NASCAR Sprint Cup 2008: Preview - Part 1
The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is upon us, and since it is nearly here. I feel it is time to do some shaking down of 2007 of the individual drivers and teams, plus what to look forward to and how they can turn it around in 2008 in this six part series.
We'll start with the lowest number (#00 - David Reutimann) and work our way up to the highest fulltime number. (#99 - Carl Edwards)
In some cases, where things aren't quiet set yet, we'll just include all scenarios in that category to keep the confusion to a minimum.
No. 00/No.44 - David Reutimann [First 5 Races] (Michael McDowell, Josh Wise) / Dale Jarrett [First 5 Races] (David Reutimann)
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
David Reutimann had quiet the rough year for being a rookie. Reutimann finished fourth in the 2007 Rookie Standings and only made 26 of 36 attempted races. There were some good moments for him this year though. Reutimann earned 2.3M and also finished second in the 2007 NASCAR Busch Series (NBS) standings with one win. His cup series was not one to be envied though, with an average start of 25.3 and an average finish of 30.4, Reutimann was only able to finish 39th in the Drivers and Owners Standings. Reutimann will have to try to qualify in on time again until he locks himself into the top 35 during 2008. If a track record has anything to say about it, the start of the '08 season will be a tough start for Reutimann. With an average starting position of 41.0 and an average finishing position of 33.0 at Daytona, Reutimann needs to hopefully perform as well as he was he was during the Fall UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega before his motor let go. Hopefully Ryan Pemberton and Reutimann can get things together in 2008 and get the #00 in the top 35 in points for MWR, then when they transfer to the #44, keep it in the top 35 in points throughout the season and continue to strengthen the organization.
Michael McDowell and Josh Wise are yet to be proven at any level higher than the ARCA Re/Max series. McDowell finished second in the 2007 ARCA Drivers Standings with 4 wins, 11 Top-5's, and 15 Top-10's in 23 starts. Wise only ran in 12 events and was able to finish well with 4 Top-5's and 6 Top-10's. McDowell competed in three Busc events and one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) event, with an average finish of 22.0 and 30.0 respectively. Wise only competed in one NBS and nine NCTS events, with a 19th place finish in the NBS and 2 Top-10's with an average finish of 19.0 in the NCTS. If Reutimann cannot hand the car off in the top 35 in owners points, it could be a long season for the two developmental drivers and they may lose seat time to a veteran driver with either championship provisionals or more seat time to help turn the program back around with crew chief Bill Pappis.
For Dale Jarrett in the #44 in the first five races, Jarrett should just look to not tear up any equipment and try to score solid finishes. Jarrett has statistically run well at Superspeedways with 135 starts, 9 wins, 37 Top-5's, and 54 Top-10's. Jarrett's average finish is a 17.0 at Superspeedways and even his Toyota in 2007, Jarrett still managed finishes of 21st and 27th at Daytona. Jarrett just needs to hand the car off to Reutimann in the top 35 and he can consider his season a success.
With the state of flux and unproven talent in the #00, don't expect more than a finishing position lower than 35th - 40th in the owners standings.
In the #44 camp, Reutimann has shown signs of being competitive and if Jarrett can give him a car locked in, Reutimann could hopefully bring home a season somewhere between 26th - 30th.
No. 01 - Regan Smith
Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Regan Smith has the most valuable thing in NASCAR right now. Owner's points. Smith takes over the #01 fulltime with veteran crew chief Doug Richert who helped Greg Biffle to his successful '05 campaign. Smith and the #01 DEI Chevrolet yet to have a sponsor for 2008 though, and being financially backed are a must in Sprint Cup competition. Smith hasn't had much success in Cup, in 2007 with only 7 starts, his average finish was 30.0. Things have been a little better for Smith in the NBS and NCTS. With an average finish of 19.6 in 2007 with 3 Top-5's and 5 Top-10's in the NBS and an average finish of 17.5 with one Top-5 and 4 Top-10's in the NCTS, DEI really is taking a big chance on this unproven talent. A limited schedule isn't an excuse for Smith, in 2006 Smith ran fulltime in the Busch series and only managed one Top-10 and had an average finish of 24.5.
Obviously the equipment is good, when Mark Martin was in the #01; he had an average finish of 14.5. If DEI can find good financial support, and Smith can turn out to be the diamond in the rough that DEI hopes he is, Smith can have a great season. The hard part is already done for Smith; he is locked in the first five races of the 2008 season.
I wouldn't expect much more than 26th - 30th in Smith's rookie season.
No. 07 - Clint Bowyer
Team: Richard Childress Racing
No sophomore slump here, Clint Bowyer is the real deal. Having two successful seasons underneath his belt, Bowyer could be a threat to challenge for the championship again. During his rookie season, his average finish was an impressive 19.7 and he managed to improve that to 13.8 in 2007. Finishing third in the drivers standings in 2007, Bowyer put together a marvelous season with 2 Poles, 1 Win, 5 Top-5's, and 17 Top-10's. Bowyer once again teams up with Gil Martin for 2008 and there is no reason to suspect anything less than another title run for Bowyer and Martin in 2008.
Bowyer has an exceptional average finish of 14.9 at all tracks excluding Superspeedways and should be a threat again for 2008. I know some Bowyer fans aren't feeling the love with such a short use of words, but Bowyer is one of the most consistent top 15 finishers out there and is so solid, you barely even notice him. Remind you of Matt Kenseth much?
I expect Bowyer to be able to put together another solid season, if things go his way, he can win the championship, if he continues to be solid, he should head into the Chase around 6th - 10th.
No. 1 - Martin Truex Jr.
Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc.
