Tuesday, March 04, 2014

COMMENTARY: It's Not A Kyle Busch Problem

There’s been a lot of talk lately about NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers competing in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. It’s an emotional discussion, with some observers believing the success of those drivers comes at the expense of younger drivers and less-established teams. Much of the ire these days is focused on Kyle Busch, who in addition to his full-time job on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has run 65 Nationwide and Truck Series events in the last three seasons, winning 19 of them.

Some people don’t like that. And honestly, some people don’t like Kyle Busch. So in an effort to balance the competitive scales, they suggest that Cup drivers be banned – or at least severely restricted – from the Nationwide and Truck Series garages.

Track operators generally don’t like that idea, fearing that the absence of Sprint Cup drivers will adversely affect their ticket sales. Take the star out of the movie, they say, and fewer people will watch the movie.

Team owners are understandably split on the idea. Some would love a chance to race closer to the front of the pack in the absence of Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Others, however, sell established Cup stars to their sponsors, allowing them to keep the doors open and field additional cars for young, up-and-coming talents.

Drivers have strong opinions on the topic, as well. Restricting their ability to earn paychecks on Friday and Saturday raises justifiable concern about NASCAR’s role in governing independent contractors and their right to work.

Busch dominated at Phoenix Saturday
Until recently, drivers were allowed to compete simultaneously for multiple series championships. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards won the Nationwide title in 2006 and 2007, while also competing full-time in Cup; a practice that prompted NASCAR to put a stop to the double dipping. But while they are no longer eligible for title consideration, Sprint Cup Series drivers continue to raid the Nationwide and Truck Series, seemingly at will.

Despite what you may have heard, that’s not a new phenomenon.

Sprint Cup drivers have competed – and won prolifically – in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series for decades. With two races complete in the 2014 season, Cup and Nationwide drivers have split the bill. Nationwide driver Regan Smith claimed the season-opener at Daytona, with Cup invader Kyle Busch dominating last weekend in Phoenix. Over the last 30 years, however, the scales are weighed heavily against the Nationwide Series regulars.

Non-Cup drivers have won only seven of the last 30 season-openers at Daytona International Speedway. Interestingly, two of those wins have come in the last three years. In addition to Smith’s victory last month, James Buescher (then a regular on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) claimed the checkered flag in 2012. Prior to that, however, it had been 11 years since Randy LaJoie took one for the home boys at Daytona, back in 2001.

If you’re looking for someone to blame, look no further than Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Stewart has held a veritable stranglehold over Speedweeks Nationwide action in the last decade, with seven victories. Earnhardt, Jr. prevailed in three consecutive seasons; 2002-2004.

In the 1980s and `90s, the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., was the man to beat in Busch Series (now Nationwide) action at Daytona. He opened the season with wins in five consecutive seasons – 1990 through 1994 – and also won in 1986. Earnhardt actually swept the first two races of the season in `86, following his Daytona win with a checkered flag at Rockingham Speedway the next week.

While not yet able to claim a February Nationwide win at the World Center of Racing, Busch has been virtually unstoppable in the second race of the season. Whether at Phoenix or Auto Club Speedway, Busch had carried the checkered flag five times in the last six seasons. A number of other Cup drivers have also carried checkered flags in the first two races of Nationwide campaigns. Mark Martin (5), Geoff Bodine (2) and Jamie McMurray (2) are multi-time winners, while Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte, Harry Gant, Michael Waltrip and Bobby Allison all have visited Victory Lane in the first two weeks of the season.

Busch’s 23.5% Nationwide winning percentage is better than that of Waltrip (13.7%), Earnhardt (15.4%) and Martin (20.8%). Waltrip and Earnhardt are already enshrined in the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, Martin will join them very soon. Busch’s 64 wins in 272 career starts far surpass the efforts of all modern-day driver, as well, and he has raised the bar to a level unprecedented in the history of the sport.

