The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not In Sprint Cup: Daytona 500 Edition by Mike Lovecchio -- Monday February 18, 2008

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Who's Hot / Who's Not In Sprint Cup: Daytona 500 Edition

Mike Lovecchio · Monday February 18, 2008


For three months the anticipation built up in preparation for the 50th running of the Daytona 500, all the way up until the green flag flew over 43 of the world's best drivers to kick off the 2008 season Sunday afternoon. The expected Hendrick Motorsports dominance was overshadowed by the success of Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota with Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin each taking turns at the front of the field while only one Hendrick car finished in the Top 25.

As the closing laps came winding down, it was two drivers who hadn't necessarily been contenders for the majority of the race who teamed up for a 1-2 finish. The Penske cars of Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are obviously two of the hottest cars coming out of Daytona, but who else is satisfied with their performance in the Great American Race? Who is already behind the 8-ball after just one race? Come in and find out in this week's edition of Who's/ Who's Not in Sprint Cup.


Ryan Newman: This is a no-brainer. By winning the Daytona 500, Newman carries more momentum into the upcoming season than anybody. The No. 12 quietly stalked the leaders in the last half of the race and pounced past Stewart on the final lap with help from teammate Kurt Busch.

If you're expecting a hangover from such a big win next week at California - think again. Newman was 2nd fastest in testing in Fontana last month.

Kyle Busch: It didn't matter what car Busch was in this Speed Weeks, he was always up front. On the Sprint Cup side, the No. 18 was the fastest car in the Daytona 500, but couldn't get by Stewart down the stretch to finish 4th. JGR looked extremely strong and Busch, along with Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, should give Hendrick Motorsports a run for their money all year.


Tony Stewart: The sport's "bad boy" was in the news for all of the wrong reasons prior to the Daytona 500 because of an alleged fight between he and Kurt Busch, but was the second strongest car in the Daytona 500 behind only teammate Kyle Busch. Stewart looked like he might pull out the victory, but the Penske cars of Newman and Busch teamed up on the outside for the win in the closing moments of the race.

If Toyota really is as strong as they seem, Stewart will be in prime position for several wins in 2008; he proved on Sunday that Toyota is already competitive enough for victory lane.

Kurt Busch: It was a very bad week for Kurt Busch coming into the Daytona 500 with the climax coming from a practice altercation with Tony Stewart. Rumor had it that Stewart had hit Busch while in the NASCAR hauler, but on Sunday, Busch had the last laugh when he shoved his teammate past Stewart for the win on the final lap. A second place run in the opener could be just what the No. 2 team needs to jump start its season as one of the top Dodge teams.

After a red-hot start to Speedweeks, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. cooled down a bit in the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: A lot of drivers would have been happy with a 9th place run in the Daytona 500 - but not Earnhardt, Jr. After winning the Duel 150 qualifying race and Budweiser Shootout, the No. 88 was the odds on favorite coming into the Daytona 500, but a questionable late-race pit strategy call by Tony Eury, Jr. to stay out under caution while the rest of the leaders pit for tires hurt the former Daytona 500 champion’s chance at a win.

We all knew Junior would be strong at Daytona and Talladega, but the first true test for the sport's most popular driver comes this week at California. The Hendrick cars are traditionally strong at the 2.0 mile oval - and just about every other track - so it will be interesting to see if the No. 88 is competitive once again.

Reed Sorenson: Sorenson was one of the strongest cars all of Speed Weeks. Perhaps the young Ganassi driver is finally coming into his own as a driver, but the No. 41 was in position for the upset in the final laps of the Daytona 500. He also pushed Junior to the win in the Duel 150 and ran at the front in the Budweiser Shootout.

It could be that the No. 41 had a strong super speedway program, but Sorenson was also impressive in California testing posting the 8th fastest time.

Others: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards.


Kyle Petty: It was great to see a Petty Enterprises car towards the front of the 50th running of the Daytona 500, but unfortunately for Kyle Petty, it was the No. 43 of Bobby Labonte that finished 13th, not the No. 45. Petty finished 34th and was never a factor in the race, but having one car run near the front bodes well for the team.

