The 2007 season started with a bang, as David Gilliland captured the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished an encouraging eighth in that prestigious event. But with the exception of a fourth-place finish in the April running of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, Alabama the No. 38 team that had left Daytona in February with so much hope found the going difficult the remainder of the season – they were largely non-competitive and relegated to “backmarker” status for the most part in the remaining 34 Nextel Cup events.
After losing his cool and hitting the wall during Saturday night’s Busch Series race in Kentucky, Carl Edwards arrived at MIS in the wee hours of Sunday morning with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. However, his good friend and crew chief, Bob Osborne, sat the driver down and said to put the whole thing behind him. Edwards did just that – and not only did he bring his car to Victory Lane after a 52-race winless drought, he brought his hair clippers, too. Sporting the big smile and giant backflip “Cousin Carl” is so well known for, he assisted his motorcoach driver, Tom Giacchi, in removing a 19-month-old beard began shortly after Edwards’ last Cup win.
Here’s the scenario: NASCAR’s CEO was commenting on continued falling TV ratings that are plaguing the sport as of late. In need of an explanation, none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s name came up – unprovoked. “It would have helped if he would have been competitive,” said France. “He didn’t win an event, and he certainly didn’t make our playoffs. And that’s unhelpful if you’re trying to build ratings.” So, there it is. Laid out as plain as day from the mouth of the man who can do no wrong! You, Junior fans, are the reason television ratings were down 13% from 2006. Shame on you!
Kyle Busch won the spring contest at Bristol, after Jeff Burton chose not to nudge him out of the way en route to the checkered flag. That same weekend, Busch led 89 laps during the Busch Series event en route to a third-place finish. Actually, early this season it seemed that Busch might win every race in both series – but it was not to be.
The week-long banquet celebration just concluded its 27th year in New York City amidst rumors it could be moved elsewhere. With no racetrack in the immediate vicinity, does the banquet belong in the Big Apple?
Jeff Burton’s six finishes of sixth or better through the season’s first seven races kept him among the top three in the point standings through the end of April. During that stretch, a runner-up finish at Bristol in the series’ first Car of Tomorrow event, in a case where the chrome horn would have earned him a win and been viewed by many as “just racin’,” was a testament to Burton’s class and sportsmanship. That well-earned karma shone on JB two weeks later when he captured his lone 2007 win, taking the checkers after a classic duel with friend and former teammate Matt Kenseth at Texas Motor Speedway.
After starting 40th in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Ward Burton came on strong, finishing on the lead lap in 14th position. It was a wise decision by the team to have their best run of the season at a track that pays well: Burton collected $161,125 for the top-15 finish, nearly double the amount of his next highest payout. It was also the best finish for this single-car outfit in over two years.
It took almost eight months, but Toyota’s best hope heading into ’07 finally flexed its muscle in October. Coming up a surprising third at the fall race at Talladega, Dave Blaney followed up that performance with a sixth-place finish at Lowe’s, contending throughout the race in both events. The back-to-back runs wound up cementing the No. 22 team within the Top-35 in owner points, giving them a critical five-race exemption next season and locking Blaney into the ’08 Daytona 500. More importantly, it was the best two-week stretch of the 45-year-old’s eight-year Cup career.
Mired deep in the point standings for much of 2007, BAM Racing qualified for 10 of the final 14 races with John Andretti behind the wheel. However, his best finish of the year came at Chicagoland behind the wheel of the No. 45 Petty Enterprises Dodge, the final start in a five-race stint where he subbed for driver-turned TNT broadcaster Kyle Petty. Andretti started the race ninth and finished 18th on the lead lap, giving the team a much-needed boost during a year of constant struggle.
AJ Allmendinger didn’t enjoy many of the highs he hoped for as a rookie on the Nextel Cup circuit, but there were a few golden nuggets in ’07 for the former Champ Car driver. Allmendinger scored Rookie of the Race honors on two occasions, once at Charlotte in October (15th) and again two races later at Atlanta (16th). And while qualifying wasn’t the strong suit of the No. 84, he did score a fifth-place start at Texas in November; that was the highlight of a stretch where he qualified for nine of the final 13 events of ’07.