Despite those lofty numbers, however, this is not a “Kyle Busch problem.” After all, when is the last time you heard someone complain about Michael McDowell or Landon Cassill – both fulltime Sprint Cup Series drivers – competing in the Nationwide Series? Clearly, competing in the Nationwide Series is acceptable to the vast majority of NACAR fans. Winning, however, must be done sparingly, lest we grow tired of your success.

Solutions to this problem – if it’s even a problem -- will be difficult to pinpoint, and even more difficult to implement.

Earnhardt also dominated the Busch Series
Limiting the number of lower-division starts a Sprint Cup driver can make may not have the desired effect. Joe Gibbs is a savvy team owner, and if Busch is allowed to run only 10 Nationwide Series races next season, Gibbs will almost certainly slide Denny Hamlin or Matt Kenseth into the seat in his place. JGR will continue to run the entire Nationwide schedule, they will continue to win almost as many races as they lose, and fans will continue to bemoan the fact that Nationwide regulars can’t keep up.

Handicapping Cup drivers – technologically or through procedural means – goes against the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship. Every competitor deserves to have the rules fairly and evenly applied, and different rules for different players crosses the line between sport and gimmickry.

Banning owners like Gibbs, Richard Childress and Roger Penske from the Nationwide garage seems heavy handed, at best. They have pumped years of hard work and millions of dollars into the series, and they deserve better than to be sent packing, simply for being too good at what they do.

The Nationwide Series is NASCAR’s top developmental circuit, but it is also much more than that. It is North America’s No. 2 form of motorsport, ahead of IndyCar, NHRA, IHRA, Tudor Sports Car and SCCA. Its in-person attendance and television ratings are the envy of every motorsports entity other than Sprint Cup, and those who see it as nothing more than “Cup Lite” are not paying attention.

The people entrusted with charting the future of the Nationwide Series have a series of important decisions to make in the months to come. Job One in that process is to determine whether there really is a problem, and if so, what that specific problem is.

“Kyle Busch wins too much” is not an issue that needs addressing. For the record, neither is the same statement with Jimmie Johnson’s name attached. Great drivers and great teams win races. Lots and lots of races.

That’s what they’re paid to do, and stinking up the show with a dominant performance like Busch delivered last Saturday in Phoenix should be applauded, not outlawed.

First Two Nationwide Series Races By Year
·         2014 -- Regan Smith (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Phoenix)
·         2013 – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch (Phoenix)
·         2012 James Buescher, Elliott Sadler (Phoenix)
·         2011 – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch (Phoenix)
·         2010 – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch (Auto Club)
·         2009 – Tony Stewart (Daytona), Kyle Busch (Auto Club)
·         2008 – Tony Stewart, Tony Stewart (Auto Club)
·         2007 – Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth (Auto Club)
·         2006 – Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle (Auto Club)
·         2005 – Tony Stewart, Mark Martin (Auto Club)
·         2004 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jamie McMurray (Rockingham)
·         2003 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jamie McMurray (Rockingham)
·         2002 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jason Keller (Rockingham)
·         2001 Randy Lajoie, Todd Bodine (Rockingham)
·         2000 – Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin (Rockingham)
·         1999 -- Randy LaJoie, Jeff Burton (Rockingham)
·         1998 Joe Nemechek, Matt Kenseth (Rockingham)
·         1997 Randy LaJoie, Mark Martin (Rockingham)
·         1996 Steve Grissom, Mark Martin (Rockingham)
·         1995 Chad Little, Chad Little (Rockingham)
·         1994 Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Terry Labonte (Rockingham)
·         1993 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Mark Martin (Rockingham)
·         1992 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Ward Burton (Rockingham)
·         1991 Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Harry Gant (Rockingham)
·         1990 – Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Michael Waltrip (Rockingham)
·         1989 -- Darrell Waltrip, Rob Moroso (Rockingham)
·         1988 Bobby Allison, Mike Alexander (Rockingham)
·         1987 Geoff Bodine, Jack Ingram (Rockingham)
·         1986 Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (Rockingham)
·         1985 Geoff Bodine, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (Rockingham)

                                                        *Nationwide Series Regular


  1. jamie7:22 PM

    To give further proof of Dave's point. Kyle admits that martinsville is not his best track. He chooses to let others race his truck at this track. I do not attend the truck race. Guess what would make me buy a ticket?