J.J. Yeley: The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were the class of the field for nearly the entire Daytona 500 and while each of the three JGR cars took turns up front, Yeley in a Gibbs satellite car for Hall of Fame Racing, failed to lead a lap and finished 25th. The Toyotas are quick and Yeley should start running stronger soon, but he was just 46th in testing at Calfornia.


Dario Franchitti: A number of rookies struggled at Daytona with Sam Hornish, Jr. having the only respectable day. Franchitti was the second highest finishing rookie, but managed only a 33rd place run and was considerably slower than his Ganassi Racing teammates. The road doesn't get any easier from here with the series heading to California where he was 48th of 49 cars in testing last month.

Jacques Villeneuve: Back on Feb. 9 the esteemed staff here at predicted — among a number of other things — the first driver fired for the 2008 season. Among the 18 of us so-called "experts," only S.D. Grady predicted that Villeneuve would be the first driver fired, but nobody could have predicted he would be out of the seat so soon.

Okay, so he hasn't been fired, but after failing to find a sponsor and missing the Daytona 500, Bill Davis Racing has been forced to replace the rookie with veteran Toyota drivers Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson. BDR will continue to support Villaneuve and says that the seat is available upon finding a sponsor, but Mike Skinner will be in the car this week at California.

A.J. Allmendinger: The first five races of 2008 are critical for those teams on the outside of the Top 35 in car owner points. With two cars on the outside of the "bubble," Red Bull Racing got one team in the Daytona 500 (Brian Vickers - 12th), but Allmendinger is suddenly in the same hole that he started 2007 with after failing to make the race. He was middle of the road in testing at California last month (26th of 49 cars) and will once again have to qualify on time.

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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?
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©2000 - 2008 Mike Lovecchio and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

02/19/2008 09:52 AM

You seem to be the only person who watched the race who didn’t think that Sam Hornish did a very good job . You did actually watch it didn’t you ?
And Tony Stewart only rated as warm ? Go back and look at his finishing positions in each of the races he ran . Warm ? You did watch the races didn’t you ?

02/19/2008 01:16 PM

Not only that, Mike, but he has Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards as Warm. It didn’t seem to me that any of those three had a Daytona 500 to write home about. At the end of the race, none of them were even close to being in contention.

Then, again, this is only one writer’s opinion. I would imagine that if each of us compiled our own list, none of them would look the same.

Mike Lovecchio
02/19/2008 02:27 PM

I rank my drivers not solely on the past race, but on the previous Sprint Cup events as well in an effort to monitor trends with drivers. I felt it was too soon to put Hornish on there because it could have been just one good race. It’s early on in the season so we don’t necessarily know these drivers will perform, so I tried to pay attention to the California tests as well. Thanks for the comments guys.

02/19/2008 03:19 PM

Isn’t it amazing how after just one race people talk like Newman’s gonna win the championship! lol It’s the Daytona 500 people and the winner usually doesn’t go on to even come close to winning the championship. Doing any kind of ranking at this point is kinda premature because the real test is this next weekend at Cali.. I’m sure it seems kinda cool and proper to give kudos to the guy’s that finished ok in the 500 but let’s see where they are next week. The cream always rises to the top when it’s an actual race requiring the true skill it takes to drive these car’s under normal race condition’s. I’m not trying to be a kill-joy, but I think everyone knows what I’m trying to say.

02/19/2008 03:58 PM

“…Newman carries more momentum into the upcoming season than anybody”

The term Momentum is one of the dumbest concepts in NASCAR. There is no such thing. Drop it from your lexicon. You sound like the idiots on TV. There is no momentum! Every race is different, every scenario playing out on the track is different, the weather, track configuration, everything! Momentum is a myth. A manufactured concept to keep a false sense of excitement going where it is not needed. Drivers consistently win one race just to shit the bed in another. God do I hate talk about momentum. It is as dumb as using the word irregardless.

02/19/2008 10:17 PM

The Petty #43 finnished 11th not 13th.

02/21/2008 09:50 AM

How is Kurt Busch “warm”. So he finished second in the great race, but he didn’t even qualify for it on time or race his way in…he had to use a CHAMPION PROVISIONAL! He sucked in the duels and wasn’t much better in the shootout. Just because he got lucky and was up front near the end of the Daytona 500 doesn’t merit him the same accolades as a guy that finished no worst than 3rd in the FOUR races he ran at Daytona.

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