Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sizing Up Winston Cup At One-Third 2007

Twelve races have been run of a 36-race season, and we've thus had plenty to digest as the second third of the 2007 season gets underway at the Mason-Dixon 400 at Dover. There has been some good competition, a lot of controversy, and it all enters the summer months of the campaign. So a team breakdown may give us some idea of what to expect with the run to the season's playoffs:


HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS CHEVROLETS - #5, 24, 25, 48 - The sport's powerhouse, Hendrick just keeps on winning, having already won nine races between its four Chevrolets; the 600 win by Casey Mears is only the eighth time in nineteen years the #25 has won. Hendrick's roll has to cool off and fast for anyone else to have any consistent shot at wins.

ROUSH/FENWAY RACING FORDS - #6, 16, 17, 26, 99 - With a win at Fontana, Roush is the only Ford to win anything this season but with a pending disbanding of one team per NASCAR's new ownership limits, things have begun cracking, notably with Greg Biffle's #16 effort between a change of crew chiefs and some rather dismal performances. The surprise of this group has been Jamie McMurray, who has rallied from last year's dismal showing to contend for a playoff spot, while the bust so far as been David Ragan, uncompetitive almost everywhere.

JOE GIBBS RACING CHEVROLETS - #11, 18, 20 - They've done everything except win, so one can expect them to break out of that skid soon. Tony Stewart's frustration, though, has been building and one should keep an eye out here. The surprise here has been J.J. Yeley, who has struggled for much of his time with this team but has begun to show some more consistency and was boosted by his stellar run at Charlotte.

RCR ENTERPRISES CHEVROLETS - #29, 31, 07 - The only other organization to have won this year, RCR has all three of its cars in the playoff roster, but has yet to show the same muscle it showed in 2006. Kevin Harvick in particular has been a disappointment after his stellar triumph at Daytona.

ROBERT GINN RACING CHEVROLETS - #01, 13, 14 - The surprise of this season, Ginn Racing has infused the former Reed Morton-Nelson Bowers outfit with new money, engineering, and strength. It first showed in Mark Martin's victory bid at Daytona and that #01 remains solidly in the top ten in owner points, pretty much a top-ten runner whenever Martin drives it in his part-time schedule of this season. However, this success hasn't translated well for Joe Nemechek or Sterling Marlin, who've shown only bursts of muscle and look increasingly tired as far as their racing goes.

PENSKE RACING SOUTH DODGES - #2, 12 - Here is something a little hard to believe right now - with twelve races run Ryan Newman has four top-tens - given how poorly he's run it's astonishing he has that many. Newman simply has fallen off the racing map since 2003 and the changes in his crew that have occurred so far aren't helping. Kurt Busch has run better but has never been able to show enough consistent muscle to be a points threat - only as a race-win threat.

EARNHARDT, INC. CHEVROLETS - #1, 8, 15 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. has officially washed his hands of his step-mom's organization, which means someone is going to suffer performance-wise when Junior finally decides on a new ride. Given the comparative spottiness of this effort's performances - Junior and Martin Truex have combined for eight top-tens and are in the top-16 in points after twelve races but haven't shown enough muscle to improve that effort - one has to wonder whtether DEI can get anything going for 2008. Rookie Paul Menard has been simply an irrelevency so far.

PETTY ENTERPRISES DODGES - #43, 45 - Given how deep a performance hole this effort was in, Robbie Loomis clearly was going to need years to get it going, and right now it's clear he's gotten this effort on the right path. The #43 is of course the team's flagship and will get the focus, but the struggle of the #45 since Loomis came back was very frustrating in 2006. 2007 began with more of the same, but lately, with Kyle Petty ready to hand over the wheel to others for parts of the year, the #45 has gotten some muscle - Chad McCumbee will drive at Pocono and John Andretti gets an overdue additional shot with this organization for several July races, a fit that should work decently given how well Andretti worked with Loomis before. It's a stretch to consider any kind of Chase effort; the focus needs to be on winning some races and also eventually re-fielding the long-shuttered third car to accelerate catching back up to the big guns.

