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Busch league just a Cup imitation
NASCAR's second-tier Busch Series once was mainly a proving ground for young drivers trying to reach the top-level Nextel Cup Series. Today, it's hard to tell the two apart.

Cup drivers now dominate the Busch Series, which usually runs its races Saturday before the Cup events Sunday.

Kevin Harvick, a Cup regular, won nine of the 35 Busch races last year in easily winning the championship, and Cup drivers won all but two of the races overall.

Harvick won this year's Busch season opener, the Orbitz 300, a day before winning the Daytona 500.

The next four in points behind Harvick last year — Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley — all are full-time Cup drivers, prompting some observers to dub the series "Cup Lite" and the drivers "Buschwackers."

The situation riles some smaller Busch teams because they don't have the deep pockets of, say, Richard Childress Racing, which prepares Harvick's cars for both programs.

But the Cup-heavy presence in the Busch Series delights NASCAR, track operators, sponsors, television broadcasters and many fans because it has enabled the series to shed its backwater status and move into the limelight.

The Busch Series also enables fans who can't afford the price of a Cup race to come a day earlier, spend less for a ticket and still see many of NASCAR's most famous drivers.

For example, tickets for the Stater Bros. 300 Busch race at California Speedway on Saturday range from $40-$50 each, but they're $55-$155 for the Cup race, Sunday's Auto Club 500.

And this year, ESPN, which returned to televising NASCAR, is putting even more emphasis on the Busch Series, showing all of its races.

"Right now, the Busch Series is the second-most televised [auto] racing sport in the United States" behind the Cup series, "and the reason why it's watched is because the Cup drivers are there," said Cup driver-owner Robby Gordon, who also has a Busch team.

"They're not going to do anything about it," he said of NASCAR. And the speedway operators, he added, "have no Saturday crowd if they have no Cup drivers."  More at LA Times

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