2007 Ride: No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge
2007 Owner: Chip Ganassi
2007 Primary Sponsor: Target
2007 Crew Chief: Jimmy Elledge
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, three top fives, six top 10s, one pole, 22nd in points.
Best Finish: Third – Atlanta, October
High Point: Sorenson’s second season in Cup came packaged with a pair of fantastic firsts. At Indianapolis in July, Sorenson tamed the 2.5-miler with a speed of 184.207 mph to earn his first career pole on the oldest speedway in America. Just two days later, he backed up his qualifying run with a fifth-place finish in the race, proving he wasn’t a one-lap wonder – and putting together a performance that, in hindsight, may have earned himself another season with the No. 41 team. His future no longer in question, Sorenson then pushed forward to his first top-three finish in Cup; a series of late-race wrecks bumped the 21-year-old to a third-place finish at Atlanta, putting him on the mythical “podium” at the native Georgian’s hometown track this October.
Low Point: Every rookie driver tries hard to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” that bites so many the following year; unfortunately, Sorenson couldn’t stay away from it early on. In the first seven races of the season, he suffered through three DNFs – two by wrecks, one by engine failure – that left him with finishes of 40th, 43rd and 43rd on his resume. At his low point in April, Sorenson was within striking distance of falling out of the Top 35 in owner points – even with one top-10 finish during that span.
Summary: The youngest full-time driver in the Cup series continued a series of growing pains during the 2007 season. At times, Sorenson was both invisible and mediocre, going a six-race stretch in the spring without a top-20 finish. He also failed to finish races seven times; in comparison, rookie teammate Juan Pablo Montoya only had four DNFs, making him look like the veteran within this young three-car operation.
But Sorenson’s inconsistency comes packed with plenty of potential, and this kid showed often that with the right equipment under his belt, he could get the job done. In particular, a strong finish during the Chase – three top-10 finishes in 10 races matched the output during the previous 26 – has Chip Ganassi hoping the lone stock car-bred driver remaining on his roster has finally turned the corner.
2008 Outlook: Sorenson will return for his third season behind the wheel of the Target Dodge, with Jimmy Elledge remaining as crew chief. The two have been together since the start of the 2006 season, as Ganassi has exhibited the patience he deems necessary for the veteran crew chief to get his “young gun” driver on track.
However, that patience is expected to run out this season. In the past two years, Sorenson has seen the two stock car teammates surrounding him – Casey Mears, then David Stremme – replaced by open-wheel standouts Montoya and Dario Franchitti. Now, waiting in the wings is Ganassi’s own IRL champion, Dan Wheldon, anxious to make the move to NASCAR for 2009. That will likely leave Sorenson on the hot seat; and despite slow but steady improvement, he’s going to need to step it up another notch to avoid those Silly Season rumors from heating up midsummer.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: C
2007 Grade: C
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Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley. Be sure to keep coming in every weekday this offseason for even more original content on Frontstretch!