    1. That doesn't make a lot of sense. You say you don't attend b/c Kyle doesn't race, but you would pay to watch him not do well (obviously he feels he would not)?

  2. I do not have a issue with it. I may not like Busch but what the heck, he can drive and the younger drivers learn form him and other Cup drivers, This is the way it has been for a very long time let them all race together and get over it. Bottom line it makes every one money and that is what NASCAR is out to make.

  3. I believe that this is an extremely complex issue. I think that one thing that doesn't get raised very often is that the guys that are running the majority of the Nationwide season are Cup stars at a young age. They are at the age now that Earnhardt. Waltrip, Martin and most others were when they started their Cup careers. It seems that as today's Cup stars get into their mid to late 30's their Nationwide schedule is cut back drastically. The fact that as the Busch series grew in the 80's and 90's to bigger venues along with the Cup series that the drivers were already at the track so instead of sitting around watching they feel the urge to compete contributes as well.

    As a regular listener to SiriusXM I think it is great that various hosts have various opinions on this, one in particular seems dead set against Cup guys "taking" spots that Nationwide drivers should have. He says this stops the development of the younger drivers yet he doesn't seem to have an issue with being on the raceday broadcasts for both series on the same weekend instead of letting an up and coming intern learn in his place during the Nationwide race. Hard to say what is best but I hope NASCAR doesn't change a thing.


  4. AMEN........no more discussion needed

  5. Anonymous5:25 AM

    Unfortunately it's a vocal MINORITY who has the airwaves blanked via MRN and PRN that have stirred up this pot. The folks who have the ability to call in during the WORK day aren't the majority of fans who don't have that luxury of waiting on hold during work, they are the minority who don't go to the Nationwide races and simply think that the sport should go 'back in the day'. I wonder if any of them have asked the track promoters directly what it would be like to take the Sprint cup drivers out of their local promotions? Tracks sell a lot more ticket PACKAGES for the weekend BECAUSE of Sprint cup participation, and many many fans travel to maybe that one race because they can see their driver twice or even three times in a weekend.

    Much of the conversation has to do with dislike for Kyle, make no mistake about it. I guarantee that if Dale Jr. was winning like Kyle, there would NOT be one peep said abut his participation, and the tracks would have even better attendance for it. NASCAR needs to realize this, and immediately announce no restrictions on Cup drivers in the truck and Nationwide series, otherwise this or the next ridiculous notion these fans grab hold on could be the demise of hundreds of shop and pit crew jobs, along with tracks closing their doors. Kyle has stated he'd close down his truck shop. Is that what these 'fans' want? Unfortunately, many don't care.

    Great article Moody, but I doubt you'll get through to the folks on the phone.


    1. Anonymous8:30 PM

      It is nowhere near a minority! MANY fans are sick of this! What other professional sport allows the top guys to drop down and beat up on the little guys? Do F1 drivers race in GP2? Do Indycar drivers race in Indy Lights? These Cup millionaires steal the money and the trophies on Saturday, then get to race again on Sunday for the big bucks, while the little guys go home with their tails between their legs! It's not a Kyle Busch problem; it's a NASCAR problem. I have stopped watching the races altogether because it's sickening.

    2. Anonymous3:10 PM

      Well then knitting is a great alternative.

      Keep trying to purify the 'sport' while the fans attendance declines and TV ratings plunge. It isn't about the Sprint cup drivers at all, it's about 'fans' who think that NASCAR should be the same as the stick and ball sports. That's where all of you are wrong. NASCAR should have flamethrowers mounted to the back of cars and nail guns mounted to the bumpers to make it interesting, not try and purify the sport for a few who think that limiting competition is the way to improve anything.

