2. Circling The Wagons – Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Inc. announced last week that they will merge their operations for the 2009 Sprint Cup Series, creating an organization known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The newly formed team is expected to field four cars. Presently, Ganassi has Target on board next season for his No. 41 team, with a driver yet to be named for next season. Additionally, Juan Pablo Montoya will have Wrigley’s back in ’09 for select races, but still is looking for sponsorship for the remainder of the year. DEI has Bass Pro Shops returning to the No. 1 Chevy driven by Martin Truex Jr. and no primary sponsorship to date for the No. 8 assumed to be driven by Aric Almirola. Rumors abound that Montoya may actually drive the Target car, with Almirola inheriting the sponsorship from Wrigley’s for his own team.
The Desert Southwest held a couple of different surprises for the racers this weekend. Rain and gale force winds threw a lot at the teams; but when all was said and done, it was status quo for the No. 48. Jimmie Johnson led the most laps and won the race handily, all but securing this year’s title heading to Homestead. That dominance was also enough to put almost all of our panel votes behind the point leader, putting him securely in the top spot again this week. But with one week to go, there was quite a bit of movement behind him. Read on to see if your driver was cool and collected or caught in the cactus on rattlesnake hill in this week’s Power Rankings.
Very rarely do you see a former champion show so much admiration for another. But when Kurt Busch finished runner-up to points leader Jimmie Johnson this weekend at Phoenix, he admitted that the No. 48 team was “something special,” and told fans to tune in or come to watch NASCAR’s next big dynasty. It’s true that nobody has been able to touch Johnson, Chad Knaus and Co. in the Chase, and this week’s race was no different. Carl Edwards finished in the top five yet again, but lost points to the two-time defending champion, who won his seventh race of the year and increased his point lead to a nearly-insurmountable 141. Johnson and Edwards have certainly been in a league of their own these last few weeks, but who else has been HOT as the season winds down? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup, Chase Edition to find out.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members and car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway.
Last week, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented that the length of the season is too great, the first thought that entered my mind, was “Shut up and drive.” But then, I really thought about it. The more I thought, the more I realized… maybe Junior was right. The argument you usually hear about the 38-week season (including two exhibition races) is that it’s hard on race teams, keeping drivers and crew members away from their families for too much of the year. There is really no time off at all for most teams, as the month and a half after the season ends is spent getting ready for Daytona testing in mid-January, and after that, Speedweeks is just around the corner, and it’s crunch time.
History repeated itself for the third time in a row, as the winner at Atlanta in the fall headed to Texas the following week and won again. That victory this week by Carl Edwards stole a couple of first-place votes away from Jimmie Johnson, but didn’t move him out of the top spot just yet. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton’s drive to the championship is done – that is, if you believe the voters in this week’s poll. But just how far did Burton fall? And what Roush Fenway driver made an appearance in our top 12 for the first time? Read on for the answers in this week’s version of the Power Rankings.
Last week I said in this column that Jimmie Johnson all but had his third consecutive title locked up; Don’t tell Carl Edwards, who is trying his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Chasing down the series leaders in both Nationwide and Sprint Cup, Edwards is riding back-to-back victories on the Cup side in an effort that has closed the deficit between he and Johnson to 106 points. Still, it appears Edwards needs Johnson to hiccup in one of the final two races to have a shot at the championship. With just two races remaining, the 1-2 drivers at the top of the standings are clearly among the hottest drivers in the series. But who else is on a roll? Who needs a good run this weekend at Phoenix? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Chase Edition to find out.
2. Look Before You Leap – Before the Teresa Earnhardt-bashing crowd warms up their vocal chords to declare that DEI would be in better shape had Dale Earnhardt Jr. been handed the reins of those race teams, they may need to consider the latest developments from Earnhardt’s race team itself. In a statement released by Kelley Earnhardt, general manager of JR Motorsports and sister of Earnhardt said, “We’ve been working aggressively to secure funding to continue with two teams in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The economic climate is difficult, as everyone is aware, and that is affecting every company’s ability to spend. The 2008 season will be ending in less than three weeks, and preparations for next season are already underway. We do not anticipate getting the funding required to field two teams after the end of this season, and we need to make adjustments now to prepare JR Motorsports accordingly. We are reducing our workforce and budgets to comply with a new plan for 2009, which at the present time is to field the No. 88 team full-time with driver Brad Keselowski and the No. 5 team on a limited basis with a select group of drivers.”
Carl Edwards soft-pedaled 113.5 miles out of a tank of gas to cruise across the finish line first at half throttle.
I know it’s Halloween, but… the economy is scarier and it’s hitting NASCAR hard. Some sources have as many as eight Cup teams currently racing being gone next year. NASCAR insists they won’t have any trouble filling a 43-car field, but do the math. With about 45 teams running a full or almost full schedule, take away eight and you’re left with just 37. And yet, NASCAR continues to make decisions, from scheduling to testing and beyond, that hurt the smaller teams. The way I see it, NASCAR should be doing everything to help these cars succeed, or they won’t need franchising because there will be nobody left but the big teams. That’s fine if you don’t want to fill the field every week.