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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I think you hear me knocking

If you are a young hopeful Busch series driver, this is the weekend for you to make some noise. With the Nextel Cup series off, the Nashville race features only seven Cup regulars. Unlike last year, Carl Edwards is the only Buschwhacker with any kind of success at the Cup level. Edwards and Dave Blaney are the only two entrants with a Busch win in the last two years. Only 17 drivers on the entry list have 5 or more starts in 2007. Of the 60 top tens available so far, the Nashville entry list has scored only 16 top tens during the first six races and Edwards has six these. To put it another way, the drivers that have accounted for 73% of the top tens in 2007 are not driving this weekend.12 drivers are age 25 or younger. All of these numbers all say one thing: Opportunity. With all of the talk about how the Busch Series has problems, this weekend is a showcase for young talent.

The Pepsi 300 is a glimpse at what the Busch Series is ideally intended for: A series for young drivers to get experience, show their talent and get used to stock cars. Several young drivers get their chances in top equipment. Top equipment is nice; it's even better when it'spreviously driven by veteran Cup drivers. Drivers like Timothy Peters, Brad Coleman, Cale Gale and Eric Almirola get the added advantage of having someone like Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart or Denny Hamlin shake down the car. The downside is there are fewer reasons or excuses why a driver can't succeed. Some young drivers are getting early opportunities to impress while others are trying to remind people that they can still drive.

Young Guns
Cale Gale-The 21 year old Gale has 4 career Busch starts. Gale was hired last fall by Kevin Harvick to drive his car part time. Gale won an ARCA race at Gateway Int'l and finished 14th in the truck race at Daytona.

Timothy Peters-3 Busch starts, 34 Truck starts. Peters gets his third start in the #21 car. It's the same car that won 9 races last year, including Nashville, and has been one of the top Busch programs for the last few years. Peters finished ninth last weekend in the Truck Series race at Martinsville. Peters will also race the ARCA companion race at Nashville.

Kraig Kinser-A regular in the truck series, Kinser gets his first Busch start with Ginn Racing. Kinser, the son of Outlaws legend Steve has one truck top ten in 22 career races. With Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin nearing retirement, Kinser and Regan Smith are the future of Ginn Racing.

Eric Almirola, Brad Coleman-The two young Gibbs development drivers make their 4th and 3rd 2007 Busch starts respectively. Almirola ran a full Truck Series schedule (3 top 10's) in addition to nine Busch races. Coleman is only 19 but has raced stock cars, open wheel cars, late models and sports cars. Both drivers are looking for their first Busch top tens.

Steve Wallace-Growing up as Rusty Wallace's son, Steve has been in the spotlight for several years. It is sometimes easy to forget that he is only 19 and already is running a full Busch season. He has won Late Model and ARCA races and won the pole for the Bristol race two weeks ago.

Bouncing Back...
Scott Wimmer-He spent three seasons at the Cup level wth underfunded Bill Davis Racing and Morgan-McClure. Now he finds himself in a part time ride with Richard Childress. Part time is never as good as fulltime, but at least he is in a car that already has two Busch wins in 2007. Landing with a top Busch team is a great chance for Wimmer to rehabilitate his career and hopefully avoid the driver carousel involved among the underfunded teams.

Todd Kluever-A year ago Kluever was on the fast track to inheriting Mark Martin's #6 Nextel Cup ride. Then he struggled in his first Busch season with only 4 top tens and lots of DNF's (7). He was passed for the Cup ride and is only running a partial Busch schedule. In his second Busch season he is running more consistently with three top 15's in four races. Kluever won the pole at the second Nashville race in 2006, so he could do well this year. His NASCAR future may depend on it.

Danny O’Quinn-The 2006 Busch Rookie of the Year lost his ride with Roush Racing due to sponsorship challenges. O'Quinn is only 22 and deserves another shot in the Busch Series.

Other Notables
Sam hornish Jr-The reigning IRL champ and Indy 500 winner is preparing for a future jump to stock cars with as many Busch starts as he can cram in. His last Busch race at Atlanta saw him finish a respectable 15th. His move to stock cars is inevitable, especiallyif things keep progressing well.

Boris Said-When will an enterprising company or team owner get wise and hire Said for a full-time ride? He is best known for his road course skills, but he does have 93 starts among NASCAR's top three divisions. His best speedway finish last year was a 14th at Kentucky. Plus no one is a more entertaining interview.

Stephen Leicht-At one point in 2006 Leicht was close to landing one of Robert Yates' Cup rides. Luckily he wasn't thrown to the wolves and was able to learn at the Busch level. Leicht is only 19 years old and is still learning about stock car racing and Yates is still trying to rebuild both the Cup and Busch teams. He did win the ARCA race at Nashville last spring so he is talented.

While all of these drivers will have reasons to run well, the unquestioned favorite is Edwards. JJ Yeley is still looking for his first NASCAR win, but does not have as reliable car as several other drivers in the race. With so many young drivers and the lack of Cup drivers will make for an interesting race.