Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Four Races Into the Season: What Have We Got?

The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is only four races old, but we're already seeing some trends developing.  The fact that the 24 car, driven by four time champion Jeff Gordon, is currently leading the points is not really a surprise.  Gordon has yet to win a race since 2007, but he's driving consistently so far in 2009, and therefore reaps the rewards of that consistency by leading the points very early in the season.

Second in points is somewhat a surprise to some, but not really to me, personally.  Driving for Richard Childress' long anticipated 4th team is Clint Bowyer, who has also not won a race yet this season, but proves that even new teams can click along and score good points after only four races into the season.  Clint obviously is not new to the Childress organization, but the number and sponsor is new.

Producing very few surprises at all are the 99 car of Carl Edwards and his teammate in the 17 car, Matt Kenseth, currently 4th and 5th in points respectively.  I think everyone expected Cousin Carl to be off and running for the title in 2009, and I doubt that anyone expected Matt Kenseth to win the first two races of the year, but I think we all knew he would probably be pretty strong in 2009.  Also surprising very few is another Roush teammate, Greg Biffle in the 16 car who is currently running in 10th in points.

I suppose that if I had to list any real personal surprises thus far in 2009, it would be how well some of the Dodge cars are running.  Kurt Busch, driving the 2 car for Penske Racing, won convincingly at Atlanta this past weekend.  By virtue of his win, and by strong runs elsewhere, Kurt is currently in 3rd place in points after four races in 2009.  Another Dodge driver who so far is having a productive season is Kasey Kahne, who drives the 9 Budweiser Dodge.  Kasey currently resides in the 9th place in points.

Another Chevrolet driver whom I should have already mentioned who's doing very well, is no surprise to me.  Kevin Harvick, who drives the 29 Pennzoil Chevrolet is currently 8th in points.  Though winless in points races in 2008 and so far in 2009, Kevin did win the All Star race at Charlotte this year, and won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona in February.  Kevin and his team have put together strong performances so far in 2009, and I feel that it's just a matter of time before he takes the checkered flag in a points race.

There are, of course, some Toyota's in the top ranks four races into the season.  Kyle Busch, who won at Las Vegas, is currently in 7th place in the points.  That should suprise no one, as far as I can tell.  After the year that Kyle had in 2008, we knew he would probably come roaring into 2009 like a lion.  Michael Waltrip Racing driver David Reutimann is currently in 12th place in the points, and it appears that David, as long as Michael himself, may be enjoying a breakout year so far in Cup.  Michael is currently 16th in points.

Another Toyota driver I'm not surprised to see running well is the 83 Red Bull car driven by Brian Vickers.  Brian showed a lot of promise last year, and apparently the 83 team has carried on, giving Vickers some good equipment and allowing him to produce some very impressive finishes so far in 2009.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Brian get a win this season.

Some other surprises I've seen so far, and they might not be surprises to you, but they are to me.  Mark Martin, driving the 5 car for Rick Hendrick has had a horrible run of luck so far in his final push to win a championship.  Mark is currently 35th in points, far from where he wanted to be after four races.  Martin has been qualifying very well, so I see little reason to worry about him making races, but the on track problems that seem to be plaguing his Chevrolet have to be worrying him.

Another surprise for me is that Jimmie Johnson, driving another Hendrick car, the 48, and champion for the last 3 years, so far has not been able to produce what many consider to be quality runs so far this year.  Jimmie is currently in 13th in points, which for many of his fans must be highly annoying.

One of the happiest statistics for me to report, and of course this is just me, is that Tony Stewart, in his newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing team is currently 6th in points.  It's been hit and miss for SHR so far this year, since Tony seems to be running well, and teammate Ryan Newman has been struggling.  I'm a fan of Tony's, and hope to see him win in 2009 for his brand new team.  His first win for his own team will probably be the high point of his life, and I can't wait to see that happen.

There's other drivers I'm surprised about, and somewhat not surprised about, but I'll try to incorporate that into a column on another day.

To be honest with you, I'm not terribly surprised that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is currently 24th in points.  It's not that I don't like Dale Jr, but I kind of saw this coming, to be honest with you.  I'm formulating a column about that, and will share it with you soon.  The reasons why I'm not surprised at his current status may surprise some.  It's still very early in the season, and things can, and probably will change.  Whether they change for the better or the worse for Dale Jr., I can't predict, but I'm guessing some things will change.

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