      I know a great knitting supply house for your new hobby.

  6. Anonymous7:20 AM

    For me the probelm was not nealry as bad back in the 80's and 90's. During those years the Busch series had many more weekends away from the Cup series. This naturally limited the amount of times Cup drivers would invade. On weekends that they did share, it seemed like a special chance for the Busch regulars to race against a few of the big boys. Now that they practically share every weekend the story has gotten quite old and I have lost most interest in the Saturday events.

  7. Anonymous7:40 AM

    You raise some good points. I am guessing that most fans that attend the truck and NW events are at the track for the weekend with the main purpose of attending the Cup race. I would think that those fans will attend those other races regardless of the number of cup stars in the field. Afterall, they are stuck at the track for the weekend, what the hell else are they going to do?
    As for me, I try to watch the truck and NW races but as soons as I see Cup drivers dominating the field I watch something else. I can't be the only one doing that and that doesn't bode well for ratings either.

  8. I feel the problem is more with the teams and technology/resources they bring to a 2nd tier or support division, and make no mistake it is a problem because the likes of Penske and JGR have run off the smaller teams that used to be the mainstay of the Nationwide series. The series has become as expensive as NASCAR has allowed it to become, so that is another issue that needs to be addressed, but simply banning the big cup teams won't work because they will just hide behind another team (Hendrick backing JR as an example) as long as it is profitable for them to do so.

    I would suggest changing the rules in the Nationwide series enough so there isn't a benefit for Cup teams to run on Saturday. Change the tires & cars enough and the big Cup teams won't find it profitable to be dipping in the Nationwide waters. NASCAR needs to break the Nationwide series from the Cup lite mold it is currently in. If they did that, Cup drivers would still race in some of the division's bigger races, but they would be likely doing it with much smaller teams, while teams like Johnson & Jackson would return as series mainstays.

  9. Brandon in TN8:54 AM

    I really really hope all of these fans who want Cup drivers banned from the lower series have truly thought out the consequences of these actions. What a lot of fans don't realize is because a Kyle Busch, a Brad K, a Harvick, or a Dale Jr are driving in the lower series doesn't mean they are taking sponsorship dollars from another driver. A lot of time that no name up and coming driver has sponsorship with a KBM or JR Motorsports is because one of those Cup drivers is also driving the same car on another date. Busch himself has stated that if Nascar bans Cup drivers from Nationwide and Trucks, KBM will close it's doors. I would think a Cup ban would hurt other teams too. It's been around for years, why the sudden hate for Cup drivers in the lower series?

  10. Anonymous9:28 AM

    This is a damned if you do, damned if you don't dilemma. It's unfortunate that the talent competing in Nationwide can't draw the ticketholders. Personally, it bores me when a Cup guy runs away with the Nationwide race but watcha gonna do? It's a necessary evil. Ellen, JJ's girlfriend

  11. Cup drivers have, typically, won the races where Cup and Busch/Nationwide has been at the same track on the same weekend. The change has come in the number of "standalone" races that the Busch/Nationwide series now has. Back in the mid 80s, about half the races were standalone races. This decreased to around 7-10 races in the mid 90s and now, by my count, four this season (Iowa 2x, Elkhart Lake, and Mid-Ohio). Jet-setting to double dip is easy to do occasionally. Turn that four times a year into 15 or 16 times a year and I'm sure the number of double dippers goes down because of the jet lag and other wear and tear on the body that comes with travel.

