Hamilton chasing Leffler for unrecognized Busch-only title

9/5/2007 - NASCAR

It's not much, but at least Bobby Hamilton Jr. feels as if he has something to shoot for the rest of the season. It's not what he wants to be chasing, but it's realistically the only "drivers' championship" battle the Busch Series will see.

Carl Edwards, despite a recent slump, still holds a commanding 654-point lead over Kevin Harvick, meaning he just has to show up the rest of the way to clinch the title going away.

There's a battle for second between Harvick and third-place David Reutimann, who trails by three points despite skipping seven races thus far, but that's not exactly something NASCAR will trumpet when talking about the series. After all, Harvick made a mockery of the series with a dominant effort last year and might be even with or ahead of Edwards if he'd been trying for the title this year.

If there's a battle inside the battle among the drivers, it starts with fourth-place Jason Leffler, who sits highest in points among drivers focusing solely on the Busch Series. His closest pursuer is Hamilton, who sits 238 points back with eight races to go.

Hamilton is sixth in points, with Stephen Leicht seventh and Marcos Ambrose eighth. Mike Wallace (10th) rounds out the Busch-only drivers in the top 10. Leicht is 326 points out, so Hamilton may be the only driver with at least a hope of catching Leffler.

Hamilton said he and Leffler both feel as if they're battling for a championship -- even if it's an unrecognized one.

"We're gonna fight for it, because that was one of our goals when we set out at the beginning of the year, is to be that top guy. We've just tried to take it one week at a time because that's how you win those points battles," Hamilton said. "You've got to be consistent, and from a numbers standpoint, we haven't really had a stellar year. We've had a bunch of 12ths and 13ths, but when you've got about 20 Cup guys every week, it's hard to beat some of those guys.

"So numberswise, it's not a record book-setting [season], but it's about being consistent, being there at the end and doing what we need to do for points. We've done that, and we still have a handful of races to go before Homestead, but that's a goal we'd like to achieve. We'd like to be that top guy, and whatever happens after that happens."

With Edwards running away with the crown, there's been some attention paid to the battle for the owners' championship between Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing team and Richard Childress Racing's No. 29 entry driven by Jeff Burton and Scott Wimmer.

Childress' No. 29 holds a 68-point lead, but Hamilton knows that battle isn't exactly enthralling the masses. He thinks the implementation of a format similar to the Chase for the Nextel Cup would energize the Busch Series down the stretch.

"Whether we're in the top 10 in points or not, they need to go to the Chase format because two years in a row now you've got a guy who is going to win it four or five races before the end of the year," Hamilton said. "That's not good for the sport or anybody. Look at what it's done for the Nextel Cup Series by having the Chase.

"I think in order to help the Busch Series and get it back to where it used to be, as far as having its own champion and its own hoopla, you're going to have to make that change. Right now, the owners' championship is getting talked about and it's a media thing. How boring is that?

"Fans don't even know that there is an owners' championship involved. You're looking at the Busch Series champion, that's what you're looking at, and right now you've got to give it to Carl. It's over with, so whether I'm in the top 10 or not, they need to do something as far as spicing it up."

As far as the owners' battle goes, it'll be up to Wimmer to keep the No. 29 team in front of Edwards' team at Richmond. He said he doesn't change his approach with the point standings in mind.

"We have gone from having the lead to not having it to having it again over the past few weeks. We are just fortunate that Jeff [Burton] has done such a great job getting a lot of points," Wimmer said. "We are just focused on winning races and running up front, and the points will be reflected with strong finishes. I am really excited about getting back in the [No. 29 car] because our short-track program has been unbelievable this year. It's about going to Richmond and running hard."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.