Silly Season is finally over. There is a less than a day to go…23 hours and change as I begin writing this, ’til the start of the Daytona 500. And as I write some of this, Danica Patrick’s quest to save NASCAR has begun in earnest with the Drive4COPD 300 Nationwide race at Daytona. But tomorrow, the green flag drops and 43 drivers tee it off at the Daytona 500.
However, the fairways looks a bit different than last year. Over the winter, Silly Season reared it’s silly head and some big names in NASCAR have for all intents and purposes disappeared forever. Sponsors like DeWalt, Jack Daniels, and Jim Beam have fled the sport. Teams have merged and remerged and re-remerged as vastly different entities. It’s really been hard even for me to get my arms around all this and get up to speed for the 2010 season.
Most of the usual suspects are still around, but some of them have found themselves in suspicious circumstances…
Richard Petty Motorsports is really Petty in name only. That’s one of the biggest changes. The King is a figurehead. Kyle Petty is gone. In 2007 Petty Enterprises closed it old shops in Level Cross, North Carolina and merged with Gillett Evernham last year. THEN they formed a strategic alliance with Yates Racing ((which is no longer a racing team, btw)). And now instead of Dodge, they run Fords. Make that instead of first Dodges, and then Chevrolets, they run Fords. And there’s no more Ray Evernham, Kyle Petty, Bobby Labonte, John Andretti, or Reed Sorenson. Now the drivers that race under the Petty flag this season are Kasey Kahne, Elliot Sadler, AJ Allmendinger (the only holdover from Petty Enterprises), and Paul Menard ((who can race for whomever he damn well pleases since his Daddy provides the sponsorship)). Now it would have been nice if back in the day, Kyle Petty could have stepped out of the car and brought in this band of goofs to do the driving. But then, if he had, then maybe Petty Enterprises wouldn’t the ghostly entity that it is today. And btw Kasey Kahne, the only driver likely to make the Chase, is looking to bolt at the end of 2010.
And speaking of Dodges, Dodge has only one team left in NASCAR: Penske Racing. I don;t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But Roger puts a good spin on it saying, in essence, that they don’t have to share any money, support or information with anyone. It’s a lonely world there…the last holdout of a dying brand. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Roger Penske. Kurt Busch did remarkably well last season all things considered, especially in light of his two beandog teammates, the departed David Stremme, and the almost apocryphal Sam Hornish Jr who will be on an increasingly tighter leash this season. Kurt is joined by new teammate Brad Kesolowski and THAT will be a very good thing. Brad will bring some flair and excitement and personality to the organization and I think he’ll be a good fit with Kurt. Kesolowksi is a steal….like the Packers drafting Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers where there is did. Brad Kesolowski fell into Roger Penske’s lap. He’d been racing for JR Motorsports in Nationwide the past few years and was ready for the jump to Cup. There was no place for him Hendrick, so…with great reluctance, he was set free and Roger Penske had the right opportunity at the right time. I don’t think he’ll make the Chase along with teammate Kurt Busch, but he’ll do very well.
I really dont what to make of the sudden emergence of Front Row Motorports. But here it is and during January when us Kenseth fans were fretting over the fact that Matt didn’t have full sponsorhip for his ride, Front Row Motorsports was leading the news parade. The official name for the company is Front Row Motorsports with Yates Racing. Yates Racing….for a racing team that doesn’t exist anymore, they are everywhere. ((Doug Yates is probably the best engine builder in NASCAR…)). Front Row will have 3 cars that have guaranteed starts for the first 5 races at least. The #34 Long John Silver Ford will have Wisconsin’s very own Travis Kvapil at the wheel ((although the aforementioned John Andretti will ride that sled at Daytona)). The #37 Extenze Ford will have the ONLY Rookie of The Year candidate Kevin Conway strapped in until the Extenze sponsorship goes limp ((but Kvapil will be gunning for a top 10 in the #37 at Daytona)). Now I’m sure if you’re like me, you’re wondering who the fock is Kevin Conway. And I really do no know, nor do I care, who Kevin Conway is…but he is one lucky son of a bitch to join the hallowed ranks of Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, that homo Jeff Gordon, that lout Kevin Harvick, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, Ricky Rudd, David Pearson, Donnie Allison and Dale Earnhardt. Yessiree, Mr. Conway will get his name up in lights with Wisconsin’s very own Dick Trickle, and the late, great Alan Kulwicki. And the names of greats who LOST Rookie of the Year honours is just as stunning: Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Buck Baker, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip & Terry Labonte never earned ROTY honours. But all Kevin Conway needs do is show up every week and keep the wheels on the car. Heh heh heh heh. It gets better…the #38 Taco Bell/Mahindra Tractors Ford car is going to guided on its wicked way by David Gillilland (yes, THAT David Gilliland) for most of the season, but, at Daytona, the #38 will be guided on its wicked way by Robert Richardson Jr, who I think was a Colonel in either the Confederate or the Union Army, but don’t quote me on that or use that information to form the basis of any cash wager. Anyway, he’ll be handling the Mahindra Tractors end of the deal, and Gillilland has the Taco Bell rides.
