The checkered flag has flown over the field at Homestead marking the end of a historic 2008 season. We saw controversial and exciting finishes, scary crashes and a historic third consecutive championship for the dynasty that is Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
The season also featured three consistently dominant teams who took the Sprint Cup Series by storm. Johnson was obviously one of the three, but who were the two others? We have all that, including the three COLDEST teams of 2008, covered in this week’s edition of edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup.
HOTTEST TEAMS OF 2008
Johnson: It doesn’t seem to matter if there are 10 or 12 cars in the Chase, Johnson’s got them all covered. Winning its third consecutive championship, the No. 48 team avoided mechanical problems throughout the Chase and their driver – who’s not too bad himself – steered clear of trouble during the 10-race playoff. The season didn’t start well for Johnson with just one top 10 in the first five races despite three poles, but as usual he hit his stride when the championship was on the line.
In the final 12 races of the 2008 season, Johnson never finished outside of the top 15, recording five wins and eight top fives. The Chase format plays right into the No. 48 team’s favor and as long the format stays relatively the same, consider Johnson the favorite for the 2009 crown.
Carl Edwards: As good of a season as Edwards had this season, he always played second fiddle to another consistently hot team. First it was Kyle Busch who set the NASCAR world on fire in the first two-thirds of the season and then Johnson who brilliantly raced his way to a third title. The No. 99 team led the series in wins (nine) and top fives (19) and destroyed everyone in top 10s (27; second most – Johnson, 22).
Finishing just 69 points behind the champion, Edwards can look back at a miscue at Talladega and mechanical failures one week later as the reasons for not hoisting the Sprint Cup. Still, expect the No. 99 to be back in the championship hunt again next season.
Busch: It was a tale of two seasons for Lil’ Busch. After a relatively strong start to 2008, Busch caught fire in the mid-part of the season with his new team. Starting back in April with a victory at Talladega, the No. 18 team won seven races in a 14-race stretch that solidified them as the favorites for the championship. Unfortunately, a 17-week stretch as points leader came to an end after the Chase opener in New Hampshire where Busch finished a mediocre 34th. Poor luck and poor performance continued to plague the No. 18 team for the remainder of the Chase with four top 10s in the 10 races.
Other drivers worth noting
Clint Bowyer: Quietly finished fifth in points for second consecutive year; one win; 17 top 10s.
Jeff Gordon: Finished the season fifth in top 10s (19) and fourth in top fives (13), but will be remembered for going winless in ’08.
Jeff Burton: 17-race top-15 stretch to start the season; spent 32 weeks in the top five in points.
COLDEST TEAMS OF 2008
Robby Gordon: The driver-owner struggled in 2008 accumulating the lowest point total of any driver who competed in all 36 races. Gordon did record three top 10s, but all were at superspeedways and he struggled where he has previously run well, road courses. If the No. 7 team can continue to be strong at the 2.5-mile tracks, return to form at the road courses, and improve at the intermediates – none of which is really a stretch – Gordon is in for a much better 2009.
Michael Waltrip: The No. 55 team’s 2007 struggles carried into the 2008 season. It took 16 races for Waltrip to record his first top 10 (second; New Hampshire) and another 10 races for him to record his second and final top 10 of the season. His two top 10s equaled his total for 2007, but he competed in 22 less races in that season.
Juan Pablo Montoya: It was expected that Montoya would improve upon his six top 10s, three top fives and one win in 2007, but aside from top 10s at the two road courses of Watkins Glen and Infineon, Montoya’s lone other top 10 was a second-place run at Talladega in April. After finishing 20th in points in ’07, Montoya took a step backwards in ’08, finishing 25th.
Other drivers worth noting
Reed Sorenson: Just two top 10s and one top five for the one-time phenom.
Sam Hornish Jr.: The leading candidate for Rookie of the Year finished the season without a top-10 finish.