Back Seat Driver: Double-dip or Championship

Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
Kevin Harvick announced this week that his NASCAR Nationwide Series operations would be shifted to Richard Childress Racing, and in his subsequent discussion of shutting down Kevin Harvick Incorporated NASCAR Camping World Truck teams in order to focus on the Sprint Cup championship next season, Kevin said, "Cup cars make it all go around. Richard and I have talked about this a lot. Without the Cup cars being successful on Sunday, or Saturday night or whatever the case may be, Trucks don't exist, Nationwide cars don't exist, and sponsors aren't there. ... That Cup championship is what we're after."

Carl Edwards announced last month that he would be curtailing his NNS schedule to focus on his Sprint Cup ride.

Could these two competitive drivers have finally realized what Five-Time and Four-Time have demonstrated for years? Winning the Sprint Cup is difficult enough without dividing energy and focus on other series, whether as an owner or a driver?

The difficulty of being an owner-driver has been demonstrated over the years by such prominent names as Darrell Waltrip and Ricky Rudd. But what about running in other series?

On the one hand there's the argument that especially since NASCAR cut out testing, the seat time in NNS or CWTS gives drivers valuable information about track conditions and can help new drivers become familiar with tracks on which they have limited or no experience.

On the other hand, driving in two or three races in a weekend, especially if additional travel is involved, taxes the driver's physical, mental, and emotional resources and could keep him from focusing on the big prize, the Sprint Cup Championship.

Looking over the last 16 seasons, 1995-2010, eight drivers have claimed the title of champion, be it Winston Cup, Nextel Cup or Sprint Cup. During that 16 seasons, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson accumulated 289 wins out of 555 races. Fifty-two percent over 16 seasons, won by just eight drivers.

During that 16-season, 522-race period, those eight drivers had a cumulative 661 Busch/Nationwide starts (Gordon-11, Terry Labonte-71, Jarret-61, Bobby Labonte-79, Stewart-90, Kenseth-247, Busch-11, Johnson-91). They won 51 of those races. Well, Kenseth won 25, the other seven won the rest.

Think about that for a minute. Kyle Busch just won his 51st Nationwide race in his 221st start over 9 seasons. Mark Martin has 49 wins in 235 starts over 22 seasons. Neither has won a Cup championship, though Martin came heartbreakingly close over the years. Carl Edwards may have 35 Busch/Nationwide wins to his credit, including 6 this season, but the highest he's finished in Cup points so far is second.

Jimmie Johnson has 54 victories to go with his 5 Sprint Cup championships... but he's only won a single Busch/Nationwide race in his 92 starts since 1998. Jeff Gordon, who just won his 85th Cup race at Atlanta on Tuesday, sits third in all-time wins. He has 4 Winston Cup championships, but only 5 Busch Series wins in 73 starts since 1990. Tony Stewart, the only other repeat Cup champion in the last 16 years, had 9 Busch/Nationwide wins in 90 starts between 1996-2010. Only Matt Kenseth has more lower-series wins than he does Cup wins.

Do those numbers really mean anything? You decide. When Brad Keselowski broke his ankle and was forced to curtail his NNS schedule, he ended up winning two Cup races. Darrell Waltrip commented on the timing, saying that it worked for 5-Time. Coincidence? Maybe. Based on the last 16 seasons, at least, it seems that the champions have focused on the big prize. Of course, it's entirely possible that Kyle or Carl will buck the trend by winning the Sprint Cup championship this year.

But it's equally as possible that Jeff will earn his first Sprint Cup to go with his 4 Winston Cup championships, or that Jimmie's nickname will go from "5-Time" to "6-Time." Stay tuned!
Back Seat Driver: Double-dip or Championship Back Seat Driver: Double-dip or Championship Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Saturday, September 10, 2011 Rating: 5