Last week, it hit 17 degrees here in beautiful Kannapolis, N.C. It’s obvious that winter is in full swing, putting racing as far from our minds as possible. But fortunately, that was an aberration; the start of the new week brought not only warmer weather, but the renewed excitement of the 2008 racing season – NASCAR is creeping up fast. January testing reminds us that in just over a month, the green flag will fly on the 50th anniversary of the Great American Race, and the 2008 Cup season will be finally underway.
Casey Mears was the first car to pull onto the track Monday morning, and once again, the roar of engines was heard running around Daytona International Speedway. With that, all of the offseason moving and shaking is now behind us, and almost all teams are set going into 2008. Now the job lies ahead of everyone to figure out who the new drivers are in what rides for the upcoming season. In order to help with that, here is a quick reference list.
No. 01 – Regan Smith (full-time rookie)
No. 5 – Casey Mears (came from No. 25)
No. 8 – Mark Martin/Aric Almirola (came from No. 01)
No. 10 – Patrick Carpentier (full-time rookie)
No. 18 – Kyle Busch (came from No. 5)
No. 27 – Jacques Villeneuve (full-time rookie)
No. 28 – Travis Kvapil (came from the Truck Series)
No. 40 – Dario Franchitti (full-time rookie)
No. 44 – David Reutimann (after Dale Jarrett vacates the ride after five races)
No. 66 – Scott Riggs (came from No. 10)
No. 70 – Jeremy Mayfield (came from No. 36/27)
No. 77 – Sam Hornish Jr. (full-time rookie)
No. 78 – Joe Nemechek (signed three-year deal)
No. 88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (came from No. 8)
No. 96 – JJ Yeley (came from No. 18)
Meanwhile, in an interesting abuse of the rulebook, Hornish Jr. is going to be guaranteed a starting position in the first five races of the season. Penske Racing has moved the owner points from Kurt Busch‘s No. 2 to the No. 77 of Hornish to make the switch; in my view, it is an embarrassing misuse of the system. With this precedent, a driver who did not change teams, or cars or numbers could still yet have his past champion’s provisional to fall back on so that another driver can be assured of a starting position.
In the midst of the heartbreak that provisional will likely impose on others, a sentimental heartstring is being tugged for Ken Schrader. For the first time in many years, the old warrior does not have a ride going into the upcoming season. Schrader can still compete as was evidenced by his victory again this past season in ARCA competition, and he will certainly be racing in several races across the country in his dirt cars and assorted other divisions. No doubt, he will not go quietly; but in the Cup Series, age and money go hand-in-hand to the point he’s basically already gone. Here’s hoping that the rumors of a limited schedule for the old hero will be true and we’ll get to see him running in Cup races again this season.
Some other news ‘n’ notes heading into January…
- For those looking for a fix before the Cup season starts, don’t worry just about boring old testing – the annual Chili Bowl is available live on pay-per-view this year. Tony Stewart will be attempting to repeat his efforts from last year and capture the toughest race there is according to many of the contestants.
- On a sad note, the Dakar Rally was cancelled this year and the millions of dollars spent by all of the teams were thrown out the window because of terrorist threats in the African desert. Here’s hoping that it is not the harbinger of similar threats during the upcoming racing year in America.
Here’s hoping that your New Year is treating you well. Thank you again for coming to Frontstretch to get your weekly fix of NASCAR information and opinions. We’re looking forward to another great season of racing in 2008.