Mahindra Tractors are made in in India. Which reminds me of something….. Ah yes! The Wim Wenders movie Until The End Of The World. In that movie, set in the near future, India has a space program. And a nuclear powered satellite of theirs has malfunctioned and is on a decaying orbit into the Earth and nothing can be done to prevent it’s catastrophic impact. Now that’s just the the backdrop to Wender’s remarkably brilliant film, but I cant help but feel that that’s sort of a metaphor for Front Row Motorsports. It will crash, like India’s satellite will crash, with cataclysmic devastation being the only result. It’s a shame that Travis Kvapil will likely be at ground zero when impact occurs. Hopefully he can find a way to escape unscathed when the end of the strange little world ultimately comes.
Meanwhile, nothing much has changed over at Hendrick Motorports. Jimmie Johnson still bores the piss out of me….Jeff Gordon is still a homo (ha ha hah…)…Mark Martin is still the toughest guy in NASCAR with the possible exception of Ron Hornday….and Junior had better get his ass in gear and win some races and get back in the Chase. Business as usual with those boys. The Chase this season will come down the 4 Hendrick Boys, 3 of the 4 Roushketeers, and then 5 others like Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne (or Kevin Harvick), Kurt Busch, & Kyle Busch. You read it here first. We’ll see how the season progresses. I’m not going with any dark horses to make the Chase, but I think there will be a shakeup at the top.
And let me say this right here, right now. The ONLY Drive For Five that I would even consider supporting at this point in time would involve Jeff Gordon, as driver, not Jeff Gordon, as team co-owner. If it appears that Jeff Gordon will actually win his 5th NASCAR Sprint/Winston Cup Championship…and if he emerges as the Champ when the checkered flag is dropped at Homestead on November 21st I will stand up and applaud and cheer him on. He is nearing the twilight of his career, and I honestly can’t see him staying on as long as Mark Martin has. So a 5th Championship for Gordon would be fine by me if it happens this year. A 5th Championship by Jimmie Johnson would carry with it the potential to destroy NASCAR beyond anything Danica Patrick could do to save it….if Jimmie Johnson runs away with the season like he did last year, even I will (could) stop watching.
There’s been a bit of natter about Stewart-Haas Racing who did so well in it’s inaugural season hitting the dreaded sophomore slump. It WAS indeed remarkable how well Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman did last season. But were they a bit over their skis? Perhaps. Smoke is brilliant behind the wheel, but maybe it was too much of a good thing. I’m not saying they were over their skis last season, as in Eddie the Eagle over their skis, but they might slip a few pegs in 2010, and be more in 2010 like, say Jiří Parma and Jiří Malec in 1988 than Pavel Ploc and Jiří Malec in 1988. Neither of them will win the gold like Matti Nykänen did.
Now if anyone can pull it off, it’s certainly Tony Stewart. But if I had a bloody quid or two to piss down the drain here, I would drop a couple on the Sophomore Slump.
