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.
Some teams came out of the block strong following good runs in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Due to the nature of restrictor-plate racing, fate can play a major role in which teams are successful and which head to California hoping to get their season on the right track. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of NASCAR’s Super Bowl, following intermediate track races at California, Las Vegas and Atlanta will play a much larger role than Daytona in determining which teams and drivers are actually contenders and pretenders for the championship. Here are the Hot, Warm and Cold drivers following the Great American Race.
This week’s Rookie Report is based on the results of a rain-shortened Daytona 500. What is important to note is the race would’ve finished all 500 miles – if the green flag didn’t fall at the ridiculous start time of 3:40 p.m. ET. When are the networks going to realize that fans want racing, not marathon pre-race shows?
The last couple of weeks have been my first time racing a Sprint Cup car on a restrictor-plate track. The biggest difference I think between Cup and the other series that I’ve run is the level of talent. In other superspeedway races I’ve been involved with, if they start to get out of shape, they’re wrecking. Here in the Cup series, they can save it without wrecking and its just a lot more fun to race. Speaking of wrecking, I was so happy to be watching the ARCA race down here from the sidelines this year. That race was practically the Organ Donor 200, absolute insanity. I’m so over doing that.
With 2009 offering one last chance to shape the story of the decade, more outlandish stories beg to be written. Jimmie Johnson will be looking to set a record never thought possible, especially under the Chase playoff format – four consecutive Sprint Cup titles. To do it, he’ll need to fend off perhaps the strongest field of challengers he’s ever had, with Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch the trendy picks to break his streak. In the background looms one of the better rookie battles of the decade in Joey Logano vs. Scott Speed: NASCAR’s handpicked future messiah against the quirkiest newcomer it’s had in years.
After one of the most economically brutal NASCAR offseasons in recent history, it’s finally time to start focusing on performances on the stopwatch instead of on the balance sheet. This also spells good news for Professor Lumbis as I get to preview and critique this season’s rookies once again. The 2008 season was not kind to rookie drivers as only one, Sam Hornish Jr., still has a full-time ride in 2009. That success rate, or lack thereof, may have owners changing the way they think about who will give them the best chance of success behind the wheel. Instead of reaching out to the open-wheel talents of other series, general managers are instead opting for stock car veterans to pilot their machines. The result is a much smaller rookie class this season, as only two drivers will compete full time for the Rookie of the Year Award while a handful of others will make spot starts throughout the next several months.
Scott Speed was a busy man in 2008, racing in the ARCA Re/Max Series, Craftsman Truck Series and the Sprint Cup Series.
After a successful freshman campaign by Juan Pablo Montoya which included a win at Infineon, that trend set the tone for the freshman class of 2008, as four out of the six Rookie of the Year candidates were open-wheel converts. Just nine months later, there is a very real difference for those open wheelers that debuted in ’08 as compared to ’07 – just one of them appears ready to survive for a second season. What went wrong, and could their mistakes have been corrected? It’s now time for Professor Lumbis to grade their performance throughout the season, and take a look at the other new faces that emerged onto the scene and what the future may hold for them.
Well, the 2008 season has come to a close, and it certainly has been an interesting one for me. Overall, this year has been one big learning experience. In fact, there has been so much I’ve taken in that it’s difficult to point out any one thing as the most significant learning experience for me. When you are at the Cup level, you learn so much in just one weekend because you are racing with the guys at the top, so you pick up things that much quicker. What really helped me down the stretch was pulling double duty between the Trucks and the Cup cars. It’s sometimes hard to go from one series to the other, but having the extra laps of experience is by far the most valuable thing in racing. I’ve enjoyed driving for Bill Davis Racing in the Truck Series. I have no idea if I’ll have an opportunity again with them next year; we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
Sunday’s race at Phoenix could very well have been the day all teams in the Top 35 officially clinched their spots for 2009. But instead of the bubble teams following the lead of Jimmie Johnson and all but wrapping up their case, one big wreck turned the tables and made the battle to “lock in” a spot in next year’s first five races a real barnburner heading to Homestead. Instead, it comes down to seven teams fighting for the final five spots with just 400 miles to decide it all. Needless to say, the battles at the back of the pack on Sunday may be more exciting to watch than the front of the field. Which teams are in and which are out of this whole fracas? Find out in the penultimate edition of this year’s Bubble Breakdown.