In three starts this season, Busch has now led 493 of 563 laps, and some people are not at all happy about it. You see, in addition to being the all-time leader in career Xfinity Series wins, “Rowdy Busch” is also a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s headline Sprint Cup Series. The defending series champion, in fact.
Some people don’t like that. And honestly, some people just don’t like Kyle Busch. So in an effort to balance the competitive scales, a growing chorus of fans and media members are suggesting that Cup drivers be banned – or at least severely restricted – from the Xfinity and Truck Series garages, leaving Victory Lane vacant for younger drivers and less-established teams.
Track operators are against the idea, fearing that the absence of Sprint Cup drivers will adversely affect their Saturday ticket sales. Take the star out of the movie, they say, and fewer people will watch the movie.
Team owners seem split on the idea. Some would love a chance to race closer to the front of the pack without Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski to hinder their efforts. Others, however, sell established Cup stars to their sponsors, allowing them to remain in business and field additional cars for those young, up-and-coming talents.
Drivers have strong opinions on the topic, as well. Guys like Busch enjoy racing on Saturday afternoons. They enjoy winning, and often use the knowledge gained from their Xfinity Series outings to better prepare for Sunday’s headline Sprint Cup event.
Not long ago, drivers were allowed to compete simultaneously for multiple series championships. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards won the Nationwide (now Xfinity) title in 2006 and 2007, while also competing full-time in Cup; a practice that prompted NASCAR to put a stop to so-called “double dipping.” But while they are no longer eligible for title consideration, Sprint Cup Series drivers continue to raid the Xfinity and Truck Series vaults, seemingly at will.
Despite what you may be hearing, that’s not a new phenomenon.
Sprint Cup drivers have competed – and won prolifically – in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series for decades. In the 1980s and `90s, the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., was the man to beat in Busch Series action at Daytona. He won the season opener in 1986, then reeled off five consecutive victories from 1990 through 1994. “Big E” actually swept the first two races of the season in `86, following his Daytona win with a checkered flag at Rockingham Speedway the next weekend.
More recently, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have dominated Xfinity Series Victory Lane at Daytona. Stewart has seven career Speedweeks Xfinity victories, while Earnhardt, Jr. prevailed in three consecutive seasons; 2002-2004.
In all, Earnhardt, Sr. accumulated 21 Busch Series wins in 136 career starts, running between five and 14 events each season from 1982 to 1994. He won at least one Busch Series race in 11 of those 13 years, while simultaneously ranking as the most dominant Cup Series driver of his (or arguably any) era.
And somehow, nobody seemed to mind.
Maybe that’s because it was Earnhardt. Or perhaps it was because his fellow Winston Cup drivers were diverting fan focus by winning dozens of Busch Series races of their own.
Mark Martin’s resume includes 49 Busch Series wins in 236 career starts. He ran at least one (and often as many as 15 or 16) races each season for a couple of decades, while simultaneously ranking as a perennial title contender in the Cup ranks.
Harry Gant won 21 times in 128 career Busch starts; also while a full-time Cup driver. “Handsome Harry” padded his schedule with 13-17 Busch races each season (roughly half the annual schedule) from 1987 to 1994, without ever drawing the ire of the grandstand faithful.
Cup Series invaders like Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte, Geoff Bodine, Michael Waltrip and Bobby Allison have all purloined Xfinity Series purses over the years, without ever seeming to tick anyone off.
I get it. Kyle Busch wins a lot.
His 25.2% Xfinity Series winning percentage is far better than that of Earnhardt Sr. (15.4%), Martin (20.8%) or Gant (16.4). Waltrip and Earnhardt are already enshrined in the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, with both Martin and Gant sure to join them in due time.
This is not a “Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series” problem. It is a “Kyle Busch problem,” as evidenced by the fact that nobody complains when Austin Dillon or Landon Cassill double-dip in NASCAR’s secondary series. Apparently, Sprint Cup drivers competing in the Xfinity Series is acceptable to the vast majority of NASCAR fans. Winning, however, must be done sparingly, lest we grow tired of your success.
Solutions to this problem are difficult to pinpoint, and even more difficult to implement.
Cup drivers competing in the Xfinity Series is acceptable to the vast majority of NASCAR fans. Winning, however, must be done sparingly, lest we grow tired of your success.
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 Xfinity 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 more races than they lose, and fans will continue to bemoan the fact that the Xfinity Series 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 hucksterism.
Banning owners like Gibbs, Richard Childress and Roger Penske from the Xfinity Series garage seems short-sighted, as well. They have pumped years of hard work and millions of dollars into the series, and deserve better than to be sent packing, simply for being too good at what they do. We also cannot afford to remove a half-dozen of the most competitive cars from the starting grid.
The Xfinity Series is much more than the motorized equivalent of AAA baseball. It is North America’s No. Two form of motorsport, ahead of IndyCar, NHRA, IHRA, IMSA Sports Cars and SCCA. Its in-person attendance and television ratings are the envy of every motorsports entity this side of Sprint Cup, and those who see it as nothing more than “Cup Lite” are simply not paying attention.
The people entrusted with charting the future of the Xfinity Series have 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 the specific problem is.
“Kyle Busch wins too much” is not an issue that needs addressing. 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 Saturday in Phoenix should be applauded, not outlawed.