The Frontstretch: Nine Drivers (Who Don’t Race for Hendrick) To Watch In 2010 by Danny Peters -- Tuesday November 24, 2009

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Nine Drivers (Who Don’t Race for Hendrick) To Watch In 2010

Danny Peters · Tuesday November 24, 2009

 

I want to start out in this, the final Yellow Stripe of 2009, by recognizing the efforts of Jimmie Johnson. Even if your personal flavor preference is not vanilla, any true fan of our great sport should recognize the level of achievement for the entire No. 48 team: a worthy champion, no question. All told, it was a tremendous season for Hendrick Motorsports and its JV partner Stewart Haas Racing, so as thoughts slowly start to turn to 2010, I’m going to take a look at nine non-Hendrick drivers to watch next year. And being a foreigner, it seems only appropriate that I start with the two full-time Sprint Cup drivers born overseas.

Juan Pablo Montoya

The failure to win a race notwithstanding, 2009 was a fantastic year for the Colombian driver as he announced himself as a bona-fide championship challenger. With a century of Cup races now under his belt, Montoya will only continue to improve in 2010 especially under the expert tutelage of crew chief Brian Pattie. And with two 3rd place and two 4th place finishes in the Chase, plus an additional top 10, there’s no reason not to think that if Montoya can make the field again, he could legitimately push Johnson all the way to Homestead. And with all that said, after a season of measured, rational racing from the irascible Montoya; wasn’t it good to Stewart and him go at it during the final race?

Marcos Ambrose

Exceeding fan expectations, Marcos Ambrose flirted with the Chase in 2009 and should make even greater strides in 2010.

Everybody’s favorite Australian stock car racer, Marcos Ambrose had a tremendous first full season at the Cup level with JTG-Daugherty Racing. So much so that for much of the first half of the campaign, Ambrose was an outside shot to make the Chase. He faded somewhat in the latter half of the year but with four top 5s and seven top 10s, and just two DNFs, Ambrose fit seamlessly into the Sprint Cup pack in just his third complete season in NASCAR. Don’t be surprised to see Ambrose continue to get better in 2010, and equally don’t be surprised when he becomes the first man from “the land down under” to win a Cup race.

Kevin Harvick

2009 was truly a horrible year on the Cup side for Kevin Harvick. In fact things got so bad that Harvick tried to extricate himself from his contract, an idea given short shrift by team supremo Richard Childress. As it is, Harvick still looks a sure bet to move on post 2010 especially given how poorly RCR cars ran all year, but three top 10s including a 3rd place run at Homestead, suggest at least some positive momentum headed into the next season. One thing is for sure, if Harvick runs as badly in the pre-Chase portion of the schedule as he did this year, the complaints and temper tantrums will increase exponentially. With the sands of time slowly running out on his chances of winning a Sprint Cup, Harvick needs a win – his last came in the 2007 Daytona 500 – plenty of top 10s and a place in the Chase in 2010. If none of those occur, you can guarantee RCR will not be where Harvick calls home in 2011.

Brad Keselowski

Headed into a first full season at the Cup level, you can’t help but feel the Captain – Roger Penske – will need all of his people skills to reign in Keselowski’s worst excesses and stop his young charge from self-destructing. It’s hard to criticize a driver who wants to win, win, win but the Ricky Bobby checkers or wreckers approach can only take you so far. If the rat-faced Keselowski could learn some patience, some nous and some finesse, he could establish himself very quickly at the top echelon. The jury is out on whether that will happen, however. Clearly, Keselowski is talented, but without give and take and without knowing when to back down, he’s only going to get into more arguments the likes of which we have seen with his feud with Denny Hamlin. He sure should be fun to watch next season…a lot more so than when David Stremme was in the No. 12 car this year, no doubt.

Joey Logano

The 2009 Rookie of the Year (and youngest ever to win the award) had what he described as a roller coaster of a season in his debut year as a Sprint Cup driver. There was the horrible start when he looked, frankly, over-matched and out of depth; the rain-assisted maiden win at Loudon with a 20th place (in the dry) car and the end over end barrel roll at the Monster Mile in Dover. All told, though, Logano showed with three top 5s and seven top 10s and an overall 20th place finish in the final points standings. That hype which greeted his entrance to NASCAR may well not have been over-blown…well, okay a little, but you get my drift – this kid is for real.

