Going nationwide?

Jeff Burton is a driver in the Nationwide Series, formerly the Bush Series. The second-tier series has a new name, but it is searching for an identity.

The Busch Series will become the Nationwide Series next year. But as the series' key figures prepare to meet this weekend in Orlando, Fla., for the annual awards banquet, other changes planned for stock car racing's second-tier should be more profound.


As NASCAR works on another Car of Tomorrow, teams without ties to the deep pockets and vast resources of a Nextel Cup operation might be pushed to the brink of extinction.

The Nationwide Series already is considered nothing more than a watered-down version of the Nextel Cup. Thirty-four of 35 races last year were won by Nextel Cup regulars. All 36 wins came from teams that also field Nextel Cup cars.

Converting a fleet of cars to a modern racer will cost millions. Most stand-alone Nationwide teams said they don't have that kind of money.

"The question that needs to be asked is this: What is NASCAR trying to accomplish?" said car owner Armando Fitz. "The biggest expense is sitting on a bunch of race cars. I've got 28 right now. What am I going to do with them?

"NASCAR needs to decide what's the purpose of the changes? The Busch Series is where you're supposed to be developing young drivers and crew chiefs and teams. Now it's become a money deal. It's a way for the Cup teams to finance their planes and buses."

The name change and a reduction of 100 horsepower are the only changes planned for 2008. The new car is scheduled to hit the track a year later. The question is how many teams will go along for the ride?

Some Nationwide teams already have closed their doors. Others said they may do the same.

NASCAR chairman Brian France said it's important the Nationwide Series creates is own identity. Although Cup drivers dominate the sport, he also said Cup drivers fill the fields and create interest.

"We are looking for a balance," he said. "It's the No. 2 motorsports in the country, without question. We want to distinguish that series for what it is -- incredibly competitive. We'll deal with the Nextel Cup drivers that are there in some way.

"We'll look at a lot of things that can enhance that series, and we'll do that with Nationwide because they're our series sponsor," France said. "We couldn't do anything without choosing a partner first. Later this year and the first part of next year we'll start looking at '09."

Armando Fitz can't help but wonder if he can make it that long.



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