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February 24, 2007

NASCAR: A Solution to the Buschwacker Problem

The problem with Nextel Cup drivers taking up too many slots in the NASCAR Busch Series was highlighted last year when a full-time Nextel Cup driver actually won the Busch Series championship. In Happy Hour practice for this week’s Busch race at California Speedway, and in qualifying, nine of the top ten drivers are full-time Nextel Cup drivers. In fact, fully half of the 41-car field is comprised of full-time Cup drivers.

Why should a Busch Series team spend all the money to go out to California and get beat by better financed teams? It’s painfully obvious that they won’t, and didn’t. The fact that the field is short by two drivers doesn’t mean that there aren’t enough teams for the Series, but that there are too many “Buschwackers” for the series.

The promoter at the stand-alone Busch Series event wants the big-name Nextel Cup drivers so he can sell out the seats. But that’s killing the division.

As I’ve said many times, NASCAR is eating its seed corn by continuing to allow this to happen. When only a handful of full-time Cup drivers step down to the Busch Series, that provides the full-time Busch drivers with enhanced competition, a chance to step up their game. But when most of the drivers are Cup drivers, that is a disincentive for the would-be full-time Busch Series team owner to even get involved in the sport.

What to do?

I think I have a solution that’s the best of both worlds. What I propose is to limit the number of drivers from the Cup division to a handful, say the five fastest, if they’re inside the top 25 points in the Nextel Cup standings. You could adjust the number and the points cutoff, since arguably anyone under 25th position in points might need some “remedial” track time in the Busch Series. And if the field is short, then use the extra Cup drivers to fill the field.

This solution still allows any Cup driver to attempt to qualify for the race, but will only take the five fastest of the ones in the top 25 Cup points. The promoter still gets the big names, the Busch Series makes room for full-time Busch Series drivers to run, and those drivers still get to compete against Cup Series drivers in the Busch Series.

If you think about it, the Cup Series has pretty much locked out teams that don’t run full time in the Series. With 35 spots guaranteed to full-time Cup drivers, this proposal isn’t that far out of the ordinary.

NASCAR  has to do something. If they don’t then this Series will slowly become just another division of the Nextel Cup Series, just with shorter races.

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