Denny Hamlin

The three Chase DNFs aside, it’s been a good year for Denny Hamlin. With career highs in wins (4), top 5s (15), top 10s (20) and laps led (1380) the senior Joe Gibbs driver has lived up to his early promise and started to underline why he might very well be a huge threat to Jimmie Johnson next year. With the win at Miami, he’s now got the cookie-cutter victory out of the way too. One note of caution: Carl Edwards came into 2009 expecting to kick on and make a sustained push for the title. As you know, it never happened. Still, a good year for Hamlin, who proved many pre-season predictions wrong by driving strongly all year, making the Chase and winning twice in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch

The 2009 Nationwide Series Champion and 4-time race winner at the Cup level had what can best be described as a mixed season. On the one hand he won races for fun at the Cup (4), Nationwide (9) and Truck (7) levels, but on the other hand he missed out on the Chase when everyone thought he was an absolute lock; not to mention a potential challenger for Jimmie J had he made it that far. Whether or not the crew chief change will help, with Steve Addington stepping aside and Dave Rogers assuming the hot seat, remains to be seen but one thing is without doubt — Busch expects to win, win again and then win some more in 2010. Expect him to do just that.

Carl Edwards

There hasn’t been much for the man with the biggest smile in NASCAR to get excited about over the past 36 races. The rre-season favorite for the vast majority of fans and pundits — despite the fact that Johnson had won three championships in a row — Edwards struggled throughout much of 2009 finishing winless, after nine victories in 2008, and with career lows in top 5s and top 10s. Much of this can be attributed by Roush’s failure to make the speed necessary to challenge Jimmie J, but Edwards has suffered with pit road and other issues such as his Frisbee related broken foot. If Bob Osborne, the Cat in the Hat and the other good folks at RFR can right the ship over the winter, don’t be surprised to see a much stronger 2010 from the No. 99 team.

Martin Truex Jr.

It will be fascinating to see how the transition to Michael Waltrip Racing benefits (or otherwise) the Mayetta, NJ native, Martin Truex Jr. 2010 will be his fourth full-time attempt at the Cup schedule and after making the Chase in 2007 and missing out in 2008 and 2009, Truex Jr. will be keen to return to the Valhalla of the all-important field of twelve. He should have a chance to do just that in the NAPA Camry — MWR is improving incrementally and with the experienced and knowledgeable Pat Tryson atop the pit box; the circumstances are set up nicely for Truex Jr. to really start showing how good a driver he can be.

And finally, I just wanted to say a special thank you to all those who have read and or commented on my articles this season. I’m well aware that having a weekly column is a privilege and I try, for the most part, to look on the bright side of our sport, not least because it’s always easier to be a hater, and where’s the fun it that?

So thank you, very genuinely, have a great few months off from NASCAR and see you all in Daytona. It’ll be here soon enough, don’t worry….

Contact Danny Peters

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Dans Mom
11/24/2009 07:05 AM
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MOntoya’s 5 top 10s in the chase won’t get the job done. His other 5 finishes by the way: 38th, 37th, 37th, 35th, and 19th . Wow… let’s watch out for him!!!

Sure JPM has the fastest hands in racing and understands how to points race for 26 races. (What this sport demands) but he can’t step up and compete consistently with the big boys over the last 10 races.

Ambrose on the other hand. He’s just fun to watch, I hope he does well in 2010.

Oh, and the 10th driver to watch who doesn’t race for Hendrick. Dale Jr. He just wrecks and collects checks for Hendrick

The Turnip!
11/24/2009 07:54 AM
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Nice column, but me thinks you are now thinking “NA$CRAP STYLE”!

Example: (glad you asked)

“The failure to win a race notwithstanding, 2009 was a fantastic year for the Colombian driver as he announced himself as a bona-fide championship challenger”!

Please note the following words you used: “failure to win a race”!!

AND

“Bona-fide contender”!

When I read thses words about the same driver, I tend to think they are mutually exclusive!

