By admin | May 6, 2008
This could be the time for teams to make changes
By Richard Allen
There are now 10 races in the history books for the 2008 NASCAR season. That means almost a third of the season is complete, but more importantly, it means that the Chase for the Championship is only 16 races away. So, teams that find themselves outside the coveted Top 12 in the Sprint Cup point standings are looking to make a turn around.
If teams are considering changes this is a good time to do it. After Saturday’s race in Darlington, the Sprint Cup series has a week off from point racing as the circuit stops off at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the All Star race. After that, there will be eight consecutive weeks of point paying events.
What better time to work out the kinks with a new driver or crew chief or pit crew member than during a weekend that will not count against the overall standings?
With sponsors spending as much as $15-20 million to advertise on the sides of some cars, they expect to have their car running near the front and competing for championships. The pressure is on and patience is not often allowed.
A quick look at the standings will reveal the teams who would be most apt to make changes, if any are to be made. Teams inside the Top 12 or very close to it are likely to stick with the status quo. Teams well outside the Top 12 may be looking for something to get their seasons turned around before it is too late.
When looking at those standings two names in particular appear to be out of place.
Championship caliber drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch sit 22nd and 24th in the overall standings respectively. These drivers enter every new season with expectations of race wins and championships.
Kenseth and Busch have each shown that they are capable of producing. So, it has to be assumed that the drivers are not the primary cause of their poor results.
In Kenseth’s case, he and Jimmie Johnson are the only drivers to have qualified for the Chase in each of the four years that format has been in use. The 2003 champion has been known throughout his career for being able to win races when his car is capable, but also, he has been lauded for his ability to score good finishes even when has less than capable equipment.
This year, he seems to have lost that magic formula. The easy thing to do would be to blame the #17 team’s lack of success on new crew chief Chip Bolin. However, for the most part the Roush Fenway Ford has performed well only to have misfortune surface at the wrong time.
Kenseth seemed to have potentially race winning cars in Daytona, Las Vegas and Talladega until spins and crashes not of his own making took him from contention.
Even though much of the team’s 22nd place seems to be the fault of lady luck, one has to wonder if there has been any consideration of placing former crew chief Robbie Reiser back atop the #17 pit box. Reiser just finished a stint as race day crew chief for Carl Edwards while his regular pit boss, Bob Osborne, sat out a suspension.
In the case of Kurt Busch, the scenario is a bit different than Kenseth. Busch has had fewer runs in which he appeared to be a serious contender. After pushing teammate Ryan Newman to victory in the season opening Daytona 500 little has been seen of the 2004 champion and his Penske Racing South Dodge at the front of the field.
Again, one has to wonder if some change within the team may be considered in order to turn a disappointing season around.
Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are two of the best drivers in NASCAR. Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing South are two of the best teams in NASCAR. Without doubt, these drivers and teams are disappointed with the way their seasons have started out.
Along with these former champions, drivers with lesser credentials have suffered through difficult times in the early part of 2008.
Drivers Casey Mears, 23rd, Elliott Sadler, 25th and Jamie McMurray, 26th, are certainly not where they, their car owners or their sponsors would like to be. While neither of these drivers is likely to be in immediate danger of losing their rides, there must be pressure within those particular camps to improve.
Each of these drivers work for high profile teams with high profile sponsors. At what point does that pressure result in a change of some sort being made?
And finally, in the month of May there is the case of the former open wheel stars trying to make their way in NASCAR. With Sam Hornish barely inside the Top 35 and Dario Franchitti recovering from and injury one has to wonder if a couple of weeks at another racing locale has been thought about?
No inside information is necessary to know where the most uncomfortable chairs are in the NASCAR garage are. Only a look at the standings and the upcoming schedule after ten races will reveal to even the casual observer that at least some changes are about to take place, that is the nature of the sport. It is just a matter of who, what, when and where.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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