As too many of you know firsthand, this recession has no filter in taking the innocent and making them innocent victims before they even know what hit them. Men and women who were the stars of their respective companies have gone from Employee of the Month to Employee Out The Door with nothing more than a bright little pink slip, earning 15 minutes to collect their belongings after 15 years or more worth of effort. Fairness has been replaced with frugal, success with survival in a world where nothing is guaranteed. This Monday morning, Travis Kvapil knows that pain all too well.
If you’re not a Busch, you haven’t been in a Sprint Cup victory lane in over a month. Kyle Busch made it three wins in a row for the Vegas brothers, leading 378 of 503 laps at Bristol this weekend en route to his second win of the season. The last three Sprint Cup races have been won by either Kyle Busch or his older brother Kurt Busch, whose win two weeks ago in Atlanta followed Kyle’s at Las Vegas. Lil’ Busch is having a similar season to that of his 2008 campaign, but it’s been Kurt Busch who’s been the surprise, finishing 11th this weekend despite starting 32nd and suffering an early run-in with Kevin Harvick.
Once again, the Busch family has staked their claim to victory lane, reducing the act of winning a Sprint Cup race to a simple activity where the brothers take turns, like the game of Memory. At Las Vegas, Kyle Busch claimed the victory. Two weeks ago at Atlanta, older brother Kurt Busch dominated on his way to victory. This week, it was Kyle’s turn again. Kyle Busch started 19th and immediately started coming up through the field. Busch first took the lead on lap 69 from Jimmie Johnson, and from that point on, Kyle was in near complete control.
Four races in, how would you grade the 2009 Cup season to date? And what, if anything, can be done to make things better?
Four races into 2009, it’s safe to say that David Ragan’s season has been among the biggest disappointments on the track thus far (sans Mark Martin). The Cup circuit’s most improved driver in 2008 has struggled since a top 10 in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, with no top 10s and a DNF despite having Roush Fenway Racing’s vaunted intermediate package underneath him. Sitting 22nd in points, Ragan’s certainly not where many thought he would be in 2009, but surely a mediocre stretch of four races couldn’t be enough to threaten the job of crew chief Jimmy Fennig? Right?
As the 2009 season wears on, some of the teams that have had early success are finding themselves in a point standings freefall. As they disappear from view, the composition of the top 12 is starting to take form, with annual contenders slowly creeping towards and into that coveted threshold. The season may be early and the beginning of the Chase months away, but these men are proving they will be threats nearly every week. At the other end of the points are heavily-funded teams that find themselves one bad race away from beginning Martinsville, the first race that uses 2009 owner points, without the comfort of being locked in via the Top-35 rule. For them, the upcoming week off will be filled with little sleep and lots of worry, their very futures hanging in the balance on the high-banks of Bristol in two weeks.
The Kobalt Tools 500 marked the fourth race in the 2009 season, meaning there is just one more event to get into the Top 35 in owner points before NASCAR shifts to this year’s standings to determine who is or isn’t locked into the starting grid each week. This made the race at Atlanta critical for many, as no one wants to have to go to Bristol under pressure to post a stellar finish – the race in Thunder Valley is one of the more unpredictable races on the circuit. To see which big name teams fell short at AMS and will head to Tennessee a nervous wreck – as well as which smaller teams have surprised everyone by driving safely into the Top 35 – read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.
NASCAR had an up and down weekend in Las Vegas. There were three red flags during the Nationwide race, but none in the Sprint Cup Series event the following day despite several late crashes. Should NASCAR have thrown the red when Paul Menard pounded the wall with 17 laps to go, or was keeping the cars under caution the right thing to do?
NASCAR’s top series headed out west to start a two-race stint on the left coast beginning with the first stop of the year at the Auto Club Speedway in California. With this just the second race of the season, the race to get into the Top 35 is a complete mess, with teams jumping way up and falling way down in the standings on a week-to-week basis. And while Matt Kenseth has opened the year with two victories, a pair of teams with guaranteed starting spots has opened up with two finishes outside the Top 35. Read on to see which teams rebounded and which team dug a deeper hole heading to Las Vegas.
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?