What a breakout year for Truex Jr. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. left, it is as if DEI unleashed the full potential of Truex, instantly turning him into a threat to win and giving him his first Chase berth. Truex goes to show that that a Top-15 is the new Top-10, and that constantly finishing within the Top-15, or around it, will keep you in contention for the post season. If DEI can show life at Superspeedways again, Truex could start the season off right, and work towards the playoffs again. Truex was very solid but with some of his lapses (12 finishes of 20th or worse), he is going to need more up front finishes to make up for his back of the pack finishes. With competition getting harder and average finishes working for you less and less, Truex and Kevin Manion need to key in on what gave them the late season run towards the playoffs, and apply it towards their entire effort.
It is unfortunate we don't know enough about the COT yet to make better predictions about how 2008 will play out. Truex should finish the season 11th - 15th.
No. 2 - Kurt Busch
Team: Penske Racing
Kurt Busch teams up with outstanding crew chief Pat Tryson for the 2008 season and if these two can finally get their act together, keep Busch cool, and finish races while getting rid of their bad luck, Busch could compete for another championship. Busch was the leader for the most miles in 2008 (1666 miles) and also had the most quality passes (1854). Having the fourth best driver rating in Cup (99.7) and the third best running position (11.038) show that Busch is a force to be dealt with in the future. Busch is statistically driven well at Daytona with an average finish of 15.8 and he has 14 Top-5's in only 36 superspeedway races. Penske's Superspeedway program has proven to be strong lately and Busch could finally give Mr. Penske his first Superspeedway win in 2008. Busch has driven and finished well at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit and he should have a very strong season in 2008. Penske seems to be turning things around in their corner of the garage.
Busch should be a threat to win the championship and should finish from 1st - 5th.
No. 4 - Ward Burton
Team: Morgan-McClure Motorsports
Not much is known about this effort in 2008. State-Water Heaters (MMM's Primary Sponsor) has been rumored to be heading to Haas CNC Racing and for the 15 races Burton made last year, (Todd Bodine drove in the season finale at Homestead) his best finish was 14th at Indianapolis. Burton had two other Top-20 finishes, when he finished 18th at Bristol in the fifth race of the season, and 20th at Michigan, the 23rd race of the season. The other 11 races that Burton was the driver for, he finished 33rd or worse, Bodine finished 38th at Homestead.
Burton finished 47th in the final standings in 2007 and MMM will finish 40+ in 2008.
No. 5 - Casey Mears
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
The red-headed step child of Hendrick Motorsports, Casey Mears, as portrayed by the media. Alan Gustafson who made all those fast cars that Kyle Busch wrecked will be teaming up with Mears in 2008 and with great equipment; Mears should be able to improve once again in 2008. The #25 team never ran really well, no matter who was in the car and Mears gets to step into higher quality equipment than he was in when he was driving the #25. Mears finished 15th in 2007 and had a statistically worse season than 2006 when he finished 14th overall. He averaged a finish of 18.9 in 2007 and earned the first win of his career at Lowes Motor Speedway. Mears has been floating around very average like in the Cup garage for quiet sometime; Mears really needs to step it up if he wants to have his contract extended beyond 2009.
Mears really is a tough one to call, if he can perform like the rest of HMS, he should finish in the top ten, if he continues to perform like he always does, he will just be another average driver occupying great equipment, or another good driver, stuck in a bad combination with less than equipment compared to the rest of HMS.
Hopefully he breaks out and to play it safe, Mears should finish 16th - 20th in 2008, but I hope I am wrong, and he finishes better.
No. 6 - David Ragan
Team: Roush-Fenway Racing
David Ragan comes off an average rookie season and is paired up with Jimmy Fennig again. Fennig helped Kurt Busch win his lone championship. Ragan finished 23rd in 2007 in the overall standings, but first in number of incidents caused, 22! Ragan has room for improvement but he is in Cup for a reason, everyone except Todd Kleuver and Tony Stewart will probably tell you that. Wrecking in 61.1% of Cup races is pretty bad, but with veteran leadership, Ragan should be able to turn it around with some experience under his belt now. Ragan only has a driver rating of 56.1 and has an average running position of 27.349, not so hot.
Ragan should continue to improve, but he isn't a threat to anyone this year unless the run Richmond every week. Look for Ragan to finish 21st - 25th, with a few high points this year from Fennig.
No. 7 - Robby Gordon
Team: Robby Gordon Motorsports
Robby Gordon might possibly be the most talented and best race car driver in the garage. The only problem is he is too headstrong and aggressive for his own good in the long Cup races. Gordon had an average finish of 25.8 and it is hard to find bright spots for this lone owner/driver in the Cup garage. Gordon did have 19 Top-25 finishes and he only missed one race in 2007.
If Gordon could get some big financial support, big engineering support, and figure out how to get things to work together that compliments his talent, he could be a threat to win every week. Until then, Gordon will continue to be middle of the pack because of his raw talent.
Gordon could finish 26th - 30th in 2008.
No. 8 - Mark Martin [24 Races], Aric Almirola [12 races]
Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Well, quiet the seat to takeover in 2008. Fortunately, Mark Martin will be doing the majority of the driving, so it won't be that bad after all for the brass at DEI. With Martin putting together solid finishes every week in whatever equipment he steps into, Aric Almirola will be the only reason this team drops in the owner's standings. I still feel this will be a great learning experience for Almirola and if he performs well enough, he might get the car in 2009.
With Martin driving, maybe he'll stay high enough up in the standings to give it another go at the Cup championship, but probably not. Let's hope DEI can get their engine woes fixed with help from Richard Childress Racing and finish the races they start in 2008.
The #8 team will finish 21st - 25th in Owner's Standings.
Well, that is all I have for the day. We will tackle 10'ish more Cup teams shortly.
Note: All statistics provided by NASCAR.com, USAToday.com, and Jayski.com.