Editor’s Note: Miss Day 1 of our season preview, focusing on the Car of Tomorrow, or Day 2, which focused on Toyota’s impact on the sport? Click here and here to check them out and get back up to speed on the project.
After an anxious two months of anticipation, the offseason is finally nearing an end! With Daytona testing a distant memory, it’s less than three short weeks before the engines come to life and the 2007 Nextel Cup season hits the ground running.
Before the cars take off, though, it’s time to take a look at the issues that’ll make a difference in what’s bound to be one of the most important years for the sport in recent history. With anything from talented rookies to Toyota’s entrance in the sport making headlines, there’s plenty of issues for the Frontstretch faithful to weigh in on. Be sure to check out this space all this week and next to get our writers’ predictions on what’s bound to be NASCAR’s biggest season yet!
Here’s Today’s Season Preview Topic: Several new teams will debut this season, tightening Nextel Cup fields and causing fully sponsored teams to go home. Which longtime single or multi-car team will find themselves in the most trouble of “disappearing” from the Nextel Cup radar screen with the new competition?
Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: Honestly, this year may signal the permanent death of the single-car team. With over 50 full-time cars competing, somebody’s got to get sent home every week, and teams like the Wood Brothers, Morgan-McClure Motorsports and BAM Racing were already on the cusp of being eliminated last season. This year, the resources of the new Toyota teams and the competitiveness of the fields each week will make each organization a ticking time bomb. Hall of Fame Racing will be in trouble, too, if they don’t step up to the plate, and that’s despite only being in business for a little over a year. Don’t be surprised to see upwards of four to six teams fold during the course of the season… that’s how brutal qualifying is going to be.
Nikki Krone, Assistant Editor: I don’t think we will see a lot of the longtime teams disappearing this season. However, in the past some multi-car teams have thrown a third or fourth car into the mix during certain races, and I think it’s going to be much harder to do that.
Toni Heffelfinger, Assistant Editor: Obviously, teams that struggled last year like Morgan-McClure have an uphill battle. And don’t forget about Kyle Petty; he squeaks into 2007 with the 35th and last locked-in spot. He will need to both step it up and use his locked in spot for the first five races to his best possible advantage to stay ahead of the curve. The Wood Brothers also come to mind too as a team that’s in trouble. They hung on the cusp for much of 2006 and intend to campaign their rookie legacy driver part-time this year; he cannot afford to run like a rookie if they want to stay in the show. Ginn Motorsports (formerly MB2) and Sterling Marlin need to step it up as well.
Kim DeHaven, Public Relations Coordinator: Teams like MMM, the Wood Brothers and Robert Yates Racing immediately come to mind. Somehow, they always manage to stay afloat, though… this year should be no different.
Amy Henderson, Driver Interview Coordinator: Bill Davis Racing. With Michael Waltrip the darling of the Toyota stable, even the affiliation with the Camry won’t help BDR if Dave Blaney can’t get the No. 22 car firmly in the Top 35 after the first five races. The sponsorship money doesn’t cover nearly as much as the three Waltrip cars and Team Red Bull, and in today’s NASCAR, money talks. The driver is good enough to get in the locked-in range, but he may not have the equipment to back him up.
Becca Gladden, Senior Writer: I really don’t think it will be that different than previous seasons. The strong teams will be strong and the teams that were in trouble before will still be in trouble.
Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: The more teams, the better! Hey, if it were up to me, EVERYONE would have to TIME IN! Go fast or go home. Trying to predict who might not make it is like looking at a flock of pigeons in the park and betting on which one will fly off first.
Mike Neff, Senior Writer: Robert Yates will have a very strong chance of missing some races. With David Gilliland in one car and Ricky Rudd starting up with an organization he hasn’t raced with since 2002, there will be a sharp learning curve to start the year. When you think about the struggles that team has had recently to begin with, they could very easily find themselves missing some races during the course of this season.
Cami Starr, Senior Writer: Definitely, the single-car teams have to be on notice, especially BAM and Morgan-McClure, who haven’t performed very well as of late. Both teams had trouble making races last year when the field was less competitive. The Wood Brothers might be added to that list, too, as well as the single-car teams that are trying to make a go of it in Cup coming up from the Busch Series. It’s going to be tough for those teams to make a place for themselves; between Toyota and the multi-car phenomenon, we may be seeing the last bunch of owners trying to make the step up from a lower series.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Contributor: I have a feeling that Chip Ganassi Racing will struggle to make the field. Although all three of his Dodges currently sit in the Top 35 in owner points as of the end of 2006, those owner points will only help for so long. With little stock car experience and only two second-year drivers to help him out, rookie Juan Pablo Montoya could be in jeopardy of missing races if he struggles early in the year.
Vito Pugliese, Contributor: The No. 4 Morgan-McClure entry has been teetering on the brink of ruin for a few years now. Kodak, which was once as synomomus with the No. 4 as Budweiser is now with the No. 8, left in 2004, and it’s been tough sledding for this team ever since. It will be a welcome addition to see Ward Burton back in competition, but how often will we be able to see him? BAM Racing is in the same sort of predicament; don’t expect them to fare better than they did last season. Waltrip will also be a no-show in a few events this year, too, as he attempts to qualify the new Camry… he has no provisionals to fall back on right now due to his 37th-place points finish last year. Jeremy Mayfield is in that same boat as well. On the brighter side, expect to see Robby Gordon continue to improve as single-car operation with increased support from Ford, if he can keep the motors in one piece, and not go Robby Gordon and take himself out in wrecks while in the midst of a promising run.
Meegan Sweeney, Contributor: Sadly, I think the Wood Brothers will be in trouble. You would think one of the most historically great teams would fight back to rise again, but with Jon Wood behind the wheel, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Tommy Thompson, Contributor: There is no doubt that the well-funded Toyota teams are going to displace other cars among the 43 starters from week to week. As these teams gain a foothold in the Top 35, look for BAM Racing and MMM, two teams that have dwelled in the bottom of the point standings for an extended period of time, to find sponsorship dollars dwindle and their ability to continue in Nextel Cup eventually to become problematic.
Another team that sadly could find themselves in a serious fight for their NASCAR existence without a quick turnaround may be the legendary Wood Brothers Racing. Even the team’s rich history may not be enough to convince a not-so-deep pocketed sponsor to continue to write checks if the team finds itself not qualifying for races.
What team do YOU think will be closing up shop during the 2007 season? Feel free to offer your personal previews below in the comments section.