Much to NASCAR’s liking, the 2008 season is off to a great start thanks to five highly competitive races along with enough story lines on Monday morning to keep a fan’s interest up until it’s time to unload the haulers at the next stop on the schedule.
While some weather issues have caused several tracks to wave the green flags with a bunch of empty seats, TV ratings are the highest they have been in several years and when looking for a reason, all you have to do is look at some of the recent stories.
Hendrick Motorsports is yet to find its way to victory lane this season, which is definitely big news, but bigger yet is the fact that Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are outside the top 12. Dale Jr. is presently the flag bearer at this point of the season as he sits in fifth place in the point standings. There is no panic at HMS, but Johnson didn’t get to enjoy his first open weekend of the season as his team went testing at Rockingham and Kentucky to try and find out what has been causing some of their early season woes.
Tony Stewart finished second at Atlanta but when he crawled out of his Toyota, he blasted Goodyear for what he called the worst tire that he had ever raced on in his career. After Tony went public with his displeasure with Goodyear, several other drivers also expressed their concerns but only in a more respectable manner. Goodyear is aware of its problems but like every team in the garage, it is also still trying to get a handle on the new car that is being used. The tire maker has been bringing only one tire to the track each weekend that sometimes includes Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races. The question has been raised how one tire can be suitable for the three different series when the Cup car now features a rear wing and front splitter which makes it totally different from anything else that races during the weekend.
NASCAR loves parity and this year has to have everyone at its Daytona headquarters walking around with a huge smile on their face. After five races, every manufacturer has at least one win with Ford being the only multiple race winner, thanks to back-to-back wins by Carl Edwards.
Joe Gibbs Racing is the driving force behind Toyota’s Camry becoming one of the cars that you have to beat anytime the green flag waves. Gibbs’s Kyle Busch won Toyota’s first-ever race at Atlanta and sits on top of the points going into next weekend at Martinsville. The success of Gibbs has also spread throughout the rest of the Toyota camp, as there are now a total of eight teams racing the Camry safely inside the top 35.
Point trading has become a hot topic in the sport after Penske Racing swapped owner’s points between Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr. before the beginning of the season to ensure that Hornish would make the first five races while Busch could rely on his past champion’s provisional if he got into trouble. After last week’s race at Bristol, the subject came up once again when Kyle Petty and Jamie McMurray found themselves outside of the all-important top 35. Both have teammates in Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth that are former champions and presently sit inside the top 35. Both teams said they wouldn’t be trading points at this time, but it is something that could apparently be done at any time during the season under present NASCAR rules.
Richard Childress Racing has replaced Hendrick Motorsports as Chevrolet’s premier team at this point of the season. Childress’s Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are all three in the top 10 in points at this time with Burton taking Chevy to its only victory lane appearance of the year last weekend at Bristol. The three have combined for nine top-10 finishes out of 15 starts, with five of them being top-5 finishes.
Carl Edwards leads the series with two wins but his win at Vegas was tainted after postrace inspection discovered that his oil tank was uncovered, which gives the car more down force. The infraction cost him 100 points which has him now in 16th place instead of eighth in the points. Even with the setback, he is leading Ford’s return to the title hunt after an off year for the blue oval teams.
Race Preview – Event: Goody’s Cool Orange 500.
Track: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile paper clip oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: March 30, 2 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.