico City as a points race last year, there was no hoopla, no big press releases, no press conference announcing the change.
But, the fact is that the Busch Series has become a separate top tier form of stock car racing from the Cup series. It is no longer the “minor league” for the Cup, and the term “Buschwhacker” is no longer relevant. For most, it is no longer the developmental “feeder” series, but a final polishing step for those headed to Cup. The true feeder series are the Elite and the Grand National weekly series, The ARCA series, and, for a few, such as Erin Crocker, Joey Miller, and Kraig Kinser, the Craftsman Truck series.
Certainly, there are still those drivers who use the NBS as a way station to get into a Cup ride, to get some seat time, and to get used to some of the tracks, but most of these were hired to be Cup drivers. In fact, the only true “full-time” Busch series drivers I can think of, right off hand, are David Green, Jason Leffler, Stanton Barrett, John Andretti, Jason Keller, Hermie Sadler, Kevin Lepaige, Randy LaJoie. Kenny Wallace, and Stacey Compton. Everyone else racing in the NBS this year is either headed to Cup, borrowed from the Craftsman Truck series, or borrowed from the Cup series. Not that the drivers I mentioned would pass up a chance to race in a Cup race, in fact, some of them occasionally qualify for the Cup races, but for this discussion, they should be considered the only strictly NBS drivers.
Also, this year, there are an unprecedented seven drivers who are full-time in both the Cup and the NBS: Clint Bowyer, Reid Sorenson, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, JJ Yeley, Kevin Harvick, and one more I’m forgetting, I think it’s David Stremme. These are guys who will be driving in 72 NASCAR races this year--you can hardly call them “Buschwhackers.”
So why do drivers like Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Elliott Sadler, and Matt Kenseth occasionally race in the Busch series? Not to get extra practice for the Cup race. The aerodynamics of the Busch cars are different from that of the Cup cars, the center of gravity is different, and the handling characteristics are different. What good would it do to practice in a car that does not resemble the car in which they would be racing the next day? The fans don’t get it. These guys race for the love of racing. They love the competition, and the challenge of driving different cars and racing different drivers. It is the car owners who want these guys to drive their cars. There are not enough drivers in the Busch series to fill the field. Some fans could argue that the Cup drivers prevent up an coming drivers from making the race. But what if there are no up and coming drivers who are certified for the track? And, it has happened, a Busch series driver could bump a Cup regular out of a Cup race. Think of Robby Gordon last year and Scott Riggs this year at the Daytona 500. My point is that it shouldn’t, and doesn’t, make any difference who races in the Cup series or the Busch series as long as they qualify.
One may wonder if the presence of non-Busch drivers may affect the championship points of the Busch points regulars. Think about this: if David Green, for example, is the series points leader, and finishes tenth, with no one but “Buschwhackers” in front of him, the points difference between him and the points regulars behind him is no different than if he had finished first and the next NBS regular finished second.
The drivers from outside the NBS enhance the race. The rookies get a chance to race against drivers they idolized while growing up, perhaps even getting a chance to beat their heros in a race. Anthony Foyt IV or Kraig Kinser may not ever get a chance to race against Mark Martin or Dale Jarrett in Cup, but they do get that experience in the Busch series. Most of the drivers enjoy the challenge of racing the “Big Boys.”
What I am trying to say is that the Busch Series should no longer be considered “second string” to Cup.
The Cup drivers might be better known to the general public, but NBS has reached a point where the majority of the drivers are just as skilled and race just as hard as the Cup drivers. The tracks might be the same, but the cars and the style of racing are different.
The change in status may have been planned. The phase in of the “Car of Tomorrow” will begin in the Cup series in 2007. The Busch Series will still be using the cars we are familiar with. As the single template cars become prevalent in the Cup, the manufacturers’ nose and tails will still be used in the Busch cars. This will be a big difference, because then, the two series will be totally unique. When that happens, we can probably expect even more of the same drivers being full time in both Cup and Busch.


Clance' McClannahan said...

Great Post, Jim. As always...
I think Baby Busch is full time NBS and Cup too.
I agree that NBS image and role in NASCAR has changed and I think for the better.
I expect the Series to rival the Cup series in fans eventually, partially because of the Cup driver's that are racing in it. I think the Buschwhacker's are becoming better driver's for it also. NBS will hold it's own when the COT becomes mandatory. ((??))

Babs said...

Agreed! Great post!! The drivers love racing.
Tomorrow's race ought to be very interesting after watching qualifying today!