NASCAR centerpiece: Double Duty
Nationwide: Sprint Cup’s Parallel Universe
Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are competing for two championships this year. In addition to running the full Sprint Cup schedule, the two drivers plan to run the complete Nationwide circuit. It’s the continuation of a trend that Kevin Harvick inadvertently started in 2001. Before that, the Nationwide series (formerly known as the Busch series; the name was changed before the 2007 season) served as Cup racing’s equivalent of Triple-A baseball. It provided a place for up-and-coming drivers to gain experience and for veterans who lacked Cup rides to earn a living. Granted, Cup interlopers have always cherry-picked select Busch/Nationwide events, such as the season-opening 300-miler at Daytona. But in recent years they’ve taken the double dipping to a new level. Here are some noteworthy instances.
Kevin Harvick: 2001, 2006
He didn’t plan to be a pioneer. When the 2001 season began, Harvick was simply a second-year Busch series driver at Richard Childress Racing. But after Childress’s primary Cup driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500, Harvick got a sudden, pressure-packed promotion. He took over Earnhardt’s Cup car (with the number changed from 3 to 29) for the rest of the season and continued to run the full Busch schedule. By year’s end he had won multiple races in each series, and he was both Busch series champion and Cup series rookie of the year.
After focusing on his Cup ride for the next four seasons, Harvick pulled double duty again in 2006. As good as his Cup performance was (five wins, fourth in points) his Busch season was even better: nine wins and a second series title, by a record 824-point margin.
Carl Edwards, 2005-present
This is the fifth straight season that Edwards has competed full time in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series. During that time he’s missed just one event – and only because he couldn’t figure out how to be in two places at once. Due to a one-day postponement, a 2005 Nashville Busch race ran at the same time as a Pocono Cup event, which Edwards won. He romped to the 2007 Nationwide title and is the early points leader this season.
Kyle Busch, 2006, 2009
Last year Busch finished sixth in Nationwide points. Not terribly impressive – until you consider that he ran just part time. Despite missing five starts, he finished ahead of seven drivers who ran the full schedule, thanks to a record-tying 10 wins.
This year Busch has decided to go the distance to try to capture the Nationwide championship. And he’s off to a good start, with a win at California’s Auto Club Speedway. For good measure, he’s won two of the first three Camping World Truck Series races this season.
Clint Bowyer, 2006, 2008
Last year Busch and Edwards combined to win almost half the Nationwide races. Yet it was Bowyer, whose only win came in a rain-shortened race at Bristol in March, who won the championship. He did it with rock-steady consistency, finishing in the top 10 in 29 of 35 starts. The Nationwide series doesn’t use Sprint Cup’s Chase format, so wins are less important in the points standings.
Bowyer, who chose not to defend his Nationwide title in order to concentrate on his reorganized RCR Sprint Cup team, expressed some ambivalence over his reduced schedule. “It’s going to be relaxing,” Bowyer said. “But I don’t want to relax. I’m a racer.”
NATIONWIDE SERIES 2009 SCHEDULE
THE LOWDOWN. Of the remaining 32 Nationwide races, 23 are “combination” events, run at the same track as that week’s Sprint Cup race. The first stand-alone Nationwide race is at Nashville in April, when the Cup cars are idle for Easter. The real fun for double-duty drivers starts in June. The Nationwide and Sprint Cup series are at different tracks in different states on three consecutive weekends, culminating in a brutal Milwaukee-Sonoma, Calif. combo.
2009 Nationwide Series Schedule
Feb 14 Camping World 300 1st Tony Stewart 2nd Carl Edwards 3rd Clint Bowyer
Feb 21 Stater Bros. 300 1st Kyle Busch 2nd Kevin Harvick 3rd Joey Logano
Feb 28 Sam’s Town 300 1st Greg Biffle 2nd Carl Edwards 3rd Brian Vickers
Mar 21 Scotts Turf Builder 300 Bristol Motor Speedway Bristol, Tenn.
Apr 4 O’Reilly 300 Texas Motor Speedway Fort Worth, Texas
Apr 11 Pepsi 300 Nashville Superspeedway Nashville, Tenn.
Apr 17 Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 Phoenix International Raceway Phoenix, Ariz.
Apr 25 Aaron’s 312 Talladega Superspeedway Talladega, Ala.
May 1 Lipton Tea 250 Richmond International Raceway Richmond, Va.
May 8 Diamond Hill Plywood 200 Darlington Raceway Darlington, S.C.
May 23 Carquest Auto Parts 300 Lowe’s Motor Speedway Charlotte, N.C.
May 30 Heluva Good! 200 Dover International Speedway Dover, Del.
Jun 6 Federated Auto Parts 300 Nashville Superspeedway Nashville, Tenn.
Jun 13 Meijer 300 Kentucky Speedway Sparta, Ky.
Jun 20 Camping World RV Rental 250 The Milwaukee Mile, West Allis, Wis.
Jun 27 Camping World RV Sales 200 New Hampshire Motor Speedway Loudon, N.H.
