NEW YORK -- It was more a smirk than a cringe, but the look on Kevin Harvick's face spoke volumes about the declining opportunities presented to NASCAR team owners to develop young drivers under the current Busch Series dynamic: Cup Light.
Currently, potential Busch Series sponsors seek the investment guarantee offered by an affiliation with a reputable Nextel Cup driver, in turn greatly limiting opportunities for up-and-coming young drivers.
In essence, sponsors hesitate to take a chance on a young kid when they can, for the same investment, promote an established star. It makes for a difficult proposition for team owners, and forces young drivers to trudge a slippery slope: get in and win or get in the unemployment line.
"It's hard to sell new guys at the current price tag," Harvick said. "We have a couple young guys: Kertus Davis and Cale Gale. But it's hard to find a Carl Edwards or a Clint Bowyer, somebody who's ready to go [immediately]. It's hard.
"It seems like everybody's got their talent pool in a circle, so you have to go develop somebody and it's so expensive to race, it's hard to do that because you don't want to run 30th. It's a vicious cycle."
Harvick would know. He's fully engaged on both sides of the situation.
He owns two teams at Kevin Harvick, Inc., but drives the majority of his personal Busch Series schedule for Richard Childress Racing.
He ran away with the championship this season by a record-smashing 824 points, and while adamant that anyone willing to sacrifice his time to run the entire schedule shouldn't be disallowed the opportunity to run for a title, he did offer a handful of methods to remedy a series dominated by Nextel Cup drivers and Nextel Cup-affiliated programs.
"I think there should be five or six races throughout the year that Cup guys can't make -- start them an hour before the Cup race starts," Harvick said. "That'd pretty much solve your problems as you went through the end of the year and into the championship.
"The Busch Series is pretty expensive to run right now, so figuring out how to seal the motors would make you run the motors for a couple races and cut the cost down by five, six, $700,000.
"It's close to $2 million per year, per car, for an engine package. If we could cut that down one-third or a half, we could make some major gains. Right now, if you could get the sponsorship to four, $4.5 million, you could have a lot better chance of selling anybody to drive the car."
Harvick said Thursday that Bobby Labonte and Davis would split time next year in his No. 77 Chevrolet. Labonte will run 18 events, Harvick said, while Davis will pilot the machine 13 times. The remaining four go to Harvick.
Harvick replaced youngster Burney Lamar with Labonte late in the 2006 campaign, and Labonte posted two top-10 finishes in five starts for a team that scored just three top 10s in the first 29 races of the season.
Busch's Busch Plans
Kyle Busch, while discussing his prospective NASCAR Busch Series exploits for 2007, said the No. 57 Chevrolet will become the No. 24 and will be driven by a trio of drivers: Casey Mears, Jimmie Johnson and Adrian Fernandez. Busch will pilot the No. 5. Neither team will run on a full-time basis, he said.
Mighty (Sweet) Kasey
Seen Wednesday evening at the chic New York eatery Bobby Vans: Kasey Kahne rolled in for dinner with his family.
Big deal, right? Doesn't seem so, I know, but here's a kid who has gorgeous women swooning over him at every turn, totally has his pick of the proverbial litter, and he shows up to dinner with his momma and granny. How cool is that?
Listen, the Allstate commercials aren't really that over the top; there's a baseline legitimacy there. Women young and old adore this kid. But Kahne's a homeboy, a lot like Dale Earnhardt Jr., the shy type who plays it close to the vest and engages his family in his daily life. Can't beat it.
Following a dominant 2005 campaign that included 15 Cup victories and all five teams in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, Roush Racing's performance decline in 2006 baffled many folks.
As the season sped to a close, Matt Kenseth was outspoken about the organization's lack of competitiveness. Thursday he told ESPN.com what must change in 2007.
"The biggest thing they're working on is to get engineering stronger," Kenseth said. "We did a great job during the winter to get our cars ready, but during the year we didn't do anything to improve our stuff for the end of the year, and you've always got to keep improving or you won't keep up."
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.