June 2, 2008

NASCAR: Halfway to the Chase

After 13 of the 26 pre-Chase races, it's time to assess the status of the best and worst drivers, owners, and manufacturers.

Kyle Busch has made it look easy this year.

Biggest surprise:
Unquestionably, Kyle Busch is the biggest surprise of the year. Busch has 4 wins and 9 top 5's in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. Keep in mind this is the first year with Toyota for both Gibbs and Busch, and it's clearly not a problem. As dominant as Gordon may have been last year, Busch already has a 142 pt lead, and 271 over third place. He's almost a lock for the Chase already. He's also got a shot at winning all three series if he chooses to run all those races. No one is more dominant in any sport right now.

Biggest disappointment:
Casey Mears takes this dubious distinction. The other Hendrick car, all 3 of his teammates are in the top 7. Casey sits in 25th, behind Mark Martin who's skipped 3 races. The Hendrick team is well known for sharing information and is very well funded, so the finger really has to point at Casey for their performance this year. Certainly, he hasn't had the best luck with accidents, but he's the one qualifying poorly, putting himself in the back to get involved in those. Mears has 2 top 10's and 0 top 5's, and he hasn't even spent much time at the front of the pack this year.

Vickers and Red Bull are running much better this year. (Getty Images)

Most improved:
Last year, Brian Vickers and the Red Bull Toyota team didn't make many races. This year, Vickers qualified on time for all of the first five races, and hasn't looked back. He's had some bad luck (like losing his entire wheel at Charlotte), but he's still 19th and has been very competitive this year. To see how good a performance this is, compare it to the other Red Bull car (#84), which is still outside the top 35 and has missed two races this year. That team has been forced to rotate drivers to stay competitive. Vickers probably won't make the Chase this year, but he has certainly made himself and his team visible.


Obviously, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are having good years, mostly as expected, with both teams having 3 drivers currently in the Chase.

Childress wants to see this sight more often, but his drivers have plenty of points.

Under the Radar:
Richard Childress Racing (RCR) should never be under the radar, but they are this year. All three drivers are in the top 12, even though they only have a combined 2 wins and 8 top 5 finishes through 13 races. That says a ton about consistency and effort, especially when you don't have the best car. You might not have heard much about any of Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, or Clint Bowyer, but you can count on them being in the Chase.

Down for the Count:
Haas Racing is down and maybe out after NASCAR's stiff penalties. I'm not going to get into whether the penalty was fair, but its effect is unquestionable. Neither Haas car is likely to make all of the races the rest of the year, and that could be devastating for a team that didn't have much money or sponsorship to start with. Many of the smaller ownership groups are struggling as the behemoths dominate the top 20 spots in the standings.


Many people may have forgotten the debacle that was Toyota's 2007 in NASCAR. Michael Waltrip's team got it off to a great start with a failed inspection at Daytona, and nothing improved thereafter. Toyota had absolutely no positive effect on the series last year. This year, Joe Gibbs Racing is a Toyota team, and it's a totally different story for Toyota. A Toyota driver leads the standings and has 4 wins, the first by a foreign manufacturer in decades. 3 Toyota drivers are currently in the Chase, and a smaller Toyota team also has a car in the top 20. Even Michael Waltrip's cars have run almost every race this year! Toyota is here to stay, and may quickly challenge Chevy's manufacturer's championship.

Michael Waltrip's 2007 Daytona inspection is finally off Toyota's radar.

Dodge. There's just really nothing positive to say about Dodge. Kahne has struggled again, with the exception of two weeks at Charlotte. Newman won Daytona, but has disappeared since. Kurt Busch is outside the top 20. Penske Racing and others put a lot of faith and money in the open-wheel racers and that has been a huge flop. Hornish, Carpentier, and Franchitti haven't done anything worth noticing all year. Montoya is a very quiet 17th in points, and Sorensen has not developed at all. It seems clear that the Dodge teams have bet on the wrong drivers and possibly the wrong car as well. Dodge Chargers could start to disappear from the NASCAR track near you quite soon.

No matter how good or bad people may appear, there are still 13 races for things to change, and anything can. Who knows, Jr. might even win a race...

4 Responses:

Brien said...

Great post, the biggest disappointment for me has definitely been the open-wheelers sucking so bad.

Russell said...

It would be really interesting to hear a candid interview with one of them to find out whether it's the different cars or a higher level of competition or Dodge or...

Jeremy said...

Some folks will never lose a toe but then again some folks 'ill. Like Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel.

J-Red said...

I might not personally be interested in NASCAR, but the businessman in me respects that it isn't just a backwoods Southern sport any more. Cletus has morphed into the average sports fan, whether he's a waiter, lawyer or teacher or anything else.

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