Editor’s Note: Scanner Static is back this season, but on the move to Wednesdays with a new expert answering all your questions! Matt Taliaferro, Managing Editor of Athlon Sports’ Racing Magazine, is ready and willing to answer all your questions and comments about the coming season!
Q: I thought Toyota was going to struggle in its first year in NASCAR? All I’ve seen from the Daytona speed charts are guys like Dave Blaney (Dave Blaney!) hovering around the top. I guess NASCAR felt it necessary to give Toyota the unfair advantage they promised they wouldn’t. Who here believes NASCAR didn’t slip them a little info under the table? They can’t afford to have their new babies struggle. It just makes me sick. – Bob Jensen
A: Bob, I don’t think there’s a grand conspiracy to give Toyota an advantage. Watching how Toyota has succeeded early in every racing venue they’ve put themselves in, it shouldn’t be a surprise. I am a little surprised at how the non-CoT cars performed at Daytona, but a couple of things there: One, it is a plate track, and two, well, it’s Toyota.
Q: What do you think about Tony Raines‘s chances in 2007? Admittedly, the 1.5-mile ovals were this teams Achilles heel this year, and I don’t know how prepared they will be for the Car of Tomorrow, but this team quietly and steadily improved. After changing crew chiefs before Lowe’s in October, this team was 14th best over the last six races, and I think Brandon Thomas is an up-and-coming crew chief who will continue the trend. Remember, Tony finished 12th best over the last six races IN AN UNSPONSORED CAR in 2003, but unfortunately wasn’t given a chance to progress in 2004. Now we’ll see what he can do with a year under his belt, a good crew chief, and some solid financial backing. In a world of multi-car teams, the No. 96 was the highest-finishing single-car team last season.
I would like to see Tony improve his qualifying, but his car was running in 28 of the 29 races Tony completed, so he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes on the track. I think Tony is a skilled and respected driver, but he is very quiet and humble and doesn’t draw attention to himself. So, I think we should draw some attention to him and tell some others to be on the lookout for this team in 2007. What do you think? – Paul Mark
A: I think the most significant piece of information there is “single-car team.” It’s to the point almost where the two-car teams can’t survive week in and week out, much less a one-car team. I think Tony having a new crew chief will be good for him, as I believe Philippe Lopez will be better in an off-track role. Tony has talent, but was inconsistent over the course of last year (to be expected, given it was a new team). The biggest question in my mind is whether his owners will be too impatient.
Q: How serious is Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. about this fight with Teresa? – grady732
A: Serious to the point I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go to Childress at some point in the near future. I suspect there will one day be a fairly major lawsuit over the future of DEI. No inside info there… just a guess. This one looks nasty from a distance.
Q: If you were going to pick a few favorites for the championship, after seeing Daytona testing, who would you take? – Lawrence
A: The Penske teams look pretty hooked up right now. Kurt Busch has been there before, so I’d make him a favorite. Any strong Chevrolet team with a good driver is a good bet. We’ll have to see just how far behind the Fords are when the season really gets rolling. I doubt one of the Toyota teams will win it all. Right now, I’ll give you five names to watch – Busch, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
Q: Okay, who you got for the championship this year? I’m interested to see how wrong the so-called “experts” are going to be this time. You (deleted) never get anything right. – TrueFan
A: Well, when you put it like that, I’ll take Kirk Shelmerdine.