THEY DON’T GO TOGETHER!

(ONLY IN KING BRAIN FARCE’S MIND, AND MAYBE NOW YOURS?

No wins, ZERO, NADA, but in “The Chase”?

C’mon now, you can do better than that for sure.

However, on a more positive note, and it is positive, thanks for hanging in there during this absolutely boring and stinking season as brought to us by NA$CRAP! These columns give us at least some excitemment, even if it is at a keyboard!

Big thanks for your columns, always good reading (well, maybe today’s excluded)!

LOL!!

Have a great winter!

Who?
11/24/2009 09:07 AM
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I just find it amazing that you guys can forget about an amazing driver like Casey Mears!

Don mei
11/24/2009 09:32 AM
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Two comments: first, I think you made a mistake leaving Jeff Burton off the list. I ‘m probably biased because he is such a class act.Time will tell. Secondly, Dans Mom notwithstanding, its irrational in many cases to make predictions for a future year based on the current year. Case in point; Carl Edwards. Who would have predicted that the winner of 9 races last year would get a goose egg this year. I expect JPM to be in the thick of things next year but you know what they say about opinions! Happy Turkey Day to one and all!!

Kevin
11/24/2009 12:18 PM
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Jeff Burton would certainly be a good one to include. I honestly think he can challenge for the championship next year.

I would also add one more driver: A.J. Allmendinger. No, he hasn’t really competed for wins, but in races in which he doesn’t have a mechanical problem, he can run around 8th-12th just about anywhere. He has had several strong runs late in the season and I look for continued improvement from him next year when the equipment will hopefully be better.

Marybeth
11/24/2009 06:43 PM
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I hope Jr. is one of the drivers not driving for Hendrick’s next year. 2 years is more than enough in a cursed car. 3 years could be playing with a looney bin and AA.

mkrcr
11/24/2009 09:26 PM
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I liked Jeff Burton right up until he became the “Mayor” of NA$CAR and then used that “position” to throw another driver under the bus without any real proof. Just drank the Kool-Aid and joined the NA$CAR bandwagon. If I were a driver in today’s NA$CAR, I wouldn’t trust him any farther than I could throw him.

BlueOval
11/24/2009 10:08 PM
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Not that I am a fan, but I believe JPM really did step it up this year and will continue to do so. Indy was easily his till the pit road speeding. I’ll admit up front to my bias and agree with Kevin on the Allmendinger reference. Seems like a soon as they put him in the Ford (per the sticker on the car) he did even better!

Joe W.
11/25/2009 04:16 PM
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I would add Greg Biffle, and Kasey Kahne to the list. I also agree with Kevin and Blue Oval on Allmendinger. I would also expect Jeff Burton to have a lot better season. I’m personally hoping for a return to form from Matt Kenseth too. We will see. I just wish the “people in charge” would give the crews a little freedom to work on the car, particularly in the area of suspension. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.:(

alice albers
11/25/2009 09:16 PM
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I agree with the two comments about Jeff Burton…if there is anyone gonna bring RCR back to contention, it’s Burton should make this list, not Harvick.

I seriously doubt Truex will do any better or any worse with MWR…gaining Tryson might benefit him, tho it won’t show till late or maybe 2011.

Danny, why not go out on a limb a little, and included (as one comment also wrote) the ‘dinger?? Maybe not a Chase contender, but certainly one to watch as a good candidate to get a ‘first’ win next season…looks to me like he is sneaking up on the field, and his results look like he likes the Ford.

MïK
11/28/2009 03:40 PM
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If ya don’t like Brad that much, why is he on your list? (Rat may end up on his car!) You say that Brad must learn to finesse the car, that he can’t be ‘checkers or wrecker’ all the time, but later you say that Kyle Busch just wants to win,win,win and that’s good. A little discontinuous, wouldn’t you say?

I want Brad, the Rat (just trying this on for size) to continue his ways fully, just to see Denny’s head asplode! Just think of the noise that Denny would be makin’ if Kyle was driving for someone else.I’m gonna love some Special K (Kellogg’s, ya missed yer shot on that one)next season!

@Who?: Who?

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