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How the Buschwhackers are Growing NASCAR

How the Buschwhackers are Growing NASCAR

by February 27, 2014 4 comments

Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, there is a term for Sprint Cup drivers who come down and race (and generally dominate) in the second tier series – that term is ‘Buschwhacker.’ The term for Cup drivers who do this in the Camping World Truck Series is ‘Tailgater.’

Fans and various full-time Nationwide/Camping World Truck Series drivers view the Buschwhackers/Tailgaters as a cancer of sorts, stealing away the top prize money and top sponsors. The Cup drivers are viewed as opportunity killers in the lower series.

The thing is that they are not destroying opportunities, they’re creating them.

Everything in NASCAR revolves around money, this applies to the teams, drivers, tracks as well as the sanctioning body itself. Without sponsor money, teams would have to invest out of their own pocket at improving and maintaining their race equipment. Some younger drivers might not even have a look thrown their way if they do not have any sponsors attached to their side.

Sponsors not only land drivers’ seats, they also bring more exposure to the series. Big time sponsors have been latching onto the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, with business entities such as TaxSlayer, Bass Pro Shops, NAPA Auto Parts, and Valvoline sponsoring teams in the lower divisions. The easiest way to land a sponsorship deal in both the Nationwide and Truck Series is to get a big name to participate in them.

Some sponsorship deals for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series require a Sprint Cup driver to be in the car for certain events. These sponsorship deals can also be package deals that reach across several teams of an organization. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s deal with TaxSlayer not only covers his No. 88 Camaro in the Nationwide Series, but it reaches over to full-time driver Regan Smith’s No. 7 as well. This does wonders for Smith as he is able to race hard throughout the season without having to fear if his team will lose funding; an issue that hangs over some small-budget teams.

Running a full NASCAR schedule is tough, running two full schedules is borderline insanity. The Nationwide and Truck Series have begun heading to more and more tracks that the Sprint Cup Series doesn’t visit on the same weekend as Cup races. It has become much too difficult to travel to and from two different races on one weekend for the Cup drivers.

This opens up opportunities for drivers such as Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Drew Herring, Erik Jones, and Tyler Reddick, along with many others. When the Sprint Cup drivers can’t make an event drivers like these will step in and take the wheel in fully-sponsored equipment that is able to produce victories week-in and week-out.

These drivers are provided the unique chance to compete in top equipment in some of the highest divisions in NASCAR. Blaney has two Truck Series wins and a Nationwide series win under his belt while subbing for Keselowski. Jones won his first Truck Series race last year in Phoenix at the age of 17 as a replacement for Busch. These two capitalized on the opportunities handed to them, making names for themselves very early in their careers.

Following Busch’s win in the 2014 Camping World Truck Series season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona, NASCAR received many complaints from supporters. Fans were none too pleased with the fact that another Cup driver came down to a lower series to take the victory away. This prompted NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, Steve O’Donnell, to make a statement regarding the situation.

O’Donnell stated after the race that NASCAR was looking at potential solutions to this alleged problem plaguing the lower divisions of NASCAR. An idea that was floated around, according to O’Donnell, was to limit the amount of races that Sprint Cup drivers could participate in.

In a time where attendances at the racetracks are slumping and television ratings are sliding, this would be an absolutely terrible idea. It’s not just the Sprint Cup series that is hurting when it comes to packing the fans in, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series both are facing declines in attendances as well. It would be in NASCAR’s best interest to use the Cup drivers as a draw for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events to help boost attendances and television ratings.

NASCAR already implemented a solution in 2011 that would prevent a full-time Cup driver from winning the driver’s championship in the second-and-third tier series; mandating that all NASCAR drivers can only select one championship to run for for that season. This is all that is needed in my view; they may be able to win races, but they can’t win a driver’s championship. This helps pack butts in the seats and glue eyeballs to the television while allowing full-time Nationwide and Truck drivers to establish themselves by winning a title.

NASCAR, like any other sport, is built on money.  Limiting the number of races Cup drivers can participate in would do more harm than good financially. It makes no sense to disallow the sport’s biggest draws from using their popularity to help boost the exposure of the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. Without the popular names of the sport participating in the lower series, interest in the lower series would drop.

At the end of the day, the Cup drivers are providing many opportunities for the lower series. Whether it’d be allowing new names to prove themselves when the big names are away, or by providing sponsorship opportunities by signing with a team with an established driver. The big names have been bringing in more positives than negatives to the lower divisions of stock car racing. Whether NASCAR fails to see that and decides to shoot themselves in the foot we will have to wait and see.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

4 Comments so far

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  1. John Public
    #1 John Public 27 February, 2014, 19:37

    If no one buys tickets or watches on tv because the Cup drivers make it about as exciting as a High School pitcher in a Little League game how exactly does that make money for NASCAR? The Cup drivers make it DULL. Dull never makes money for anyone.

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    • Christopher Neal
      Christopher Neal 27 February, 2014, 22:49

      How exactly do cup drivers make it dull? If anything they make it more exciting but adding a nice mix of veteran and rookie drivers to the race. If you take all the cup drivers out of the trucks and Nationwide series I would be willing to bet they would be gone in two years.

      Reply this comment
    • Kyle Pokrefky
      Kyle Pokrefky Author 27 February, 2014, 23:55

      Attendance figures for both Kentucky NNS races from 2012 show a 23.3% drop in attendance for the second race from the first race. The first race had Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick participate; the second race featured Ku. Busch as the sole Sprint Cup driver in the race.

      Another example from the 2012 NNS season were the two Chicagoland races. The STP 300 had Kyle Busch as the lone Cup driver in the race; the attendance for that race was 25,000. The Dollar General 300 featured Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Paul Menard and had an attendance of 34,000; a 36% increase in attendance.

      As to whether the Cup drivers make the racing dull? That’s based off of how one perceives it. I personally believe it brings excitement to the lower levels, when a Nationwide regular manages to beat the Cup guys I view that as a massive accomplishment. Drivers such as Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Justin Allgaier have been able to do this and look where they’re at now; full-time Sprint Cup drivers.

      If this is dull, apparently dull is working for race promoters.

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  2. Steve Cosentino
    #2 Steve Cosentino 28 February, 2014, 20:40

    That would be real sad for Carl Edwards fans. He actually tries to win races in the Nationwide Series as opposed to being a points racer in the Sprint Cup. You wouldn’t see the back flip to often if he was forced to only race in one series.

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