By admin | February 19, 2008
Here are some things to look forward to
By Richard Allen
There seems to be a lot of energy spent these days discussing all that is wrong with NASCAR. Fans seem to be less than happy with the Car of Tomorrow, the loss of race dates at traditional venues, the fact that NASCAR has recently been over run with drivers whose names are difficult to pronounce and perhaps worst of all, Junior has gone over to the dark side. With all that being said, I am going to focus on things worth looking forward to going into this coming season.
One thing that has me captivated is the relationship dynamics within various teams. Last year, the lack of team spirit at Roush-Fenway Racing was vividly captured on film and in print. Carl Edwards almost punched teammate Matt Kenseth in the face following a race at Martinsville. This incident, which was caught on film, precipitated some verbal sparring between Edwards and Kenseth, who were also joined by teammate Greg Biffle.
However, even with this discord, Roush-Fenway ended the season on a strong note with all three of the organizations top drivers winning races late in the year. The question is did these drivers lack of communication hurt the organization during the off season when exchanges among teammates can be most beneficial?
Another interesting team dynamic will be the one at Hendrick Motorsports. For the past several seasons that four car operation has seemingly been divided into two separate groups. The teams of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have appeared to be the favored while the other two teams have looked more like after thoughts. The question for that organization going into 2008 is how will the addition of a third huge personality, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, impact the team balance?
To me, however, the most interesting team to watch in 2008 will be Joe Gibbs Racing. They have made two significant moves in the off season. First, they ended a long time partnership with General Motors to become Toyota’s top standard bearer. They have shown a good deal of speed so far in off season testing.
Aside from the manufacturer change JGR has added one of the more volatile personalities in the sport, Kyle Busch, to its stable of drivers. Along with Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin the famed football coach may have as much “personality” on his team now as he ever had in the NFL. If the switch to Toyota goes well and the team is winning races, then all should be fine. However, early season troubles combined with three drivers who have shown no fear of being outspoken in the past could find Coach Gibbs looking for plenty of head and stomach medication.
The thoughts on team dynamics and Joe Gibbs Racing leads me to my second point of interest going into the season and that is Toyota. Even by the most optimistic of viewpoints the Japanese company’s initial campaign in the Sprint Cup series was nothing short of a disaster. Their teams found themselves away from the track on race day more often than not. The addition of the Gibbs team was a significant move for the manufacturer. They will no doubt improve upon last year because there is only one way to go from where they left off. The question is how much will they improve?
Lastly, I am looking forward to seeing the progression of the Car of Tomorrow. This year the often criticized new car will actually become the Car of Today as it will be run in every one of the 36 races on the schedule. So far, in off season testing there have been far fewer complaints about the winged vehicle as opposed to last year at this time. However, the real test will come on the race track during a full season of competition. The question for the CoT is can it not only improve safety but can it also improve competition, particularly on the 1 ½ mile tracks?
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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