Mark Martin was not piloting the No. 8 Chevy for the first time in 2008 this past weekend, but one would never know it judging by the performance Aric Almirola turned in on Sunday. Making just his seventh Sprint Cup start, Martin’s protege began the day from the 16th position, but once the green flag dropped, he never fell much lower than that on the scoring pylon. The young rookie, who just turned 24 last Friday, managed to avoid all of Bristol’s multiple incidents while displaying the driving skill of a veteran.
With the Daytona 500 nearly upon us, it’s time to finish off my look at the 2008 Nextel Cup rookies. Last week in this column, we profiled three of the six candidates; this time around, we’ll finish the job by chronicling three impressive open wheel veterans turned stock car freshmen:
The soon to be Rookie of the Year started the day 14th; but while he outclassed all other freshmen, that’s the highest Montoya would get for most of the afternoon. The Car of Tomorrow has not been Chip Ganassi Racing’s strong suit this season, and it showed – Montoya and crew chief Donnie Wingo battled a tight condition throughout much of Sunday’s race. The Colombian’s driving style, however, would make up for what the car lacked in handling. Taking no prisoners, the No. 42 Dodge would be seen battling with the series’ most noteworthy drivers, bumping his way past Dale Earnhardt Jr. and going “fender to fender” with Jeff Gordon to maintain his presence on the lead lap. That persistence paid off, as the Texaco/Havoline team salvaged a top 20 on a day when very little seemed to go right with the car.
3 – Consecutive Martinsville wins for Jimmie Johnson, a feat also accomplished by Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, and Richard Petty. Next spring, Johnson will have the opportunity to make it four in a row, which would tie the record held by Fred Lorenzen.
Montoya’s Texaco/Havoline Dodge started the Subway 500 from mid-pack and remained there for the first 100 laps of the race, with the Colombian finding it difficult to pass on the .526-mile short track. It was a call from the pits that initially set the tone for the No. 42 car’s march to the front; on the day’s fifth caution on lap 114, crew chief Donnie Wingo elected to keep Montoya on the track, a move which bumped him up to third for the restart. That decision paid off long-term, as cautions fell just the right way for Montoya to hold his spot towards the front.
Making his first Nextel Cup start for Bill Davis, Villeneuve shocked the NASCAR world by turning in the sixth-fastest qualifying time, easily making the field in which five of the top six were Toyotas. Respecting the concerns of his competitors about debuting at one of the most dangerous tracks on the circuit, the Canadian made the classy move of falling to the back of the field before the green flag even waved. The former Formula 1 and Indy 500 champ spent the rest of the day trying to simply make laps, stay out of trouble, and not be the cause of the “Big One.” Mission almost accomplished.
The possibility of a race between the July off-week and the Chase being rained out is very real. Changing the Chase to accommodate that race is an expensive process, and very costly to both NASCAR and Homestead-Miami Speedway-is that just part of the game, or does NASCAR need to revise the schedule or the rulebook to accommodate this possibility?
Last week, the circle-track world was up in arms about the goings-on at Ginn Racing. The former MB2 Motorsports team that shocked the world and showed so much promise by nearly winning the Daytona 500 in February, then going on to lead the points earlier in the year, was suddenly in dire straits.
Today’s Question: Earlier this week, it was announced that Aric Almirola will be headed to Ginn Racing to share a Cup ride with Mark Martin for the rest of 2007 and beyond. Was this the right move for Almirola’s future, or was he wrong to slam the door on an opportunity with one of the top teams in Cup, Joe Gibbs Racing, a team he drove for in the Busch Series up until this surprising turn of events?
Taking a look at last year’s Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship, you might have noticed an interesting pattern; six of the 10 drivers were no older than age 32. Kyle Busch, in fact, set a record as the youngest driver ever to make a run for the championship, qualifying for the playoffs at the …