Did You Notice? That the gap between the “Big Four” in Cup racing and the rest of the pack is getting wider than ever before? We say this stuff all the time, but I did a little research in the “off-week” to take a look at the stats for the 2008 Cup season to date. What I found intrigued me: the multi-car teams of Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing – teams that have combined for 15 of the last 16 Cup championships – continue to dominate the landscape in ways we’ve never seen, even with the Car of Tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at top-five finishes to date through 11 races this season:
2008 Top-Five Finishes Through Darlington
Joe Gibbs Racing (3 teams) – 15
Hendrick Motorsports (4 teams) – 12
Roush Fenway Racing (5 teams) – 11
Richard Childress Racing (3 teams) – 8
TOTAL: 46 of 55 possible top-five finishes this season (84%)
That stat astounds me; 15 full-time teams on tour are taking the majority of the finishes up front. Just to make that clear, the other 30 full-time teams on the Cup circuit have managed just nine top-five finishes to date. That’s less than one per race! And when you consider that two of those “outsider” upsets came during Penske Racing’s 1-2 sweep of the Daytona 500, and you can see the gap the rest of these programs have opened up over everyone else.
It’s only fair to compare, so let’s take a look at the stats through 11 races last, year, before the CoT was in full effect:
2007 Top-Five Finishes Through Darlington
Joe Gibbs Racing – 7
Hendrick Motorsports – 20
Roush Fenway Racing – 10
Richard Childress Racing – 7
TOTAL: 44 of 55 possible top-five finishes this season (80%)
As you can see, the stats regarding parity haven’t gotten better; instead, they’ve gotten worse. It just goes to show you it’s going to take a lot more than rhetoric to convince everyone the CoT program has truly leveled the playing field for everyone else.
Did You Notice? That following up on that previous statistical comparison, JGR is averaging just as many top-five finishes per car (five) as Hendrick was during this point in the season last year. Gibbs’s three teams also house three of the top-five drivers in laps led this season: Denny Hamlin is first in that department, Kyle Busch is second and Tony Stewart runs fifth. Who are the drivers in between, you might ask? HMS’ Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., a sign that the four-car program isn’t doing as badly as some might think. Sure, both the No. 48 and No. 24 looked a bit off in the All-Star Race; but with an average of three top-five finishes per car (even with Casey Mears’s big fat zero through this point in the season) it seems like the only place Hendrick has skipped a beat is in the win column. Seriously…
Did You Notice? What Busch slipped into a preview of his most recent Truck Series start at Lowe’s Motor Speedway?
“We are really out here to get Billy Ballew Motorsports an owners’ championship,” Busch said. “If we can get close enough with having to miss a few races, we have every intention of running for a drivers’ championship as well.”
Now hooold on there a minute, Rowdy… a drivers’ title? You’ve got to respect Busch for going out on such a limb, but does he realistically expect that with missing six or seven races on the year, he could contend for a season championship? Busch is already 75 points down, and will lose around 100 to 150 more by not participating in this weekend’s race in Mansfield, Ohio. Busch’s cockiness can be refreshing, but I think he may have overstated his worth on this one: and with all the people he’s pissed off in the Truck Series to date, I have a feeling a little self-policing might go on if he even begins to sniff the top five in points late in the year.
Did You Notice? That while NASCAR’s John Andretti is in the starting lineup for the Indianapolis 500 this year, no one is attempting to pull double duty. That’s because the race times for the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 are just too close together… while the Indianapolis race starts a little after 1 ET, the Coke 600 will get underway a little before 6:00. With most races at Indy lasting a little over three hours, the flight time from Indy to Lowe’s just doesn’t give anyone enough wiggle room to attempt to complete the 1,100-mile trek. If you don’t start the NASCAR race at the drop of the green flag, you’re not credited as earning points for that race – even if you get in a car 50 laps into the show. So, that makes the Indy-Lowe’s double too much of a risk for even someone like Robby Gordon to attempt.
That’s a shame, for the mystique behind the double is something that once generated a gorge of publicity for both individual series. It’s now gone four years since Gordon last attempted the feat; can’t these two organizations come together on some compromise start times that would open the door for this to happen again? Cross promotion is always a beautiful thing, and think of all the possibilities now that a half-dozen open-wheel drivers dot the landscape of Sprint Cup fields nowadays. Can you imagine Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr. et al. dueling at Indy, then flying down six hours later and attempting what was previously thought impossible? Now that would be something to see.