BUSCH: Beating Around The Busch, chapter 2

Beating Around The Busch By Thomas Chemris Chapter 2: Champions, Iron Men, Veterans and Busch-Whackers The high banks of Daytona will open the Busch series season on Valentines Day with the Hershey's Kiss 300. 2004 will see the series field...

Beating Around The Busch
By Thomas Chemris

Chapter 2: Champions, Iron Men, Veterans and Busch-Whackers

The high banks of Daytona will open the Busch series season on Valentines Day with the Hershey's Kiss 300. 2004 will see the series field former champions, seasoned veterans, Busch-Whackers, and three drivers who will attempt to run full seasons in both the Busch and Nextel Cup series.

David Green, Kevin Harvick, Johnny Benson, Greg Biffle, Randy Lajoie, and Dale Earnhardt Jr will all compete in Busch this year. Combined, the six drivers have claimed eight series titles. Of the six, three will run part time schedules, and three will run full time in 2004.

Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr will both run selected events. Harvick, who teamed with Johnny Sauter in 2003 to combine for the Owners championship will team with newcomer Clint Bowers to attempt a repeat of the title.

1992 Champion, David Green, who was runner up for the 2003 championship will return to Brewco Motorsports and is optimistic about the future.

"Ever since the beginning of last year, I've been pumped full of optimism day in and day out because of what this team did for me and what they continually show me," said Green.

Johnny Benson, who was released form Mb2 Motorsports on the Cup side returns to the series with team owner James Finch in the number one entry. This will mark the first season that Finch attempts to run a full season. "I hope we're competitive," Benson said. "I've only run two years in Busch. I've had good success in it. We finished sixth my rookie year in the points and I won the championship."

Also returning to the series is two-time Champion Randy Lajoie . Lajoie was released from Nemco Motorsports mid season in 2003. He returns part-time to Fitz/Bradshaw Racing and has the experience to bring this team up to a competitive level, and maybe their first trip to victory lane.

When Lajoie was released, his Nemco ride ran through several drivers including 2002 champion Greg Biffle. Biffle never skipped a beat from his championship form as he scored two wins. Wins that put the Washington State diver in an awkward position as the full time Roush Ford driver was taking the Nemco Chevy to victory lane. Biffle, who indicated that running Busch races helps his cup performance found a solution in the Roush camp, as they announced the resurrection of his number sixty championship team, and Biffle will attempt to run full time in both the Cup and Busch series.

"I'm excited about 2004 because I've got two challenges placed in front of me running the full schedule in both the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series and Busch Series. I've got two strong teams assembled around me and I'm anxious to get the season going. We're gunning for two championships this year", noted Biffle.

Biffle will not be alone in his quest; Johnny Sauter and Kasey Khane will also attempt the double duty schedule in what has become known as NASCAR's Iron Man competition.

Several series veterans are returning including Jason Keller, who gets a new sponsor as Miller Brewing Company adorns his PPC Ford.

Bobby Hamilton Jr, whose team caught fire late in 2003, wants to keep that pace, as he is solid contender for the championship.

"Any time you can get in a position that we're in now, you definitely want to take advantage of It." said Hamilton. " If we can just carry half of 2003's momentum through the first half of the season and pick up where we left off, we'll be fine."

Casey Atwood, Mike Wallace, Mike Bliss, and last year's rookie of the year David Stremme, who joins Braun Racing, are set for there championship bids. Ron Hornaday returns to the number two RCR team, but with a new crew chief. Butch Hilton, who led the Owners points title for RCR has switched positions with Ricky Viers who will chief for the RCR twenty-nine entries.

Jason Lefler and Robert Pressley have left Cup and the Craftsman Truck Series respectfully to go full time Busch Racing. Lefler will run the Haas entry as Pressley will run a second car for ST Motorsports teaming with Stacy Compton.

Lefler sees the new team as championship contenders, "We came out of the box strong in the races we ran last season and we hadn't really had the time to put together a complete Busch Series team. ", said Lefler.

Add to the mix, the Busch Whackers class of 2004. Busch Whacking is a term coined by Darrell Waltrip to refer to Cup drivers who cherry pick Busch events. Many detractors criticize the practice because it can keep lesser-known full time teams out of the field. However, overall the phenomena is positive for the series, because when the big names come, so do the fans, giving the series and it's drivers much needed exposure to sponsors. Michael Waltrip, Greg Biffle, Robby Gordon, Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Joe Nemechek (spelling) all have announced plans to run this season.

Mark Martin, the winingest driver in series history (45) will also return to team with Jeff Burton, and Matt Kenseth to run selected events.

Several other drivers and teams are poised to take on the challenge of 2004. Always tenuous as the series runs feast or famine in terms of sponsorship and funding, in the end, teams will fold, drivers will swap rides, and only the strong will survive.

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Bobby Hamilton , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Michael Waltrip , Jason Keller , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Randy Lajoie , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Mike Wallace , Robert Pressley , Casey Atwood , Stacy Compton , Casey Mears , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , David Green , Johnny Sauter , Mike Bliss , David Stremme , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin