Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001 | 10:16 a.m.
Kyle Busch's bid for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year likely has been put off until 2004 because of a new rule instituted Monday by NASCAR prohibiting drivers under 18 from competing in any of its touring divisions.
Busch, a 16-year-old Durango High junior, had signed a contract with Roush Racing to compete fulltime in the NCTS next season. Unless team owner Jack Roush decides to forgo running Busch for Rookie of the Year in 2004 and puts him in the truck midway through the 2003 season, Busch likely won't resume his Truck Series career on a fulltime basis until the 2004 season.
NASCAR officials informed Tom Busch, Kyle's father, of the new rule last Friday. The elder Busch said the explanation left him with more questions than answers.
"They claim it's not a tobacco issue (but) they claim the tobacco issue at Fontana made them more aware of other issues," Tom Busch said.
Kyle Busch was prohibited from competing in a NCTS race last month at California Speedway because the speedway's agreement with weekend sponsor Philip Morris USA and its Marlboro brand called for all participants to be at least 18 years of age.
Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's director of operations, did not return phone calls Monday from the Sun seeking comment.
When interviewed at Fontana following Busch's disqualification from the Auto Club 200, Triplett said Busch had done everything asked of him in order to prove himself a capable driver and was eligible by NASCAR standards to compete in all races.
According to Tom Busch, NASCAR's age restriction will extend to all 11 of its touring series, including the Featherlite Southwest Series. Prior to Monday, NASCAR had an age requirement of 18 only for drivers in its Winston Cup and Winston West series.
"(The Truck Series' age requirement) has been 16 since its inception, and so has the Busch Series," Busch said. "Their (NASCAR's) legal department is pulling the plug."
Kyle Busch competed in six NCTS races last season, including the Oct. 14 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he qualified third and finished ninth. Busch, who finished ninth at Indianapolis Raceway Park in May in his first NCTS start, qualified in the top five three times.
"He's pretty bummed," Tom Busch said of his son's reaction to the news. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he did exactly what he needed to do to solidify it.
"He was the fastest truck at practice in Fontana when we were sent home. I don't know what a fellow is supposed to do ... I guess something changed in (NASCAR's) legal department."
Tom Busch said he would scramble to try to find a division in which his son could compete next year so as not to lose a year of experience.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway general manager Chris Powell said he was disappointed that Kyle Busch would not be able to drive in the NCTS race at LVMS on Oct. 13, 2002.
"I regret that Kyle won't be competing at our event, but NASCAR makes the rules and we'll certainly support them," Powell said.
Tom Busch said that Roush indicated he would honor Kyle's contract next season and pay his base salary.