Don't be too quick to write Kyle Busch out of the Nationwide Series title picture next year.
No, Busch hasn't announced he'll defend his championship next year, but Busch indicated over lunch last week in Miami Beach there might be a scenario under which he would try for a second title.
As it stands now, Busch intends to run all the Nationwide races that are companion events to Sprint Cup events in 2010. His schedule also may include a few stand-alone Nationwide events during off-weeks for Cup.
“I think 24 to 27 (races) is what we're planning,” Busch said. “The races haven't been quite all worked out yet.”
Whatever the final number, Busch has to run the bulk of the Nationwide schedule in his #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to keep sponsors interested in the programme.
“We're going to do a combination next year where Kyle's going to run, (and) we're going to split that car up some,” JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. “We love being on the Nationwide side, because it allows you to bring in young guys. Whether its crew guys, pit crews, drivers — we've got (driver) Matt DiBenedetto next year for sure and one other young guy, and it gives them an opportunity.
“The reality is, though, the young guys you can't sell for what you need to run those cars for. If you can do it and still give them a handful of races and value long term, then I think it really pays off. We've seen it with Denny (Hamlin) — Kyle got it when he ran Nationwide. We saw it with Joey (Logano) and Tony Stewart when he first got here, so it's a big value to that Nationwide programme.”
The drawing card to sponsors, however, is a marquee Cup driver.
“I bring the talent and the sponsors come with,” Busch quipped.
Busch also admitted that how well he starts the season may factor into whether he lobbies Gibbs to run the full Nationwide schedule. Eleven of the first twelve Nationwide races are companion events. The fifth race of the season, at Nashville, is scheduled for April 3, an open week for the Cup series.
“It might get hairy there early,” Busch said after asking where Nashville fell on the schedule. “I don't know how many races I'm running at the beginning of the year to determine whether we try to go for it again, but I know it's not all sold (to sponsors).”
Whether Busch runs the Nashville race might not matter. He finished the 2009 season with more than a one-race cushion over series runner-up Carl Edwards. Busch won ten Nationwide races in 2008 and another nine this year. In securing his first championship in one of NASCAR's top three touring divisions, he also finished second eleven times, a single-season record.
Crunch time for a possible championship run will come with the 13th race, a return trip to Nashville that starts a string of three non-companion events that continues at Kentucky and Milwaukee. The second Nashville race is scheduled for June 5.
Asked whether there might be circumstances under which he would defend his title, Busch nodded.
Gibbs shook his head emphatically, indicating, “No.”
“I'll talk him into it,” Busch said.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News