Random Lugnuts: 2008 Sprint Cup Preview
Topics: Sprint Cup
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February 8, 2008
The 2007 Nextel Cup season was a filler year, with a new manufacturer, and major changes beginning in 2008. The overall theme seemed to be, "wait 'til next year."
It's next year.
Here's some of the top stories in 2007, along with a few notes on their 2008 seasons and a prediction:
Clint Bowyer The music industry is full of one-hit wonders. So is racing. 2007 may well have been a fluke. Making the 2008 Chase field would go a long way toward proving it wasn't. Far from superstar status, but definitely not a field filler any more, making the Chase again might lock in Clint Bowyer's newfound status as a middle-tier driver among Kahne, Edwards, Burton, and Biffle. I think that with some increased competition, he'll miss the Chase, but just barely, around 13th-15th in points.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Of course, making the Chase and competing for a championship would be nice, and seem very likely with his new car and new team. But remember, there have been a lot of changes there, one one side bringing in a new driver-crew chief combination to Hendrick Motorsports, on the other side Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. working for a new team. The potential is tremendous, but some time to adjust would be completely understood. But without winning at least one race, especially if Casey Mears gets to Victory Lane, might create unrest among those in Junior Nation that still don't trust or like Hendrick Motorsports or Dale's new teammates. I think he'll win, though, multiple races. More and more of his old fans will come around to respecting and even liking his driving for Hendrick with each trophy he takes home.
Jeff Gordon & Jimmie Johnson When you're at the top, there's only one way to go. The game is then about how long a stay at the to can be extended. Unfortunately for all those who despise these two drivers, I don't see their fall from grace just yet. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will probably find themselves in the same place as last year when the 2008 season winds down.
Dale Jarrett Dale Jarrett is a class act, a gentleman racer with a great career behind him. It would be a shame to end this chapter of NASCAR history with 38th place finishes and DNFs. This year's stronger Toyota camp's increased chances of winning has people wondering who the first will be to score a victory in a Camry, and I'm hoping it's Jarrett. I don't think he'll win one, though, but his short 2008 season will be much better than his 2007 season, giving the 44 team a good head start on the season.
Juan Pablo Montoya Last year was an interesting year for NASCAR with all the changes. A Columbian driver in NASCAR's top series was among the headline changes, and his win at Infineon makes his move successful. More successful than most NASCAR drivers, anyway. He's gotta win on an oval, though, to prove he's not a road course ringer just filling a seat the other 34 races. I think he'll win another road course, but he's still got a long way to go on the ovals, maybe some Top 5 finishes but I'm not predicting oval wins for him this year.
Dale Earnhardt, Inc. No matter that he won two Daytona 500s in DEI's Chevrolets, Michael Waltrip was a sideshow to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., always the main attraction for the team. Martin Truex, Jr. showed that the team can win without Dale Jr. in the driver's seat of either the winning car or in the car right behind it. Helping Mark Martin score his last Cup career victory would be a nice addition to the list of the organization's accomplishments, and would be a good beginning to the "post-Dale-Jr.-era." Assuming, of course, that Mark Martin actually does eventually retire. I think DEI will win again, I'm just not sure who the driver will be.
Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota needed this. Not finding success with two startup teams and Bill Davis Racing, Toyota needed a championship quality team to elevate its level of competition. While I'm hoping Dale Jarrett is the first to win, and despite sharing those Gibbs Camrys with Denny Hamlin and new teammate Kyle Busch, I'm looking at the guy who has proven that he can drive anything with four wheels fast to show NASCAR fans just what a Camry can do over the full season. Tony Stewart will score Toyota's first Cup win.
Michael Waltrip Racing 2006 was forgiveable as MWR was a team without a country. With DEI's help gone and not yet able to race Toyotas, it was a struggle making the races with Bill Davis' Dodges. 2007 was even worse, as they struggled with the new Toyotas, unable to even race much of the time due to being outside the top 35 in owner points. My most difficult prediction, owing to just how uncertain MWR's season is, coupled with the David Reutimann changeover to the 44 team and unproven (in Cup, anyway) Michael McDowell's debut in the 00 car, I'm thinking that Michael Waltrip will redeem himself quite nicely from last year, although he'll come up short on winning a race or making the Chase.
Dodge, Ford and Toyota Last year was a Chevrolet show. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in the Chase, Martin Truex Jr. with his first Cup win, all four Hendrick drivers eventually scored victories. I credit NASCAR for not screwing with the cars in favor of "parity," which would award wins to cars that didn't earn them. It's up to the individual manufacturers to work with their teams and get their cars in Victory Lane. And I hope they do, before NASCAR really does become an all-Chevy show. See below for my Chase predictions:
My Championship prediction? I'm not a fan of the guy, I've found out through fantasy racing that you never can go wrong betting on Jimmie Johnson, so I'll say Jimmie for his third in a row. Michael McDowell is my pick for Rookie of the Year.
You won't have to keep this somewhere, filed away in case I'm dead wrong and you'd like to rub it in come November. At the end of the season, I'll revisit this little preview page and let everybody know how I did, good or bad. Just to let you know, though, I did pick the Giants to win the Super Bowl.
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