Originally created 05/26/01

Busch teams seeking bigger bite of apple



CONCORD, N.C. - Word of a possible revolt in the NASCAR Busch Series didn't reach the first few transporters in the NASCAR Busch Series garage Friday at the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Up front, where the restrooms are only a few steps away and the smell from the Wendy's concession stand fills the air, the lead players in stock car racing's junior circuit do their work. It's where series champion Jeff Green has his Ford parked, where top contenders Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle hang out.

When you're a top team on the NASCAR Busch Series circuit, the sport doesn't seem so hard. But the comfort zone is narrow and the drop-off between the haves and the have-nots is fast and dramatic.

At the back end of the garage area, even the puddles created by an afternoon of rain seem menacing. It's where the grunts of the series, the rank and file who run a lot of laps but rarely contend for a race victory, turn wrenches and voice concern.

Frank Cicci, a co-owner for three race teams, has three teams huddled at the back of the garage area. On Thursday, he called for an unofficial owners meeting to talk finances and the future of their sport. On Friday, he wasn't talking at all.

"I'm not going to say anything," he said.

Cicci called off the lynch party late Thursday, but his problems with the way money is doled on the Busch Series caught NASCAR's ears. The sanctioning body scheduled a meeting with the car owner, and that was enough to cause a sudden case of lockjaw.

What is this about?

"It's about staying in business," he said, "but I can't say anything."

There's no secret the teams on the support series aren't happy with the staggering costs of merely surviving a 34-race season. The $2.8 billion television package paid by FOX, NBC and TBS was supposed to make everybody rich in the sport. But the trickle-down theory apparently doesn't apply to the Busch Series.

The money seems to benefit each raceway, the Winston Cup Series and NASCAR itself a lot more than its support series.

At the season-opening NAPA 300 at the Daytona International Speedway, Randy LaJoie earned $96,270 for winning. A day later, Michael Waltrip won $1,331,185 in the Daytona 500.

Busch Series cars cost the same to build as a Winston Cup car. A change in engine specifications added $500,000 to the Busch Series budget and the junior circuit has the same kind of travel demands as the senior series.

And yet, they only make pennies on the dollar.

That's why the Busch Series hasn't had a full field in half of their races this year. In fact, one speedway offered to pay for hotel rooms and racing tires to avoid the embarrassment of being the host site for a Busch Series race with a handful of empty stalls on pit road.

The winner of today's CarQuest 300 (1 p.m., FOX) at Lowe's Motor Speedway will earn one-third the amount of money as the winner of Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.

When Joe Nemechek won $43,550 at Atlanta earlier this year in the Busch Series, he was asked about his payday. His response was quick: "It sucks."

The Winston Cup winner, Harvick, pocketed $158,427 a day later at the same track.

The top-running teams on the Busch Series are well-funded, and that usually translates to better speed. Everyone else spends as much time playing catch-up as they do looking for the same kind of advantages the lead teams take for granted.

"What I'd like to see is some sort of long-range plan," said one car owner who feared the same kind of response Cicci faces. "You may not like the rules NASCAR plays by, but they don't pretend to be anything else. They say, 'Here it is.' They don't force any of us to show up every week.

"I'm comfortable with NASCAR putting 90,000 people in the stands every Saturday so I have the opportunity to sell that to a sponsor. I don't like everything that's happening, but I knew the rules before I started."

The same rules put the leading players - Harvick, Green and Biffle - in the first three starting positions for today's race. A shower washed out time trials Friday afternoon, so the field was set primarily from current car owner points. The rich got richer."

Biffle, a rookie on the Busch Series, has been able to translate a lot of his success on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to stock cars. Working for Roush Racing helps, since he can draw on the resources and experience from teammates like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth. That will be important today since the final practice session also was rained out.

"I just don't have any experience here, in testing or qualifying," Biffle said. "We all want to have best cars we can. We can start the race with the same things that Jeff Burton has under his car. Hopefully, you can see us around the top five all the time."

Which will help him keep his lofty position near the front of the garage area.