THE BESThead-to-head matchup in NASCAR this season won't feature Jimmie Johnson, thethree-time defending Sprint Cup champion, or Matt Kenseth, the winner in two ofthe first three Cup races in 2009. No, it will be the battle between Kyle Buschand Carl Edwards ... in the Nationwide Series, the Triple A circuit that runsconcurrently with the Cup series.
Busch and Edwardsare the only two full-time Cup drivers competing for the Nationwide title aswell. Last season they combined to win 17 of the 35 Nationwide events,including nine of the last 11, to finish sixth and second, respectively, in thepoint standings. (Clint Bowyer, another Cup driver, won the title, but he isn'trunning a full '09 Nationwide schedule.) As the two most talented drivers onthe circuit and piloting superior equipment, Busch and Edwards could win asmany as 25 races in the junior series this year. "Hopefully," Buschsays. "it will be the Busch-Edwards duo contending for bothchampionships."
After finishingfourth in the season-opening Nationwide race at Daytona, the 23-year-old Buschtook the checkered flag in Fontana, Calif., on Feb. 21, then wrecked 22 lapsinto last Saturday's race in Las Vegas. Edwards, 29, got his second runner-upfinish of the season in Vegas (he was fourth at Fontana) to take a 48-pointlead in the Nationwide standings.
Series organizerslove the attention the stars bring, though there is resentment among somefull-time Nationwide drivers that the big boys are taking money out of theirpockets. Why do Busch and Edwards run on the junior circuit? Two reasons: Itoffers them more seat time at tracks that the Cup circuit visits, allowing themto practice different lines and test various grooves, and it pays well, thanksto extra airtime for sponsors and healthy Nationwide purses. Busch, forexample, pocketed $76,820 for winning at Fontana. "It's going to be cool togo against Kyle each week in the Nationwide," Edwards says. "Right nowwe don't have any problems with one another."
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RUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR (BUSCH)
BUSCH LEAGUE Kyle won at Fontana last month; Edwards (below) has three top-four Nationwide finishes in '09.
KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT/US PRESSWIRE (EDWARDS)
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