Buschwhackers Go Nationwide
by Bob Frykholm
on February 7, 2008 @ 14:59:47
"Buschwhackers" are not political satirists, nor are they settlers reclaiming the outback. The term refers to Sprint Cup Series drivers who compete in the division below the Sprint Cup, formerly called the Busch Series, hence the name. The former Busch Series has a new sponsor this season and is now called the Nationwide Series.
There are many detractors of these crossover occurrences. Some liken the practice to Major League Baseball players competing in the minor leagues. They contend it inhibits development of younger drivers who aspire to compete in the Sprint Cup Series. Many of the Nationwide Series team owners, who do not have drivers in the Sprint Cup, have taken issue with the Buschwhackers, claiming it reduces their chances at winning.
You might be asking yourself: What purpose does it serve for drivers from the big show to drive in a lower division series? Basically there are two reasons: practice and money. Since the majority of the Nationwide races are run on the same track the day before the Sprint Cup Series, it serves as a great opportunity for the Buschwhackers to feel out the track and utilize that information for the Sprint Cup race the following day.
Not only are the races good for preparation, but the financial reward is also tempting. Buschwhacker Carl Edwards, last year's Busch Series champion, collected $1.24 million dollars in winnings, nearly 27 percent of his Nextel Cup Series total. David Reutimann, runner-up to Edwards, earned $1.13 million, which was not quite half of his winnings in the Nextel Cup Series. Not bad pay for 35 days of practice.
Many Nextel Cup Series drivers would cherry-pick certain races and not commit to running the majority of every "tuneup" event. Buschwhackers claimed six of the top-10 spots in last years Busch Series, while Jeff Gordon was the only Nextel Cup Series driver that finished in the top 12 that didn't compete in a Busch Series race.
There were more than six Buschwhackers who competed in both the Sprint Cup and the Busch Series last season. A rundown of the six drivers who finished in the top 10 offers some interesting insight into the reasons Buschwhacking is so popular among Chase drivers.
Edwards finished first in the Busch Series and ninth in the Nextel Cup Series. In all three Chase races that Edwards won, he was able to run on the same track just prior to his victories. Edwards had only one top-five finish (at Atlanta Motor Speedway) in which he was unable to run on the same track prior to his strong showing on the Chase circuit.
Reutimann's rookie season for the Chase for the Cup was not memorable, as he finished 39th in the standings. However, he was able to finish second overall in the Busch Series. He is a good example of how the Nationwide Series can help develop drivers. Two of his top-five finishes in the Busch Series happened during the second half of the season. In Reutimann's first part of the Busch Series season his average finish was 32nd, while during the last part of the season his average finish was 28th.
Harvick is a veteran Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series driver. He raced in the Busch Series event the day prior to the Daytona 500 last season, finishing in first place. Harvick, who won only one Sprint Cup race all season, took full advantage of being able to race a day earlier, winning the Daytona 500. Harvick had six wins and 11 top-five finishes in the Busch Series, finishing fourth overall. He had one win and four top-five finishes in the Nextel Cup Series, finishing 10th.
While all drivers don't take advantage of racing on the same track a day earlier, the experience of racing in consecutive days doesn't hurt their chances, either. Ragan was a rookie in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series last season. His 23rd-place finish in the Nextel Cup was fueled by two top-five finishes, while Ragan ran in all 35 Busch races, finishing fifth. Ragan, however, often had mixed results in parlaying the success he had in Busch races to Sprint Cup races. A successful day on the track one day normally didn't equal success in the next. This year, Ragan is scheduled to run a full season for both the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series.
Last season, Biffle had a disappointing 14th-place finish in the Nextel Cup but was able to finish ninth in the Busch Series. Biffle had no wins in the Busch races and finished with three top-five finishes. Biffle did win one Nextel Cup race and had five top-five finishes. He is a veteran Buschwhacker who has raced for seven years in the Busch series and has one Busch Series championship under his belt.
Kenseth, like Edwards, is one of the top drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. He had a strong fourth-place finish in the Nextel Cup and did very well in the Busch Series, finishing 10th. He was a model of consistency with two wins in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series, along with 15 top-five Busch finishes and 13 of the same variety in the Nextel Cup Series. He raced in only 24 of the 35 Busch Series races, which could explain why he didn't place higher than 10th.
Other Drivers of Note:
Marcos Ambrose is scheduled to run a full schedule on the Nationwide circuit for Wood Brothers/JTG Racing. Currently he's scheduled to run 12 events in the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford and four events in the No. 47 car in the Sprint Cup.... Denny Hamlin is expected to split driving duties with Brian Vickers and teammate Kyle Busch in the No. 10 and No. 32 cars when Dollar General is the sponsor.... Clint Bowyer is believed to be running a full-time schedule in the Nationwide Series.... Jeff Burton is planning on racing in 12 Nationwide Series races.... This season Dale Earnhardt Jr., along with teammates Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears, is scheduled to race in several events.... Tony Stewart is again scheduled to ride in several events this season, as he has done over the last six years.
Race fans continue to debate the positives and negatives with Sprint Cup Series drivers competing in the Nationwide Series. One factor that cannot be debated is that the bigger names do bring excitement and fan loyalty to Nationwide Series races. Fans of the Sprint Cup Series enjoy seeing their favorite drivers compete before the big race. It helps fill the stands and allows team owners to evaluate how young developing drivers can run with Sprint Cup drivers.
It will be interesting to note how effective the Buschwhackers will be this year. Many believe that the Car of Tomorrow will dissuade some of the crossover competition because of the differences from racing the older cars in the Nationwide Series. It may no longer serve as a tuneup because of the car differences. This year will be interesting to see if the Sprint Cup drivers view the Nationwide Series as a second job, or if they continue to run the races for purposes of preparation.
About Bob Frykholm
Frykholm has been a KFFL contributor since February 2008.
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