Column: Drivers hit Viva Las Vegas
Published 12:21 am Saturday, March 11, 2006
After what looks to be an annual early-season off-week, the Nextel Cup drivers return to the track this week at Las Vegas. Most of the cup guys had the weekend off, while a handful traveled to Mexico City to compete in the Busch road-course race.
In the past, there was a clear defining line between the Cup competitors and the guys racing in the Busch series. That is not the case any longer.
For a variety of reasons, more and more drivers are competing in both series. In fact, six of the top ten finishers in Mexico City also drive cup cars full-time and after three races, the top five in the Busch points standings are Nextel Cup regulars. Beyond that, all three races in 2006 have been won by Nextel Cup drivers.
I have heard all the reasons for these guys competing in both series. The information gained on Saturday will help on Sunday, sponsors are demanding the big-names race on Saturday, and the track promoters sell more tickets for the Busch race with those guys in the line-up.
All are valid reasons, but I don't like it. The Busch series used to be a proving ground for young guys coming up through the ranks. It was the triple A league to the Nextel Cup. Not anymore. The more Nextel regulars racing on Saturdays leaves one more young guy out of a ride.
Last year, we heard about the lack of young available drivers to fill some of the vacant seats in cup series. Well, those young guys missed some of the opportunities that the Busch series formerly afforded them. Will this trend change anytime soon?
No, in fact, I would be willing to bet that we will see more and more drivers competing full season in both series.
Speaking of betting, the Cup guys travel to Las Vegas for the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 this Sunday. In the midst of a $25 million renovation project that will begin after this race, Las Vegas is a favored destination for the cup drivers.
There have been only two multiple winners of this race since 1998. Only Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton have visited victory lane twice at Las Vegas.
However, Roush Racing has won five of the eight races here. The Ford drivers will be tough to beat Sunday, but my pick to win the race is Jeff Burton. He is overdue for a checkered flag and has been solid through the first two races of the season.
After this race, only two races remain to set the ever-important top 35 in points for the remainder of the 2006 season.
Through the first five races, cars that finished the 2005 season in the top 35 are guaranteed starting spots. After that, we go to the current points standings.
Guys on the bubble right now include Bobby Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Greg Biffle, Scott Riggs and Travis Kvapil.
A lot can happen in three races, but these guys have got to be thinking about getting into the top 35.
Race coverage begins at 4 p.m. on FOX and the green flag is scheduled to drop at 4:35.