Commentary

Cup regulars hogging the spotlight

Updated: November 14, 2009, 12:06 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kyle Busch said winning this year's Nationwide Series title, which he probably will clinch in Saturday's race at Phoenix International Raceway, will be his biggest accomplishment in racing.

Congratulations, Kyle. And here's hoping you never do it again.

Nothing against the younger Busch brother, but he's the latest version of a trend that needs to stop -- top Sprint Cup drivers winning the championship in the minor leagues.

Whether it's this weekend or next week, Busch will become the fourth consecutive Cup star to win the title in the Nationwide Series, NASCAR's version of Triple-A baseball.

Busch earned his eighth Nationwide victory of the season last week at Texas. Afterward, he said: "We've made it look easy over here on the Nationwide side."

That's because it is easy, comparatively speaking. It's shooting fish in a barrel.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
AP Photo/Ralph LauerKyle Busch needs to finish Saturday's Nationwide race seventh or better to lock up the series title.

The dominance of Cup drivers and Cup teams in the Nationwide Series has reduced the developmental league into a glorified Cup practice session most weekends.

That has to change. This series will die, or become totally meaningless, unless Cup drivers stop racing for the Nationwide championship.

The series lost its identity long ago, but 2010 is an opportunity to move in a new direction. Pony cars are coming in a few races next year before the Nationwide Series goes to the new models full time in 2011.

If you haven't seen them, the new Mustangs and Challengers (using the Car of Tomorrow chassis) are some cool-looking cars. Chevrolet elected not to run the Camaro, which seems strange considering how fired up fans are about the pony cars.

The Nationwide Series will have added attention and renewed interest because of the new cars. So do it right. Give the young drivers a series of their own.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said there are two sides to the story when asked about Cup drivers in Nationwide.

"It's hard to say whether it's good or bad," Poston said Friday at Phoenix. "Many people will make the case that competing against the Sprint Cup drivers on a regular basis has been good for the development of younger drivers."

Cup drivers racing in some Nationwide events is OK. They've always raced in the feeder league. The series needs them. I get it. The big-name guys help sell tickets. And Nationwide Series sponsors want Cup guys in the cars.

Young Cup drivers also can gain some pointers at a track by racing in the Nationwide race one day earlier. It's seat time, the more the better. That's the theory.

In Kyle's case, is it too much? Running all the Nationwide races, along with half the Camping World Truck Series events this season, could have spread Busch too thin and taken his focus away from Cup.

He didn't make the Chase. Was that part of the reason?

Busch is not running the full Nationwide season next year. He will cut back to around 20 events in 2010.

As of now, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski are the only Cup regulars planning to run the entire Nationwide season next year.

"It doesn't seem like too much of a grind,'' Edwards said Friday. "As long as I'm competing for [Nationwide] championships, I want to do it."

Keselowski is racing his first full Cup season next year. Edwards won the 2007 Nationwide title when he finished ninth in the Cup standings.

"The good side of [the 2010 season] is full-time Nationwide drivers will have more opportunities to gain exposure and earn more race wins," Poston said. "That is a positive for them."

Nevertheless, Edwards will be the prohibitive favorite to win the 2010 Nationwide title.

"I hope we're the favorite, but you never know," Edwards said. "Look at what [Mike] Bliss did this year, or [Jason] Leffler. That's what's fun about the series. You get to race new people and different people that are gaining experience."

It doesn't seem like too much of a grind. As long as I'm competing for [Nationwide] championships, I want to do it.

-- Carl Edwards

Bliss has one victory this season, Leffler has none. Leffler is 1,000 points behind Busch and Bliss is 1,531 points back.

In other words, they can't compete.

Busch is one of the most talented drivers in Cup. Love him or hate, almost everyone agrees on that one. He is racing in the Nationwide Series for one of the best teams in Cup -- Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR has 13 Nationwide victories this year, including five by Joey Logano.

So what has he accomplished other than playing the bully role and running roughshod over drivers and teams trying to reach the next level?

"Just to win a NASCAR title means a lot," Busch said after winning the Nationwide race last week at Texas. "The only other championship I have is Legends cars back at my home track in Las Vegas, so this would be pretty big."

But Busch didn't win his Legends title while racing full time in NASCAR.

Busch was downright giddy after his Texas Nationwide victory.

"It's pretty cool," Busch said. "It feels awesome. It's all because of these guys and what they do and the hours they spend. A lot of the guys on this team have worked really hard and deserve it."

Yes, they do. Many of those guys are trying to show they have the skills to move up and work on a Cup team.

Busch's success this year in the Nationwide car led to crew chief Dave Rogers getting promoted to Busch's Cup team last week.

But Rogers won't crew chief full time next year in the Nationwide Series. Cup drivers shouldn't either. Kevin Harvick started the trend as the 2006 champ, followed by Edwards in 2007 and Clint Bowyer last year.

It never happened before 2006. Not once. Not in all the years it was known as the Busch Series, dating back to 1984, and all the years it was the late-model sportsman division, starting in 1950.

So enjoy your championship, Kyle, another Cup big boy spanking the little guys. Let's hope you're the last one.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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