BUSCH: Champions Week, day one report

Champion's Week kicks off with Media Day and RPDE 'hot laps' Series celebrates Busch brand, looks forward to Nationwide ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 6, 2007) -- The top drivers in the NASCAR Busch Series returned to Central Florida on Thursday to ...

Champion's Week kicks off with Media Day and RPDE 'hot laps' Series celebrates Busch brand, looks forward to Nationwide

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 6, 2007) -- The top drivers in the NASCAR Busch Series returned to Central Florida on Thursday to celebrate their season accomplishments, just 70 miles south of Daytona International Speedway, where the season began in February.

NASCAR Busch Series driver champion Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford) and Scott Wimmer (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet), who was representing the Richard Childress Racing owners championship team, were joined by the series' top 10 drivers, Raybestos Rookie of the Year David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford) and Series Director Joe Balash at the ESPN Club at Disney's BoardWalk in Orlando. For the second consecutive season, NASCAR Busch Series Champion's Week kicked off with Media Day at the ESPN Club.

A week after representing the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series in New York City as a top-10 driver, Edwards was glad to be in Florida where the events will focus on his accomplishments in the NASCAR Busch Series.

"Orlando is a fun place to come with everything there is to do here," Edwards said. "It's really neat to know that I get to be on stage as the driver champion, that's a heck of an honor. It'll be fun to be the guy to get the trophy...it's just an amazing feeling."

Not to be lost in the shuffle is Childress' No. 29 team, which captured the owner's championship with Wimmer and Jeff Burton sharing the driving duties.

"The driver's championship was never an option for us at the beginning of the year," said crew chief Pat Smith. "I've been involved in some championship teams on a much smaller level, but never as a crew chief. This is definitely my biggest achievement."

Smith downplayed the difficulties the team faced having to constantly switch drivers.

"We definitely had more of an advantage when we ran consecutive races with the same driver, but overall with two quality race car drivers, it's not a huge transition."

Following the media luncheon, the group moved to Walt Disney World Speedway for "hot laps" with the Richard Petty Driving Experience for media and special guests. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France will host both championship teams tonight for a special Champion's Dinner on the grounds of the Portofino Bay Hotel, site of Friday night's awards banquet.

Ragan follows Roush model ... Although David Ragan's ascent to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series was quicker than many expected, Ragan proved to be right on track with owner Jack Roush's plan, winning the NASCAR Busch Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year award.

"David has followed in the footsteps of Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards in terms of the things he's been able to do," Roush said. "He leaped forward ahead of his peers in experience and age group and he's been able to establish himself and show that he deserves to be there."

Ragan understands Roush's plan and knows that getting experience in the NASCAR Busch Series is the perfect stepping stone to having a solid career at the next level.

"It feels good running some Truck races and getting to know a lot of the people at Roush Fenway because (Jack) moves drivers up just like he does employees and crew chiefs and engineers," Ragan said. "Some of the guys I've worked with on the Truck and Busch teams are now with us on the Cup side. Jack has definitely got it figured out on how to bring new guys in."

It also helps knowing that Ragan has teammates that have followed the same career path he has. "I feel like I can go to those guys that have gone through the Truck and Busch Series and have done a lot of the same things I've done. I can talk to them and they can help me out a lot."

From one great partner to another ... Friday night's awards banquet will be the 26th -- and final -- for series sponsor Busch, which will be replaced by Nationwide in 2008. Many in the NASCAR industry were quick to praise Anheuser-Busch for all they have done for the series, while welcoming new entitlement sponsor Nationwide with open arms.

"Anheuser-Busch gets a lot of credit in taking us from that Late Model Sportsman Series to a race series that is nationally recognized, that has grown the sport to 2.7 million people to come and watch us throughout the year and really putting us on a national level," said NASCAR Busch Series Director Joe Balash. "You've got a really good platform that Nationwide is starting with. I think the Nationwide brand opens up a lot of doors and gives us a great deal of flexibility and our continued growth will stem from a great partner in Nationwide."

"We're extremely proud that the Nationwide Series will kick off its first event with us," said Daytona International Speedway President Robin Braig, in reference to the series' season-opening race on Feb. 16. "It is their biggest event -- it's their 'Super Bowl' as well. It draws the most people, has the highest TV ratings and pays the most. It's going to be a great race."

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Busch Series Awards Banquet

Where: Tuscan Ballroom, Portofino Bay Hotel, Orlando, Fla.
When: 7-10:30 p.m. (ET). Friday, Dec. 7.

TV: ESPN2, 7-8 p.m. (ET), Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Final NASCAR Busch Series Top 10: 1. Carl Edwards 4,805. 2. David Reutimann 4,187. 3. Jason Leffler 3,996. 4. Kevin Harvick 3,993. 5. David Ragan 3,739. 6. Bobby Hamilton Jr. 3,667. 7. Stephen Leicht 3,603. 8. Marcos Ambrose 3,477. 9. Greg Biffle 3,466. 10. Mike Wallace 3,451.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year: David Ragan

Hosts: Allen Bestwick and Shannon Spake

Musical Entertainment: John Ondrasik (lead singer, Five for Fighting)

Comedian: John Pinette.

-credit: nascar

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