RAY EVERNHAM MOTORSPORTS DODGES - #9, 10, 19 - Here is a sick statistic - Ray Evernham Motorsports has a combined three top-ten finishes so far and has only one car - Elliott Sadler's #19 - in the top-20 in owner points. For all of his success as a team owner - 13 wins 2001-6, led by Kasey Kahne's victory binge of 2006 - Evernham's team has never really struck me as a powerhouse along the lines of other big teams in the sport, and it's obvious that whatever setup sweet spot they found in 2006 is gone with no one seemingly having any idea what to do now. One has to wonder if Kahne is a one-shot wonder, and also one must question whether Scott Riggs can get anything done.

GANASSI/SABCO DODGES - #40, 41, 42 - Maybe Juan Montoya wasn't a good idea after all. Not only has Montoya shown very little muscle despite a top-five and another top-ten, he's done a lot to alienate his fellow racers and doesn't seem to be learning anything nor contributing to the team's technology curve. David Stremme is the surprise here with two top-tens.

AIKMAN-STAUBACH CHEVROLET - #96 - Little was expected here and little has been delivered.

ROBERT YATES RACING - #38, 88 - Ricky Rudd is proving the mistake people should have seen coming, despite a terrific effort at the 600. Rudd has contributed nothing else of worth to this effort, while his young teammate David Gilliland has been even worse despite a top-five finish. Given rumblings that Yates will cash out and quit, one has to wonder if this team has anything left in the tank.

TEAM TOYOTA - Bill Davis' #22 is highest in owner points at 36th. This is how bad it's been for the Toyota fleet, but Charlotte with the superb effort of Dieter Mateschitz's #83 of Brian Vickers and the competitive run of BDR's #36 of Jeremy Mayfield was the kind of turnaround that can spark an effort. They have to make races, however, to build momentum, and that's been a struggle all year. They at least have potential to get more momentum, something not to be said about Michael Waltrip Racing, a team that fails to make races on a consistent basis, to the point that its sponsors may jump ship by July.

WOOD BROTHERS FORD - #21 - Bill Elliott gives this team champions provisionals to burn for awhile, and his encouraging effort at Charlotte may surprisingly give them even more. This, though, is about all they have left as far as any kind of competitive hope.

So as the sport enters its summer swing, a lot of teams are trying to get some kind of effort going to knock down the Hendrick juggernaut. That, though, is a tall order.


CCR said...

JPM wasn't such a good idea for Ganassi. Or anyone else on the track either.

Here are the highlights of what he has done so far....


Monkeesfan said...

Man, Montoya has been a huge bust and it isn't even halfway through the season yet.

Sam said...

You're right that JPM's performance has been entirely lackluster. But, how much of that can be attributed to the technological dominance of the elite teams? He's driving not only Dodge equipment (Dodge is having a terrible year), but is part of an organization that has struggled to keep pace in equipment innovation. I think that may play a large factor in what we've seen so far.

Now, that doesn't cover all the on-track antics and bullish-driving that we've seen from him, but it is something to consider.

Monkeesfan said...

sam, while you have a valid point, you're missing that a big part of why they hried him is because he's technology-savvy and thus can help them move up on the technology curve.

BruSimm said...

I'm curious as to why you are still calling it Winston Cup? Are you trying to make a point about something or being faithful to the past, yester-year era?

Monkeesfan said...

brusimm - yes on both counts. I'm faithful to the old school, and I'm also trying to make the point that there needs to be a generic official name for the series, and the same is true for teams and racetracks. There needs to be an official name that is not altered by changes in sponsorships. The series is called Nextel Cup but that name reflects the opportunistic Johnny-come-lately asxpect of Nextel's involvement in the sport - where were they when it wasn't considered "cool" to be involved in the sport? And Lowes Motor Speedway? What will they call it when someone else sponsors it? Use the geographical name - Charlotte Motor Speedway. Use a generic name - yes, Winston Cup is a past sponsor name, but right now I don't particularly care because right now that name is as generic as one can get.