The mathematical half way point for the NASCAR Winston Cup season is not until the end of July, but traditionally, it is just before the series heads to Daytona for the summer race. With half of the 2002 season behind us, this year's Winston Cup...
The mathematical half way point for the NASCAR Winston Cup season is not until the end of July, but traditionally, it is just before the series heads to Daytona for the summer race. With half of the 2002 season behind us, this year's Winston Cup season has held many surprises and has generated many incomplete story lines.
Jeff Gordon has not won a race in twenty-four events. Not being in victory lane has not demoralized this team, they currently sit third in points, less than ninety points out of first. At their current pace they should take over the point lead by the second Pocono race. The consistency the team has shown is quietly keeping them in the title hunt. They could be the first team to do the unthinkable, win a championship without winning a race.
The focus on the "Young Guns" has been a center of attention in the series since Jimmie Johnson won the pole for the Daytona 500. In terms of Winston Cup, the notation "Rookie" has become a relative term. Talented young drivers in top equipment are going to generate some excitement. Jimmie Johnson has proven he can win, but as he demonstrated at Charlotte and Michigan that he can also make mistakes. Ryan Newman, Kurt Bush, and the group of young drivers have a great deal to learn, and are due to make gaffes with all the pressure and attention they receiving. Talent and the best equipment do not make up for experience, and the second half of the season will see many of the young guns shoot themselves.
The performance of the teams from the Roush racing stable has been an unexpected surprise. Last year Roush teams combined for two wins, and with the exception of Jeff Burton, all finished out of the top ten in the points. Six-months later, they are on top of the world, with all but Burton in the top ten. The four teams have combined for five wins.
A symbolic parallel of Jack Roush's recovery from a near fatal plane crash, his race teams are proving they have recovered and are a force to be reckoned with. The team's turn around is not a fluke, but the fruits of hard work and dedication. These teams did not find wins, they earned them.
As surprising as is the success of the Roush cars, equally unforeseen is the lack of performance from Richard Childress Racing The void of loosing their top driver in 2001 is starting to show. The problem in this organization has been equipment. They more so than any other group have lost more cars this season than any other team. Across the board, they have been playing catch up. The swapping of the Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon crews will not solve all the problems. In fact it was probably not the move that should have been made. The twenty-nine and thirty should have swapped. The Thirty is made up of Harvick's Championship Busch team, the often-overlooked Harvick-Berrier combination had a lot more to do with Kevin's remarkable success than many realize.
In what could be called six degrees of Elliott Sadler the garage rumors have worked overtime this year. The bottom line is that corporate America has a lot more to do with a driver's, car, and sponsor marriage than many drivers, owners and fans want to believe. Would Ford Motor Company really let their Motorcraft Spokesman (Elliott Saddler) drive a Chevy? Or wouldn't it make more sense to keep him in the Ford camp.
Whoever makes that decision will need to have the resources to keep everyone happy, and maybe even fund a new team.
Saddler's early decision to be out looking is not surprising, that normally starts at Daytona, but to make a public announcement gave everyone something to think about.
With Sadler's announcement, the next move on the silly season game board belonged to Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Ty Norris, President of DEI, made it clear that only Jr has a guarantee of a job, and that he has been in meetings with Sadler. Both Pennzoil and NAPA are in negotiations to review their sponsorship agreements, and that also includes the announcements of who will be driving the car. Thisi something they initially intended to do before July 1.
The team did not indicate this, but speculation is that they wanted an early announcement to give the marketing vendors more time to make the official 2003 die cast and tee shirts, to make sure they have full souvenir trailers at Daytona in February.
NASCAR continues to grow at unprecedented level, and remains second only to the NFL in Total viewership. The popularity of the sport is driving many of the decisions than will impact many major teams and drivers. The sport continues to evolve, and with that comes growing pains. The benefit of this growth is without a doubt the level of competition demonstrated this year is Un-parallel to any season in the sanctioning bodies fifty-three previous years, and all indications that the second half of 2002 will provide an equal if not better competitive spectacle.