As for the Roushketeers, well…they can’t possible do any worse than they did last season. ((Although I can think of several teams…and yes, I’m thinking about YOU Richard Childress)) who would have killed to do as terrible as Roush did last season. 2009 started with Matt Kenseth seeming to win everything and he looked like THE odds-on favourite to run the table and hold Jimmie Johnson to 3 in a row. But then came the crack of Satan’s Anal Bullwhip at Las Vegas where Matt blew an engine of lap 6, and no one at Roush won another race the rest of the season until the now departed (as in Roush had to cut one team to meet the league maximum of 4) Jamie McMary notched a win at Talladega in November. McMary was odd man out at the end of the season, and now he’s back in bed with Chip Gannassi and the Evil Stepmother, racing alongside Juan Pablo Montoya. Matt didn’t make the Chase. The Bug-Eyed Goof and The Carl did despite neither of them winning a race. Dave Ragan was no where near respectable, and he’d better keep his purty white headpiece on straight this season or he’ll be a dead man walking by September as a bunch of free agents like Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne will be available in 2011. Ragan will not make the Chase in 2010, but he’d better improve on that 27th place finish.
DeWalt will no longer be a part of Matt Kenseth anymore and that will be the toughest thing for me to get my arms around in 2010. Matt in a purple firesuit riding around all day in a purple car. Kudos to Geoff Smith to get Crown Royal and Diageo to step up and picked up the remain 13 races so Matt will have full sponsorship this season. Would be nice to see some of Diageo’s other brands on Matt’s sled this season. A black #17 Guinness Ford…now THAT would be focking awesome!! Anyway, Matt will make the Chase, as will The Biff and The Carl.
As for the rest of the field…nothing much has changed over at Joe Gibbs. The almost invisible Denny Hamlin will continue to somehow show up at the top of the charts and be remarkably good without anyone ever realizing it. Kyle Busch’s new crew chief should bring some needed consistency as he’s worked with him to great success in the Nationwide series. Joey Lagano….just keep smiling Joey…. that all I have to say about THAT, yes?
And if I’ve neglected to mention Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, & Clint Bowyer, I apologize for that and will continue to apologize for that until, say, The Jeff Burton Bandwagon gets a fresh set of tires and an oil change. The Ghost of Dale Earnhardt will continue to haunt Kevin Harvick for one more year, and then he will get a new start in a new town in 2011.
Step away from the car Michael Waltrip, step away from that car with your hands up and recite the focking Cyrillic alphabet backwards. Ha ha….only kidding. But Michael will finally be standing down in 2010 ((okay, he’ll run a part-time program)). He rescued Martin Truex Jr from the charred ruins of Earnhardt Ganassi, ((Thanks a lot Michael, WHATTA pal!!)) and Junior Jr will be Michael’s new straight man in the NAPA Toyota and in the commercials.
As for Danica Patrick this weekend, well…I guess I’d have to give her a grade of Incomplete. It would have been nice to see her complete all the laps of the Nationwide race. But Daytona being Daytona, well…she got caught up in someone else’s foolishness (( that would Jason Leffler and Josh Wise’s foolishness for those of you keeping score at h0me)) on lap 68 just when she was finally getting a handle on her car. So there she was..off to the garage for the duration. Too bad, but that’s Daytona for ya. And her Boss? We’ll HE was PIG BITING MAD after the two goofs behind him, Brad Kesolowski & The Carl, (and hey remember at Talladega last year when those SAME two goofs had a little ruckus?) collected Junior’s 3rd place ride and flipped him over ruining his great chance to win.
But let’s not forget the other woman in the Nationwide race….Chrissy Wallace, daughter of Mike Wallace (the middle of the 3 Wallace brothers). She had a wicked loose car, and that wasn’t helped at all as Paul Menard got her looser and she went crashing out at lap 6. I think Crissy will catch on like her cousin Steven (Rusty’s son) has. So no worries there. Interesting fact, almost 1/10th of the field in Sunday’s Nationwide Race were all from the Wallace family. Mike and younger brother Kenny; Chrissy & cousin Steven. Make of that what you will.
And now, the moment of Truth. Well…in about 2 hours and change as I write it. The start of the Daytona 500. And my feeling is that when all is said and done, that Matt Kenseth will defend his Daytona 500 title from last season staving off a last laps rally by Harvick and Burton. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. As always, never use what I say here as the basis for any cash wager.
Gentlemen, START YOUR ENGINES!!!