Four races in, how would you grade the 2009 Cup season to date? And what, if anything, can be done to make things better?
Take a look at the entry lists from the first four Cup races of 2009, and you’ll see Jeremy Mayfield’s name listed for every one as the owner of the No. 41 All Sport Toyota. Well, that might as well be news to him. Who’s ever heard of a Cup owner that relishes getting to work on their cars outside in a chainlink-fenced paddock behind the actual Cup garage, or engages in playful shoving matches and banter with their crew members on the team hauler?
Beneath the surface, all was not as healthy as it seemed. While Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards were there to win the race per usual, the reasons some cars and drivers showed up were far different than what you’d want to believe as a race fan. These teams – nestled within the middle and back of NASCAR’s starting fields – were there not to compete, but to turn a healthy profit, all while padding the sport’s bottom line in the process. For these organizations – which have comprised up to 20% of the Truck Series field in some races – their version of competition is to slowly take a qualifying lap around the racetrack, making the starting lineup in the back of the pack – only to pull the car off the speedway in the first few laps of the race, what’s known in racing circles as the dreaded “start-and-park.” In doing so, they bring an undamaged car in the garage area, make off with tens of thousands of dollars in purse money, and ensure the sport collects its most important lifeline of all… cold, hard cash.
Q: There has been a lot of talk this year about the start-and-park cars potentially entered into the 500. The talk also has placed the payout figure to these cars as starting at some $250,000 (just to start the race). My question then becomes: is $250,000 enough to cover expenses for a week or so at Daytona in trying to make the race?
The 2009 Sprint Cup season officially kicked off Sunday afternoon with the running of the Daytona 500; and with that, the battle for the Top 35 is on. For those of you new to the sport, the Top 35 teams in owner points are locked into the starting grid each week. For the first five races of the season, NASCAR uses the owner standings from the previous year, then reverts to the current season’s standings from there on out. So while the Top 35 are locked in for the first few races, the jockeying for position has begun with the bubble teams in an effort to transfer into a locked in spot when the series visits Martinsville in a month and a half. Read on to see who improved their position and who is already behind the 8-ball in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.
If Thursday’s Duel 150 qualifying races are any indication, Jeff Gordon is set to put a winless 2008 behind him. Gordon went toe-to-toe with former series champion Tony Stewart for the final five laps before holding off the No. 14 car, as well as teammate Jimmie Johnson, for the victory in the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race.
For most of the 17 teams vying for the final four spots up for grabs in the 51st annual Daytona 500, today’s 150-mile Duel qualifying races will not only determine whether or not they’re in for Sunday, but whether or not their team will travel to California, Las Vegas, and beyond. The pressure is immense for these small-time operations, as a season’s worth of success or failure could depend on only 60 laps. For former Sprint Cup winners Jeremy Mayfield and Joe Nemechek, though, it’s a totally different story. Sure, making the Daytona 500 and its approximately $250,000 payout would certainly be a springboard to a potentially successful 2009. But missing it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world – leaving them far more relaxed than others on their end of the garage.
Johnny Sauter’s solid 2007 efforts with the No. 70 team proved that the car was certainly more competitive than the results Jeremy Mayfield was posting on the track through the first seven races of 2008.
Today’s Question: Should Patrick Carpentier have been fired?
Given that the finish at Kansas was one of the best of the year, has the track matured to the point it deserves a second date – or was this not good enough? And if an ISC track is to lose a date at Kansas’s expense, which should it be?