Saturday night’s checkered flag at Daytona closed the books on the first half of the Sprint Cup season. While there are some that will argue that the racing we have witnessed through the first 18 races on the schedule hasn’t produced the kind of action everyone wanted to see with the new car (COT), this season has produced plenty enough story lines to make this year one of the more interesting in recent years.
So far this season the majority of stories have come from the on-track action but like most seasons in the sport there are also plenty of happenings off the track to make for some good reading. Here are a few of stories that have made the first half of this season so interesting.
When it comes to driving, Kyle Busch owns most of the headlines this season. It doesn’t matter if he is in the Cup, Nationwide or Craftsman Truck Series, he clearly knows his way to victory lane. Also, did you notice on Saturday night when he got out of his car to grab the checkered flag that the audible level of boos seemed to be less?
Mark Martin is officially the sentimental favorite of many race fans for next year’s Cup title. When he announced that he was going full time with Hendrick Motorsports in ’09, it had to cross your mind that he was going to have one last shot at the championship he couldn’t ever capture while driving for Jack Roush.
Bruton Smith’s announcement that he was buying Kentucky Speedway sure was good news for race fans in the Commonwealth. After reading all of the stories associated with the proposed purchase of the track, it makes you think if Jerry Carroll would drop his court action against NASCAR, a Cup date might not be too far in coming.
Hendrick Motorsports has not been the dominating force it was last season in the series. While Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson are having the kind of year that will put them into the Chase, they have had to sit back and watch teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. become the flagbearer for their organization so far in ’08.
The Nationwide Series has long been a playground for Cup drivers and this year hasn’t been any different. If you are a veteran and would like to have success on a part-time basis in the Nationwide Series, you need to see if you can drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs’s drivers have won 13 of the 18 races this season. Twelve of those wins have been by Gibbs’s Cup drivers Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Richard Childress Racing has been using the first half of the season to not only be in a position to get all three of its drivers in the Chase but to also solidify its plans for next season. RCR’s Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are in the top 12 in the standings with Kevin Harvick just two points outside in 13th. Childress plans on adding a fourth driver to the mix next season and has already announced the signing of General Mills and Caterpillar as primary sponsors for next season. He is also in the running for the UPS sponsorship that is rumored to be leaving Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the season.
While the sale of Petty Enterprises to Boston Ventures was the best thing for that organization, it had to be bittersweet for Richard and Kyle Petty. In so many ways Petty Enterprises was the last link to the so-called golden years of the sport and one with which many longtime fans of NASCAR could still associate. The sport continues to move forward with each passing season and maybe this move will now allow the Pettys to move with it.
Penske Racing opened the season in style by finishing 1-2 in the Daytona 500 with Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch. They had all of the momentum as the season got underway but quickly lost it as both teams immediately began to struggle. Both drivers have one win on the year and sit in the 17th and 18th position in the points but have yet to really mount a challenge to get into the Chase.
Race Preview – Event: LifeLock.com 400. Track: Chicagoland Speedway (1.5 mile tri-oval, 18 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: July 12, 8 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Tony Stewart.