The Frontstretch: Ten Wishes For NASCAR Heading Into 2008 by Danny Peters -- Tuesday February 12, 2008

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Ten Wishes For NASCAR Heading Into 2008

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday February 12, 2008

 

With the 2008 season right around the corner at this point here, in no particular order, are my Top 10 wishes for NASCAR this year. You won't agree with all of them, I'm sure, so feel free to write me with your own ten Here.

1. A much better year for Toyota

In their Sprint Cup debut, Toyota got their proverbial posteriors handed to them last season. The Michael Waltrip Racing jet fuel debacle at Daytona was the first, and biggest black eye, of the season; and while things got better, they never fully healed. Just one driver in the Toyota stable finished the year in the Top 35, and as a group, they scored just nine Top 10s.

But with Joe Gibbs Racing now in the fold, 2008 should be a very different year for Toyota. The triumvirate of Busch, Hamlin, and Stewart will be looking to win from the drop of the green flag; and from the looks of preseason testing and the early portion of Speedweeks, they’ve already made an impact — the car already doesn’t seem like the joke it once was. A Cup Championship might still be a step too far for the Camry; but poles, wins, and places in the Chase shouldn't be.

2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. runs well and wins races

After the DNF-plagued 2007, the highly publicized divorce from DEI, and subsequent move to Hendrick Motorsports, all eyes will be on Junior in 2008. He will certainly have the equipment capable of sustaining a title tilt; now, the question is without the distractions and problems that plagued him at DEI, can he get the job done?

With his ardent fan base roaring behind him, don't be surprised if the No. 88 starts the new year with some impressive performances (after winning Saturday night’s Bud Shootout, he’s already taken care of Victory Lane). A successful Junior — one that wins multiple races and makes the Chase — can only be good for NASCAR and those all important TV numbers. But can he win it all? Possibly. One thing is for sure, though; watching the No. 88 will be one of the truly compelling storylines of 2008.

3. The powers that be sort out the advertising problem

Commercial breaks in races are one of the biggest issues facing NASCAR. Yes, I get that sponsors drive the sport — but I refuse to believe there isn't a creative way to solve this problem. The length and frequency of the breaks can literally suck the life out of races; but the real question here is whether or not the powers that be are willing to even discuss alternatives.

TNT's Wide Open coverage of the Pepsi 400, while far from perfect, at least showed different options are possible. I'm almost certain the TV numbers would see a significant uptick if one of the networks tried something new; there has to be a way to make both sides happy, but unless sponsors are prepared to talk about options other than thirty-second ad buys, nothing is going to change… and at the end of the day, fans will suffer.

4. The wins get spread around… and some droughts end

In a season where two drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, accounted for nearly half of the wins in 2007, it was nice to see four drivers earn their first career victories last season — and the emotion it invoked. Witness the unconfined joy of Casey Mears in Victory Lane at LMS or Juan Pablo Montoya's sheer relief that he'd not run out of fuel in Infineon and you can see what victory means. The same could be said for Martin Truex, Jr. when he won on a Monday at his home track, or Clint Bowyer proving that he did indeed belong in the Chase with his win at Loudon.

So for 2008, I wish the wins will get liberally spread around, and I hope some or all of the following drivers wind up breaking their long winless streaks: Elliott Sadler (119 races, California 9/04), Ryan Newman (81 races, New Hampshire 9/05), Bobby Labonte (144 races, Homestead 11/03) and Mark Martin (66 races, Kansas 10/05).

5. And while we're talking wins, fewer checkered flags for the No. 48

Of the 84 points-paying races run since I came to NASCAR, the reigning back-to-back champ has won a grand total of 17 races. That's one in every five races I've seen. Now, I'm not a Johnson hater by any stretch of the imagination; to be honest with you, I like the guy. I'm just a little bored of seeing the Lowe's Chevy wheel into Victory Lane week after week after week.

6. Close finishes galore.

Is there anything better than a close finish? Seeing two cars barreling out of turn four, both drivers absolutely focused on getting the win, is hard to top. Last year, we saw some classic finishes, and not just on the superspeedways. There was Jeff Gordon beating all hell out of Jimmie's back bumper at Martinsville, Jeff Burton taking the last lap lead in the Spring race in Texas, and Matt Kenseth going wheel-to-wheel lap after lap with Johnson in November’s race at the same track. Many of the CoT races had close finishes last year, too; let's hope that this trend continues this year.