  12. Mark Paeper10:32 AM

    Dave, you're right, it's not a Kyle Busch problem, it's a NASCAR problem. I used to watch all the Nationwide and Truck races I could. Didn't matter to me, I planned my weekends and summers around the races. Now, I still tune in almost religiously on raceday to watch Sprint Cup, but no longer make it a point to catch the Nationwide or Truck series races. I'll watch if I happen to be in front of my television when they are on, but as a general rule, I tune them out because if any Cup regular is in the race, I know there is a 60-75% chance one of them is going to dominate and win the race. Myself, I'd rather see a young up and comer win those races in front of the TV crowd and crowd at the race. Last year when at Iowa Speedway for the August race, when Brad Keselowksi was introduced, there was a loud chorus of boos from where I was sitting and when he went by on the pace laps, most of the people in my area flipped him double birds. That tells me quite a lot. Most fans don't want or care to have the Cup regulars in the lower series beating up on lesser funded, lesser experienced, and lesser known drivers. Leave the Nationwide and Trucks to the regulars, maybe start scheduling more races away from where the Cup drivers race and maybe the two series will be able to stand on their own.

    1. Or it just tells you that a good amount of the fans lack class. If any of those bird flipping fans had the chance to meet him they'd be licking his racing shoes.

  13. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Nice article as usual Dave. I have been a racing fan for over 50 years and always enjoyed the old Late Model Sportsman division when drivers like Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and even David Pearson would show up to race guys like Ingram, Lindley, Gant, etc. I think the difference between now and then was the cars. Back then the Cup drivers didn't have a technology advantage like they do today. Todays situation is much like it was back in the 60's when Richard Petty showed up at a small track on a Wednesday nite and proceeded to mop up on a small field of cars that weren't quite up to par

  14. Anonymous12:29 PM

    For me, the simplest solution if there is a "problem" in need of one, was mentioned above. Have fewer week ends where the lower series race at the same track as cup or mix it up more, especially on the shorter tracks. What's wrong with having the K&N series or modifieds with strong local followings at those tracks where they would draw on a cup week end? New Hampshire does it with trucks and modifieds on the day before the cup race in July and if it wasn't profitable they would have stopped it. Personally I think its great to have the marquee names compete against the younger drivers if for no other reason than to see what the young whippersnappers can do against the big guys. it does tend to get monotonous to see the cup guys dominance however and could actually reach the point where it is a turn off rather than a draw for ticket sales if its the same driver winning too much. Bottomline to me is maybe put a cap on how many one driver who isn't runing for points can win before they are no longer allowed to compete in that series for the year. Dave makes a good point about a team like Gibbs that could run all year with their 3 cup guys , but at least it would limit how many any one driver could win.

  15. Anonymous12:34 PM

    I have never had a problem with Buschwackers in the lower series. Ask the majority of drivers and it says it ups their game, how could it not? A education in real time. I am sick of these people (it seems to be the ME generation) that lament what has been going on in Nascar for a long time, this crowd seems to think everybody should get a trophy..."if Joey Logano didn't win the race today, so and so would have". I say bologna. Maybe just maybe the crop of "new drivers" isn't that good. I am for one am not impressed with the much touted rookies in Sprint Cup this year, I say what really have they done (most of them), I suspect more trouble than usual on the track. Again, where is the screaming about Sadler, Wallace and the older guys in NW. Some people are really weird about the double duty thing. Its o.k. if the guy if the guy was in Cup, he just can't do both. LOL. Shutup whiners, nobody is being denied.

  16. Anonymous3:02 PM

    If your thrilled beating up the minor leagers good on ya...I do watch Nationwide (most times) & enjoy it far more when the drivers are Nationwide regulars. ...That being said it dosn't matter if it's shrubber or Happy it's just beating up the minor league ..Woo Hoo what a hero...For Nascar its a cash grab (as usual) & if they wanted to change it they would just not have them at the same tracks the same weekends..As this is not happening I think the answer is there... Earner

  17. As you've said before Dave, I paraphrase, these same fans are orgasmic when these same drivers show up at the local dirt/asphalt tracks on a mid week card.

