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A Claim jumper (formerly Buschwhacker) is a term for NASCAR drivers who are regulars in the top-level Sprint Cup Series but who also compete in races in the lower-level Nationwide Series. The original coinage of the term Buschwacker comes from the fact the Nationwide Series was previously the Busch Series. The current term is an insurance-related term, relating to NASCAR's current sponsorship of the series in question.
Because the Nationwide Series is essentially a minor league for the major-league Sprint Cup Series, this is a controversial practice. Critics say that claim jumpers are racing against inferior competition and taking opportunities away from younger, less-experienced drivers, but many NASCAR experts contend that without Cup drivers in Busch and the large amount of fan interest they attract, the series would cease to exist. Because the Nationwide Series runs most of its events as undercard races for the Sprint Cup Series, there is almost no time conflict for Cup Series drivers who wish to compete. Cup drivers like to race in Nationwide races, which are usually run on Saturdays, as preparation for the Sprint Cup Series races, usually run on Sundays. Because Nationwide and Cup cars are only subtly different, the primary advantage of running both races is extra practice ("seat time") for the drivers. Some racing experts suggested that when the Cup series moved to the Car of Tomorrow the advantage of Cup drivers racing in Nationwide events would decrease greatly; however, this did not prove true, as each Nationwide Series drivers' title from 2006 to 2010 was won by a Cup Series regular.
Due to NASCAR rules changes that took effect in 2011, claim jumpers are no longer allowed to compete for the Nationwide Series drivers' championship, although they can earn full points toward the owners' championship. Before these changes, the last non-Buschwhacker to win the Nationwide Series points title was Martin Truex, Jr. in 2005. Teams with claim jumpers racing part-time, however, have continued their winning stream; since the rule was instituted, teams with claim jumpers racing the majority of the schedule have the owners (team) title all three years. (The #60 team with Carl Edwards racing the majority of the season won in 2011, the #18 with various Joe Gibbs Racing drivers won the team title in 2012, and the #22 with various Penske Racing drivers won it in 2013.)
The presence of claim jumpers is seen as problematic by some Nationwide Series regulars who complain about more talented Cup drivers taking the top prize money and thus leading to loss of sponsorship for Nationwide Series teams with no Cup affiliation. Also, in some cases, Cup regulars have better equipment thus taking away the regulars' chance to win and score much needed championship points. Other Cup drivers will run equipment independent of the Cup Series; in recent years, Tony Stewart, Joe Nemechek and Jamie McMurray have raced with Nationwide Series teams entirely separate from their Sprint Cup Series ones. While most claim jumpers cherry-pick which Nationwide Series races to drive in, a few non-rookie Sprint Cup Series drivers, including Greg Biffle in 2004, Carl Edwards in 2005, J. J. Yeley, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick in 2006 and 2007, attempt to run every Nationwide event while also competing in a full season of Sprint Cup, even though on some weekends the two series race at venues hundreds of miles apart. Some critics of Buschwacking cite the lack of Nationwide Series veterans left in the series, after long-time series veterans and champions (such as Steve Grissom, David Green, Randy Lajoie, Jason Keller, Casey Atwood, and Ashton Lewis) could not find a team to drive for as all the seats were taken by Cup drivers.
Still, the presence of Sprint Cup Series drivers in Nationwide Series races increases the exposure for the series and raises the attractiveness of the series for potential competitors as well as potential sponsors. It also increases the level of competition, and accelerates the development of non-claim jumper Nationwide Series drivers. Some fans believe the television broadcasters focus solely on the Cup drivers during the broadcast of a race.
In 2007, only three non-Cup Series regulars won during the 35-race schedule: Aric Almirola, Stephen Leicht and Jason Leffler. (A fourth winner, David Reutimann made only 26 Cup starts out of 36 events: however, Reutimann missed 8 of the remaining 10 races merely because he failed to qualify, and was benched for a road course ringer in the other two.) Almirola's victory at the Milwaukee Mile on June 23 was controversial and unusual. Almirola was pulled from his car after leading 42 of the first 58 laps to make room for his team's regular driver, Cup regular Denny Hamlin. Hamlin missed the start of the race because he was delayed flying back east to Wisconsin from California, where he was driving a Cup event at Infineon Raceway the same weekend. Even though the car lost a lot of time during the driver change, Hamlin got back to the front to take the checkered flag after 250 laps. Almirola was officially credited with the win because he made the start.12
One of the Buschwhackers, Carl Edwards, clinched the 2007 Busch Series championship with two races to go. He ended the season 618 points over his fellow Buschwhacker David Reutimann. There were four non-Buschwhackers in the top 10 in drivers points: Jason Leffler, Bobby Hamilton, Jr., Stephen Leicht, and Marcos Ambrose.