Juan Pablo Montoya is looked at as one of the “keys” to Dodge’s success heading into the 2008 season.

7. Juan Pablo Montoya makes the Chase

I realize this is probably an unpopular opinion in some quarters, but I like the way Montoya's approached the sport; and hey, who didn't win and ruffle a few feathers along the way? After the cosseted world of F-1, the Colombian has shown he is a racer in the true sense of the word — witness him running the high line at Atlanta in just his fifth Cup race, and his willingness to mix it up with Kevin Harvick at Watkins Glen. Watching his eighth place run in the second race at Martinsville last year shows that JPM will learn and adapt to the new tracks quicker than most.

8. A genuine Nationwide Series Championship race

After the blowouts of the two previous years, if ever there was a series in need of a close championship race, it is NASCAR's second-tier group. With Edwards planning on running a full schedule again and keen to becoming the first-ever Nationwide champion, don't be surprised if this remains just a wish, though. Stopping full-time Cup drivers from accumulating points toward the title would be a great change to make in 2009 in order to give this series its own identity.

9. A Daytona 500 worthy of a 50th Anniversary

Simply put, NASCAR needs the Daytona 500 to be worthy of the hype. I'm not convinced “the most anticipated event in racing history” is the best way to market it, but with the eyes of the world on the big race (in many cases for the only time this year) on February 17th, the last thing NASCAR needs is a damp squib. That said, it will be tough to top last year's photo finish, which went along with Clint Bowyer's upside-down, flaming cameo role in the proceedings.

10. Joey Logano lives up to the hype

I am high on Joey Logano because I am absolutely, 100-percent positive, without a doubt (convinced) that he can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR. I’m positive. There’s no doubt in my mind. Mark Martin on 15-year old Joey Logano

If that's not pressure, what is? The promising youngster showed his mettle when he led 87 laps and won the 2007 Toyota All-Star Showdown. Expect all manner of ridiculous hype prior to his likely Nationwide Series debut at the Monster Mile on May 31st … but don't be surprised if the kid shows he has what it takes right from the start.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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Douglas
02/12/2008 08:23 AM
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This writer actually missed the key elements of what would make the 2008 season great. And pardon the “PUN”, but let’s cut to the “CHASE”:

1. Brian France, Mike Helton, John Darby, all step down!

2. The CoT goes away!

3. The top “35” rule disappears, never to be heard from again!

4. NA$CAR applies and adheres to it’s own rules!! (whatever they may be)!

5. NA$CAR stops acting so childish!

6. The CHASE is eliminated from everyone’s vocabularly and becomes a museum piece!

Old news? YES!

Current news? YES!

Action required on all fronts?? A RESOUNDING YES!

Then, and ONLY then will NA$CAR be worth watching and talking about!

Sam
02/12/2008 11:16 AM
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Douglas: Seriously? I’m a casual NASCAR fan so I can’t claim to know every ailment suffered by NASCAR and its fans. But I can say one thing: your list is full of impossible dreams.

I agree about the rules enforcement the most (too mysterious and behind-closed-doors for a legitimate sport) but to ask a member of the France family to step down?

BLASPHEMY!

Brian France Sucks
02/12/2008 11:22 AM
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1. Brian France leaves and is replaced by ANYONE
2. Darrell Waltrip shuts up long enough for someone else to get a word in
3. Someoneother than a Hendrick car wins the Winston, er Nextel, er… whatever it is this year Cup.
4. All the teams boycott California and show up at Darlington on Labor Day weekend
5. Get rid of the stupid wing on the CoT. Its supposed to be a safety thing, but last time I checked drivers can’t see what’s behind them… DUH

Elfie
02/12/2008 12:05 PM
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My five wishes for 08:

1. Rudd comes back to race and drives a black Ford Mustang (sans Knight Rider personality)
2. Smoke starts dating country music star Sara Evans
3. Removal of the CoT
4. AT&T gets to keep its sponsorship. Sprint is ridiculous.
5. Stiffer penalties for blocking in the pit

Kevin in SoCal
02/12/2008 12:28 PM
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Man, you CA haters still crack me up. Thanks for the laugh.
And you still hate the chase too? So I guess you loved watching Carl Edwards run away with the title in Busch last year? That must be what you enjoy seeing if you hate the Chase.

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