Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top-5 stories in 2008

Speedweeks continues with today’s running of the twin qualifying races to set the field for Sunday’s Daytona 500. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the top stories of the season.

5: NASCAR Sprints into ’08
The long-rumored sponsor change from Nextel to Sprint finally happened in the off-season. Nextel did well promoting the sport after becoming the title series in 2004, so little should change with Sprint.

The biggest problem the change poses is an occasional slip by a driver during his post-race interview. Does anyone else still accidentally call the series Winston Cup every now and then?

4: Gibbs trades in his Chevy for a Toyota

This was one of the more surprising moves during the off-season. Joe Gibbs Racing had two drivers in the Chase for the Cup and won four races with Chevy in 2007. JGR was offered a treasure to switch to Camry despite Toyota’s miserable season last year.

However, Gibbs isn’t a stranger to changing manufacturers despite success with his current brand. In 1997, his team switched from Chevy over to struggling Pontiac. The team flourished and was dominant in the late 1990s before winning Wintston Cups with Bobby Labonte in 2000 and Tony Stewart in 2002.

Incredibly, the year after Stewart’s championship, the team switched back to Chevy and didn’t miss a beat. Stewart continued to be one of the circuit’s elite drivers and won the Cup again in 2005. All eyes will be on Gibbs to see if his team can become the flagship for Toyota after it suffered through a forgettable rookie season.

3: Car of Today arrives
The COT had a smooth transition in 2007, although it was used mostly at tracks smaller than a mile in length. Now we’ll see how it handles every Sprint Cup track.

If last week’s Budweiser Shootout is any indication, we better hang on for a wild ride. The racing last Saturday was good, but the cars appeared to be riding rough and difficult to handle. Amazingly, Jimmie Johnson raced with the car he plans to take to Richmond in the summer, a nod to NASCAR’s attempts to save money on racecars.

2: A Nationwide dilemma
The Cup drivers’ dominances in the Nationwide Series (formerly known as Busch) this decade has become a disgrace. The dwindling talent coming up from Nationwide into Cup is an indication of how problematic this issues is becoming. It’s now time for NASCAR to correct this problem.

The series dabbled with the idea of not issuing the regulars from Cup points in the races, which would eliminate them from a championship run. But that would do little to stop them from invading the minor-league series.

NASCAR must take a hard-nosed approach by restricting the number of races Cup regulars can compete. If a driver is in the top-35 in the Cup standings the previous year, he should be allowed to compete in no more than five Nationwide races. A Cup rookie may compete in all races to gain more experience. Something must be done now before the pool of talented drivers dries up.

1: An extra 8 for Little E in 2008
Easily the most talked about story in 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left his late father’s company in favor of Hendrick Motorsports, the powerhouse of NASCAR. This will be a true test for the sport’s most popular driver, as he’ll no longer have excuses for not winning races or championships.

DEI blew an incredible number of engines last year – a problem Hendrick doesn’t seem to have. Junior will have excellent equipment each week and must take advantage of this opportunity. He’ll never be The Intimidator, but he must at least prove he’s not riding his daddy’s coattails anymore.


Kurt Bruner said...

Being a Tony Stewart fan, it will be interesting to see how well he does with the switch.
However, I think Jr. is the one to look out for this year. I say, he wins the championship.

Kyle said...

junior may have won the first duel, but there's no way he's finishing in the top 10 of the 500. john andretti will finish better than earnhardt this sunday

Kurt Bruner said...

I disagree Kyle. I think Junior finishes in the Top 10 and Andretti will be lucky to finish in the Top 15. We'll see Sunday.

Mike Jones said...

One thing we can all agree on is that Hendrick and Gibbs are ridiculous right now. I didn't think Toyota would be such a force this early in development. But as we know, restrictor plate tracks are a much different animal than intermediate and short tracks.