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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tending to the Wilting Busch Series

The Busch Series is in big trouble. So is the Truck series, but since I don’t get Speed TV, it’s rare for me to catch a Truck Race. The Diecast Dude wrote a very good post on the woes of the CTS. There isn’t a simple solution. \there are several complex issues that will take some vision, time and money. I hope to look at some of the problems with the series over the course of the season. Previously I questioned how the series can adequately develop young drivers. Now it's time to peer at the purses.

When you look at the weekly Cup entry list this year, it will top 50 every week. NASCAR officials love to point this out as evidence of the health of the sport. It’s partially true. Nextel Cup has an embarrassment of riches at the Cup level. Lots of prominent teams, plenty of big dollar sponsors and intense competition to simply make races each week.

Unfortunately the Busch and Truck entry lists are less than full fields heading to California. Keep in mind this is a companion weekend when it’s easiest for Cup teams to pull double-duty. The small fields will continue all year. Aside from the Mexico City and the Montreal Busch races, stand alone Truck and Busch fields will be even smaller.

One of the largest reasons for the Busch shortage is the prize money. It is a fraction of Nextel Cup purses. Kyle Petty won $248,050 for finishing 42nd in the Daytona 500. That’s more than double what Kevin Harvick won ($116,200) for winning the Orbitz 300 Busch race. In fact, Harvick’s $1.5 million check for the Daytona 500 was as much as the top 26 drivers in the Busch race.

If a team wants to turn a profit it is much easier to do so in Cup. Spend a little more with a significantly greater reward. Look at part time teams like Phoenix Racing and No Fear. Mike Wallace’s 4th place finish was worth $615, 658. That’s almost as much money that Wallace won in 23 Busch races last season. Obviously small part-time teams can’t count on a top five finish, but simply making a Cup race pays well. Boris Said made $307,375 for No Fear Racing.

The other problem is sponsors. In 2006 Harvick won nine races and the Busch Championship and still lost his sponsor. Either the Coast Guard got a lifetime supply of publicity last year, or they didn’t see the value in sponsoring a Busch car. If a Cup star and Busch Champion can’t hold on to sponsorship, how can Busch regulars hope to? The price for sponsorship in the lower levels is cheaper, but companies often prefer to move to the higher profile Cup scene.

After getting squeezed out the past few seasons by Buschwhackers, full-time Busch teams have either moved to Cup or packed up for good. Now the series will pay for that this year. There are plenty of reasons why the Busch series is struggling and likewise plenty of solutions. Increasing the prize money, especially for the full-time Busch teams, would give more incentive to stay with the series.

Airing all the races exlusively on ESPN plus a new title sponsor in 2008 is a good start. NASCAR now must ensure that the extra cash flow is properly reinvested in the Busch series and for the benefit of the series.

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