NASCAR is presently trying to find a new sponsor for the Busch Series for next season, as this will be the last year for the longtime series sponsor, Busch beer.
Some company will gladly step up and pay the sanctioning body the asking price to have its brand become the title sponsor, but the sport doesn’t seem to want to be considered as a standalone racing series.
For years the Busch Series was used to give up-and-coming drivers the opportunity to gain experience before moving up the ladder to the highly competitive Cup level. The same could also be said for owners trying their hand in the sport as it gave them the chance to experience all that was involved in fielding a car at the next level and what it would take to be competitive.
It was a win/win situation for both the Cup and Busch Series as each had its own identity that featured close competition and season-long battles for their titles. Somewhere along the way over the last few years, some Cup drivers and owners decided they would make the Busch Series their own private playground without any regard for what it would do to overall quality of the sport.
Successful Cup owners soon found out they could offer a topquality Busch Series program to sponsors for a fraction of what it would cost in the Cup Series, and in the process made finding sponsorship for existing and wouldbe Busch teams tough. Sponsors were getting established Cup drivers that would run for the win anytime they took the green flag, thanks to the superior equipment Cup owners could provide.
Cup drivers now rule the Busch Series with last year’s title being won by Kevin Harvick by a margin that would have allowed him to sit out the last couple of races and still have his name engraved on the championship trophy. Carl Edwards is following the same path this season and it looks like the engraving for his trophy can begin by the end of the summer.
Cup regulars have been so successful in the raiding of the Busch Series that anytime a Busch driver has a chance at a victory it becomes a David vs. the giant story. Once such story was unfolding Saturday night in the AT&T 250 at Milwaukee when Aric Almirola had to qualify and start the race for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was one of only a few Cup drivers that were splitting time between the Nextel Cup race in Sonoma and Milwaukee.
Hamlin was the only Cup driver not to make it to Milwaukee on time, which wasn’t much of a problem as Almirola took the pole and led the first 42 laps of the race. He definitely had the car to beat and had showed the rest of the field he would be a player for the win, but all of that mattered little when on lap 58 he was called to the pits so Hamlin could get in.
The stop forced Hamlin to go a lap down but he drove a superb race and finished in victory lane, but the cost may have been too high for both Almirola and the rest of the series. While Almirola will get credit for the win, it doesn’t ease the pain and embarrassment of having to get out of a car with which he sat on the pole and was competing for the win. Since Hamlin isn’t running for the series title, missing the race shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
But that is what the Busch Series has come to. It is a place now where there is little compassion on those drivers and teams trying to work their way up the racing ladder. It has turned into the Cup’s own playground and the results are starting to show as the once endless stream of young talented drivers has dried up. The Busch Series now caters to the moonlighting Cup drivers with NASCAR’s approval, as it is good for TV ratings and selling tickets on Saturday.
I still contend that the series was there to provide a place for young drivers to compete, but I’m in the minority and I should just enjoy each race like it is, a stand-alone event which, when combined with the rest of the schedule, produces a champion of a series that definitely doesn’t promote a level playing field.
Race Preview – Event: Lenox Industrial Tools 300.
Track: New Hampshire International Speedway (1-mile oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: July 1, 2:10 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kyle Busch.