Mark Martin wasn’t shy with his comments about single-car runs following the first day of Winter Testing in Daytona, going as far as to call the session a “waste of his time” and “idiotic.” Well, Martin and each of the 26 drivers on hand for Session 1 got their wish Tuesday afternoon, when NASCAR allowed the teams to participate in drafting practice one day earlier than expected.
Surrounded by stands packed with his hometown fans, there was no more suitable place for Martin Truex Jr. to make a statement about his future in the top echelon of racing than the Monster Mile. Raised in nearby southern New Jersey, Truex followed his father into regional racing series, making a name for himself in short order. While fans throughout the Northeast call Martin one of their own, those that populate Dover consider the Truex family next of kin. As a result, the normally reticent Truex had a hard time peeling the grin off his face while he celebrated in Victory Lane.
It seemed like only yesterday that the Nextel Cup series crowned Jimmie Johnson the 2007 champion, but just over one month since the season finale at Homestead, the Sprint Cup has returned this week to Florida for the first official test of 2008. Johnson led the usual cast of characters after Day 1 with a speed of 184.782 mph – but around him, change appears to be the biggest story coming out of Daytona this winter.
Tony Stewart typically uses the summer to heat up his season – and this year was no exception. During a four-race stretch in July and August, he won three races and finished sixth in the other, emerging as the most serious challenger to Hendrick Motorsports for the title. Among those wins was a second Brickyard 400 triumph; and with Stewart a native Hoosier, finishing first at Indianapolis will always be the highest point in his season.
Johnny Sauter’s fifth-place finish at the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond was the best finish of his career, and it also wound up being his sole top five of the season for Haas CNC Racing. While Sauter was experiencing a rather mediocre year on the track, though, his personal life was far from mediocre. Sauter and his girlfriend of two years, Paul Menard’s PR rep Cortney Owen, got engaged during the 2007 season – keeping any on-track struggles well in perspective.
No one expected such a solid performance from Boris Said in the Daytona 500. Said qualified the No. 60 SoBe No Fear Energy Drink Ford sixth overall, and started the biggest race of the year in the 23rd position following a strong performance in his Gatorade Duel. After taking the green flag, Said quickly fell to the rear of the restrictor-plate drafting pack – but it turned out to be to his advantage. Avoiding all the wrecks and carnage, Said was able to bring it home 14th, completing all 202 laps and taking in a cool $265,375 in the process.
While later in the season, qualifying would become an issue for the No. 10 team, Scott Riggs started off the year strong, starting in the top 10 in six of the first 10 races. However, strong finishes didn’t follow other than an eighth-place effort at Martinsville, his lone top-10 finish of the season. A small consolation was the fact that he ended his tenure at Gillett Evernham Motorsports with three top-20 finishes in his last five starts.
Although there were a lot of zeros in David Reutimann’s 2007 stat line, the rookie from Zephyrhills, Fla. had plenty of reasons to be encouraged. His most notable on-track accomplishments came in June, when a 40th-place start proved no obstacle at Michigan; Reutimann drove his way through the field to notch a solid 15th-place finish. Another surprising run came at Richmond in September, when the driver of the No. 00 Toyota recorded a lead lap, 13th-place run.
If you were a Tony Raines fan, you had to wait a while for success this year; his highest point came eight months after the season began, at a most unlikely place: Talladega. In October, Raines managed to not only survive the UAW-Ford 500, but he was a contender throughout, leading five of his six laps of 2007 in the process. When the checkers flew, Raines found himself with a ninth-place finish, his only top 10 of the season driving the No. 96 Chevrolet.
After an off year in 2006, adding another five pole-qualifying efforts to his resume certainly had to be a satisfying personal achievement for the man they call “Flyin’ Ryan.” Newman has now tallied an incredible 42 top spots in his short 224-race NASCAR Cup career. A second-place finish at Martinsville in the sixth race of the Chase was no doubt gratifying as well, as Newman showed strength during the latter part of the race season even though he missed the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the second season in a row.