Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rusty's 2008 NASCAR Round-Up

Well, with little less than a month till the Daytona 500, it's about time for Rusty to emerge from hibernation and start pontificating about the upcoming season.

There's a lot of big changes for 2008, not the least of which is new names for both top series in NASCAR. Nextel Cup becomes Sprint Cup, and the Busch Series becomes the Nationwide Series. Budweiser has also stepped down as official beer sponsor, and Coors Light will be the beer of NASCAR. Whew!

There's also been some big changes in the drivers and teams. Dale Jr.'s moved to Hendrick Motorsports in the #88, and boy is Rusty excited about that. Probably the 2nd biggest move is for Joe Gibbs racing to leave Chevy and head for upstart Toyota. All these changes are going to make for an exciting season, so without further adieu, a few predictions.

2008 Sprint Cup Champion: Jeff Gordon! The Rainbow Warrior was hot last year, one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. Only problem was that JJ was hotter. This year, however, I think Gordon is going to be able to catch and surpass his teammate. Only 1 driver in NASCAR history has captured 3 consecutive titles, and I just don't think JJ is going to match that feat in 2008.

Biggest Disappointment: Joe Gibbs Racing. With the change from Chevy to Toyota, expect JGR drivers to struggle. Add that to the fact that now the three biggest hot heads in the sport are on the same team; Smoke, Denny Hamlin, and the Shrub; and I expect this team to have a horrible year. It wouldn't surprise me if by summer the drivers were barely speaking to one another.

Best Team: Hendrick Motorsports. No surprise here, but HMS was the most dominant team last year, especially with the COT. Now, in 2008 having all races with the COT, expect them to continue if not increase their dominance. Don't forget they've got the sports biggest names in Gordon, JJ, and June-bug. Oh yeah, and Mears is no slacker.

Rookie of the Year: Regan Smith. This year's candidates could be called the "open wheel crew" with Carpentier, Franchitti, and Villeneuve all coming over to stock car racing. Driving the #01 for DEI Regan will improve on his decent showing from last year. He's got a weak field of competition for ROY, so i think we'll see a slightly lower finish for ROY in 2008, but Smith should take it relatively easily.

And last but not least:

Dale Jr's Performance. I'm not going to go as wild as DW, who predicted June-bug will win the 500 and about 5 more races. I think little E's going to have a greatly improved year. He will break his losing streak, and win a few races. I would imagine about 2 or 3 races in total. But the biggest improvement will be consistent equipment that allows him to finish in the top 5 in the championship standings. But best of all, he's going to be having fun again. We are going to see the Jr from 2004, and not the bummed out fellow from 2005 - 2007.

So, that's what I anticipate for 2008 NASCAR. It's going to be a wild ride, so as DW says, "reach up there, tighten those belts one more time, and . . . . BOOGITY BOOGITY BOOGITY, LET'S GO RACING!!!!!!"

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