ORLANDO, Fla. -- Carl Edwards will take his place on stage Friday night at the Busch Series banquet, thank people who helped get him where he is today and make a little history as the last Busch Series champion.
After 26 years, the Anheuser-Busch corporation is stepping out of its sponsorship with NASCAR's second series. Edwards, a Missouri native, is more than a little pleased to win the last title given by a Missouri-based company, a corporate titan in his home state.
Edwards is just as stoked at the idea of winning the first Nationwide Series title as the insurance giant takes over naming rights in 2008. The question is: Should he be allowed to?
The presence of Edwards on the stage Friday night -- as well as other Sprint Cup regulars David Reutimann, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and David Ragan -- raises some hackles throughout racing. Edwards understands the "Buschwhacking" sentiment -- where fans and the media decry the influence of Cup regulars on the Busch Series -- but he also believes he and other Cup drivers racing in the Busch Series are misunderstood.
"I just love to race," Edwards said, "and I'm already at the track on Saturday sitting there in my motor coach with nothing else to do. If there's going to be a race, I want to be in it. ...
"... They could have a dirt race on Saturday and I'd want to race. They could race lawn mowers and I'd want to be in there. This is what I love to do and I would do it no matter what."
Stephen Leicht loves racing, too. He's also this year's poster boy for a quality driver trying to earn his way up to the Sprint Cup level with a very uncertain future ahead of him.
The Asheville, N.C., native finished seventh in the standings, had a breakout victory at Kentucky in June -- with a sparse Cup driver turnout -- and finished in the top 10 seven times. The bright and engaging 20-year-old is also looking for a sponsor so he can race in 2008.
"Getting the money to race is the biggest hurdle," Leicht said. "A lot of sponsors want a Cup driver in that seat for at least a dozen races and I can understand that.
"I love racing against the Cup drivers, it's the best way to learn. It makes this time of year a little uneasy, though."
Plenty of so-called solutions have been thrown out to help protect the likes of Leicht.
Should Cup regulars not be given any points for their efforts but still be allowed to keep the money and trophies for winning?
Should the number of Cup regulars be restricted in a given race?
Should the number of races a Cup regular is allowed to run be limited every season?
Edwards sees problems with all of those scenarios.
"If you can't race for a championship, but we're still racing, then at the end of the year it devalues whoever does win the championship,'' Edwards said. "It's not right to them and it's not right to anybody. If they don't want us to race, we just shouldn't be allowed to race.
"They can't half-and-half it. You can't say 'Oh, you are in the race but you are not really racing.'"
He has a point.
It's an imperfect system and the only easy answer is to maintain the status quo. Let the best racers show up and do their thing. And that could very well prove to be the right thing to do.
Getting the money to race is the biggest hurdle. A lot of sponsors want a Cup driver in that seat for at least a dozen races and I can understand that.
-- Stephen Leicht
Dale Earnhardt took home the first Busch victory at Daytona International Speedway in 1982. Mark Martin has won a record 47 times on the series. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to prove himself at the Busch level before his father would let him race Cup. Former teammate Martin Truex Jr. also had to come through the ranks and won two titles before exploding on the Cup stage this year by making the Chase for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
And it's not as if the Cup-runneth-over crowd has stifled talent. Marcos Ambrose parlayed a good season this year into a partial Cup ride in 2008 and said racing against Cup regulars is a measuring stick for him and everyone else. Talent gets discovered, and if the Australian can show he belongs at the top level in NASCAR, he will get a ride. Owners such as Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Chip Ganassi and Childress know talent when they see it, even if only for a few races. And ability in boardrooms can be nearly as important as ability behind the wheel.
The Busch Series has been one of racing's remarkable success stories. It's the second most popular racing series in the United States by fan attendance and TV ratings, but current talk of changing the format as soon as 2009 makes it look like a victim of its own success.
Edwards has to be considered the favorite to repeat as champion, assuming he and crew chief Pierre Kuettel can put a lackluster second half to the 2007 season behind them and come out strong to open '08.
And Biffle and more than a dozen other full-time Cup drivers will be out there with Edwards trying to knock him off his perch on any given Saturday because they love to race anywhere, anytime.
And that will always be worth watching.
K. Lee Davis is a motorsports editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org