Jul 3 Winn Dixie 250 Daytona International Speedway Daytona Beach, Fla.
Jul 10 Dollar General 300 Chicagoland Speedway Joliet, Ill.
Jul 18 Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 Gateway International Raceway Madison, Ill.
Jul 25 Kroger 200, O’Reilly Raceway Park Indianapolis, In.
Aug 1 Iowa 250 Iowa Speedway Newton, Iowa
Aug 8 Zippo 200 Watkins Glen International Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Aug 15 Michigan 250 Michigan International Speedway Brooklyn, Mich.
Aug 21 Food City 250 Bristol Motor Speedway Bristol, Tenn.
Aug 30 NAPA Auto Parts 300 Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Montreal, Que.
Sep 5 Degree V12 300 Atlanta Motor Speedway Hampton, Ga.
Sep 11 Richmond 250 Richmond International Raceway Richmond, Va.
Sep 26 Dove 200 Dover International Speedway Dover, Del.
Oct 3 Kansas Lottery 300 Kansas Speedway Kansas City, Kan.
Oct 10 Camping World RV 300 Auto Club Speedway Fontana, Calif.
Oct 16 Dollar General 300 Lowe’s Motor Speedway Charlotte, N.C.
Oct 24 NASCAR Nationwide Series 250 Memphis Motorsports Park Memphis, Tenn.
Nov 7 4 O’Reilly Challenge Texas Motor Speedway Fort Worth, Texas
Nov 14 Arizona 200 Phoenix International Raceway Phoenix, Ariz.
Nov 21 Ford 300 Homestead-Miami Speedway Homestead, Fla.
PAST NATIONWIDE SERIES CHAMPIONS
2008 Clint Bowyer
2007 Carl Edwards
2006 Kevin Harvick
2005 Martin Truex Jr.
Driver profile: Kurt Busch
WHY HE MATTERS: Kyle’s older brother proved he’s still relevant with a dominating win at Atlanta.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I’ve got to hold up my end of the bargain – Kyle’s on the gas right now.”
WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY: Of the eight perfect driver ratings recorded since NASCAR started tracking “loop data” in 2005, Kurt has four, including one in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500.
Quote of Note
“We’ll keep knocking on the door until we get into Victory Lane.”
–Jeff Gordon, who holds the Sprint Cup points lead and has two runner-up finishes in four starts, but hasn’t won since Oct. 2007
The Idle of March
This week marks the only time all season that the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series are all idle on the same weekend. Sprint Cup and Nationwide resume next week at Bristol, Tenn., while the truck troops are off until Mar. 28 at Martinsville.
UP TO SPEED
Best of the Rested
Which Sprint Cup driver benefits the most from a little R&R? Jimmie Johnson. Over the last five years, Johnson has won five Sprint Cup races following an off weekend. Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart have won two each, and no other driver has won more than one. Maybe the extra rest will help Johnson next week at Bristol, where he’s winless in 14 career starts, with just two top-fives.
So far this season, provisional starting spots have been based on the top 35 in owners’ points from 2008. But after the fifth race, next weekend at Bristol, NASCAR will begin using 2009 owners’ points. Earnhardt Ganassi driver Aric Almirola is on the bubble, with David Gilliland of the fledgling TRG Motorsports team just one point behind. But most surprising is the three drivers just ahead of Almirola: Ryan Newman is 32nd, Joey Logano 33rd and Mark Martin 34th.
Pit problems continued to plague contenders at Atlanta, where Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers were bagged for speeding and Greg Biffle pitted outside his stall. But the most bizarre, and most significant, pit-road episode of the season occurred on lap 67, when a loose wheel from the No. 47 Toyota of Marcos Ambrose rolled from the team’s pit stall onto the grass between pit road and the track. Gas man Jimmy Watts ran out to retrieve it, which compelled NASCAR to throw the caution flag. Watts was suspended for the remainder of the race – but he wasn’t the only one who suffered a penalty. Because the yellow flag came out during a round of pit stops, several drivers – including Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, who had combined to win the season’s first three races – ended up down a lap (or two) because they had just pitted under green-flag conditions.
Current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Points
RANK DRIVER POINTS BEHIND
1 Jeff Gordon 634 --
2 Clint Bowyer 591 -43
3 Kurt Busch 588 -46
4 Carl Edwards 547 -87
5 Matt Kenseth 546 -88
6 Tony Stewart 521 -113
7 Kyle Busch 514 -120
8 Kevin Harvick 511 -123
9 Kasey Kahne 484 -150
10 Greg Biffle 480 -154
11 Brian Vickers 477 -157
12 David Reutimann 475 -159
13 Jimmie Johnson 457 -177
14 Denny Hamlin 456 -178
15 Jeff Burton 437 -197
16 Michael Waltrip 434 -200
17 Elliott Sadler 427 -207
18 Jamie McMurray 423 -211
19 Martin Truex Jr. 423 -211
20 A.J. Allmendinger 417 -217