There have been some proposals made to restrict Cup regulars' participation in the Nationwide Series by not awarding championship points to such drivers, none which were made official until 2011. Even though there is a widespread perception that drivers running both races hindered the development of new drivers, there has been a steady influx of successful new drivers into the Sprint Cup Series: e.g., in 2007 three of the Top 10 drivers had less than four years of Cup experience, eight of the ten had less than 10 years of Cup experience, and only one (Jeff Burton) was over 40 years of age.3
Cup drivers turn up in other series as well. Although it would be impractical for a Cup regular to run a full Camping World Truck Series or Whelen Modified Tour schedule, there are several who run trucks part-time. Kevin Harvick in particular was very active in the Truck Series: he owned a truck team which entered at least one vehicle in every race, and he frequently drove for his own team. The most successful of these drivers is Kyle Busch, who has won 29 Truck Series races. Busch owns his own Truck team, Kyle Busch Motorsports, and his team's #51 truck driven by himself and other drivers won the owner's championship in 2013. Most of the leading Truck Series drivers have at least some Cup experience. Cup drivers also occasionally compete in regional racing series events.
In late 2010, media reports began to indicate that NASCAR would respond to the critics of "claim jumping" by effectively splitting the difference between the two extremes of unrestricted presence of Cup drivers and none at all. It was specifically reported that in 2011, Cup drivers would be allowed to run in the Nationwide Series, but not to compete for the series championship.4 This rule change was confirmed by NASCAR.com in a report on January 11, 2011. Drivers are now allowed to compete for the championship in only one of NASCAR's three national touring series in a given season. The NASCAR license application form now includes a check box requiring drivers to select the series in which they wish to compete for the championship.5 NASCAR president and CEO Brian France officially announced this change on January 26, adding that Cup Series drivers will still be allowed to earn owner's points, but not driver's points, in the Nationwide and Truck Series.6
Although many claim that the added track time gained by running a Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series race helps drivers during the Sprint Cup Series race, any positive effects are not seen in final championship standings. For example, during his run of 5 consecutive Sprint Cup Series Championships, Jimmie Johnson ran only 3 Busch/Nationwide races in 2007, 1 each in 2007 & 2008, and none in 2009 or 2010. Another example is the 2009 season, where Kyle Busch won the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship but failed to qualify for the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The term originated in an argument Craig Witkowski had with another user "Tinadog" in the Usenet newsgroup rec.autos.sport.NASCAR ("rasn" for short) in May 1997. Tinadog was against Dale Earnhardt and liked Mark Martin, and Witkowski the reverse. Witkowski was especially critical of Martin using his Winston Cup team and resources to beat up on the drivers in the lower Busch Grand National Series. The old western term of "bushwhacker" was morphed into "Busch Whacker".
The term continued in use among the regulars on rasn, referring now to any driver whose primary ride is in the Cup series and cherry-picks Busch races. The term was picked up by Fox Sports broadcaster Mike Joy, who also participated in the group. After Joy used the term in his broadcasts, it was picked up by other members of the media and found its way into common use. Joy gave credit on the air on lap 64 of the Fox telecast of the Hershey's 300 Busch Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2005.
Fox later discontinued the use of the term on its telecasts. This may have been done to save face among the critics of this practice, or perhaps because few of the leaders were non-Sprint Cup Series drivers anymore.
The term "claim jumper" was first coined and used by Fox broadcaster Larry McReynolds initially, as Nationwide is an insurance company, he dubbed the Sprint Cup invaders as "Claim Jumpers", punning off the term of an insurance claim and mining rights.
The practice of Cup drivers who compete in Truck Series events has been referred to as "tail gating", and the drivers referred to as "tail-gators", although this usage is not common.
- Blount, Terry (November 23, 2010). "The best and worst of 2010". ESPN.com. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
- Rodman, Dave (January 11, 2011). "NASCAR drivers must elect championships in '11". NASCAR.com. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- "Changes for 2011 include emphasis on winning" (Press release). NASCAR. January 26, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
- ^ http://groups.google.com/group/rec.autos.sport.nascar/msg/123cac6eb8ae3bb9
- ^ http://groups.google.com/group/rec.autos.sport.nascar/browse_frm/thread/167b5763e2f50155
- ^ The Death of WCW, a book by R.D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez published in 2005
- ^ http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CAR_NASCAR_BUSCHWHACKING_THE_BANQUET?SITE=GENERIC&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2006-12-07-21-13-40