  18. Anonymous8:38 PM

    Mr. Moody, I'm disappointed in you for not taking some sort of stand here. It's disgraceful that NASCAR allows these Cup regulars (not only Busch) to race in Nationwide. I'll NEVER be convinced otherwise. It's 100% unfair to let the Cup millionaires race on Saturday and then race again for the big bucks on Sunday while the little guys go home with their tails between their legs!

    1. Are you disappointed that I didn't take a stand, or that I didn't take your side?

  19. Moody you are right...as usual.

  20. Anonymous10:53 PM

    Until enough legitimate "regulars" show up to purge the field of the scourge of start-and-park drivers, Na$car has no business chasing away any driver that shows up intending to run the whole race competitively. Does anybody really think it will be a better situation to have no cup drivers, and 10 start and park cars show up to take their place instead of 5? Please. Not to mention the fact that any real race fan should expect to see the fastest 40 drivers that show up at the track with a car and an entry fee race, regardless of what they do for a living the other 6 days of the week. Y'all should be ashamed to call your selves race fans to say otherwise.

    Dave in Ohoi

  21. Charlie2:49 PM

    You can/t have it both ways, it seems to be the media & others that say they should be able to race anytime are the same people complaining because Dillon won the championship without winning a race. If the cup guys are hijacking 2/3 of the wins that is what you are going to get.

  22. Anonymous8:01 PM

    When I read this article, it made me think of an interview Claire B. did on Dialed In after a Truck Series race a few years ago. As happens a few times a year, Kyle Busch won the race. Driving for his KBM team. A caller berated Kyle (who took the call) for himself driving the truck instead of Brian Ickler driving. Kyle's response was "I'd love to put Brian in the truck all the time and not worry about two or three different vehicles. I cannot sell sponsorship for Brian on that truck. I can sell sponsorship for me. KBM is no different than any other business, and the same goes for BRK, JGR, JR Motorsports, Penske, or any other business for that matter. If you can do "Option A" and not get paid for it, or you can do "Option B" and bring in some revenue to pay the bills, what will you do? I know I'd take "Option B" if it meant keeping the doors open. When you kick these Cup drivers out, some of these sponsors will take their money to Cup and pay for just a couple races to get their advertising, instead of paying for half a season in Nationwide or Truck. With no sponsorship, some of these teams will go away, leaving us with a lot more "start-and-park" cars, or unfilled fields. Plus, listen to post-race interviews. How often is it that we hear these young drivers "It was awesome up there racing with Kyle and Brad, I learned so much".

  23. Here is some facts that should settle the issue -

    In 2013 only Sam Hornish, Regan Smith (twice), Trevor Bayne, and Ryan Blaney won races in the Busch/Nationwide series where the winners were not Cup regulars - a grand total of five races won by someone other than a Cup driver.

    Austin Dillon won the series title without a single win.

    The harsh reality is Cup drivers have no right to compete in support races because all they've done is bleed them dry.

    NASCAR needs to outright ban Cup drivers (team owners should be able to field competitive efforts; I don't buy Kyle Busch's epistle that he can't sell sponsorship for his team if it's driven by Brian Ickler) from the lower series as well as shift the dates away from Cup support to make the series more stand-alone - to this end NASCAR also needs to take more of the TV money and invest it into the lower series - to my understanding almost no TV money goes to support series, which is why tracks like Nashville and Gateway shut down (Gateway is reopening this year for the Trucks).

  24. Mark Paeper1:56 PM

    If the series aren't strong enough to stand alone without Cup regulars running and winning the majority of the races, maybe they should go away.

  25. In my honest opinion the problem has become that the 3 series run to close of a schedule. In the two lesser series peak they ran a very different schedule then they do now. When the Busch series ran places like Rougemont, Hickory, South Boston, and the many other short tracks through out the country the cup drivers didn't run both series nearly full time. I do not have a problem with Cup guys double or triple dipping, I just wish the schedule more closely resembled that from the early to mid 1990's