Johnson dominated '07; will Dale Jr. get on track in '08?
Testing at Daytona is early next month. It's only 53 days until the Daytona 500. But before we look ahead to the 2008 NASCAR season, a quick look in the rearview mirror at '07 is in order.
Testing at Daytona is early next month. It's only 53 days until the Daytona 500.
But before we look ahead to the 2008 NASCAR season, a quick look in the rearview mirror at '07 is in order.
The domination of Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports highlighted the year. Johnson won his second consecutive Nextel Cup championship. On his way to the first repeat Cup title since teammate Jeff Gordon won in 1997-98, Johnson won 10 races. A four-race winning streak during the Chase for the Championship was beyond impressive.
Johnson's 33 career wins, starting with his first full Cup season in 2002, are by far the most in the series. Gordon is runner-up with 23.
With Gordon winning six races and Kyle Busch and Casey Mears one each, Hendrick drivers collected half of the wins in the 36-race Cup series. That is domination.
Other major developments of last season included:
* Clint Bowyer's third-place finish in the Chase. He hadn't won a Cup race until the Chase opener at New Hampshire.
* Kevin Harvick edging Mark Martin by 0.020 of a second to win the Daytona 500.
* Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne failing to win a race. Kahne's six wins were tops in '06.
* The Carl Edwards-Matt Kenseth feud. They should change Roush Racing to Rowdy Racing.
* Oddity of the year: Mark Martin opening a Chevrolet dealership in Melbourne, Ark. He has a Ford Mercury dealership 30 minutes away in his hometown of Batesville, Ark. You don't want a Chevy? Head on down the road to Batesville.
Moving on to 2008, we'll have to get used to another change in the sponsorship of NASCAR's top series. The Sprint Cup succeeds Nextel Cup. For 33 years, the series was the Winston Cup.
Also, the Busch Series becomes the Nationwide Series.
All eyes will be on Dale Earnhardt Jr., to see how he performs with the Hendrick powerhouse. Junior, who has not won a race since May 6, 2006 - a 62-race winless streak - needs to win a race or two early in the season to ease the pressure.
Junior replaces Kyle Busch at Hendrick. Busch is now with Joe Gibbs Racing, joining Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
With Junior gone, Martin Truex Jr. is the lead driver at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Last year, the New Jersey native started feeling comfortable in the role. Truex wants to put behind him a disappointing 11th-place finish in the Chase for the Championship.
The invasion of the open-wheel racers continues, with Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr., Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier joining Juan Pablo Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger in the Cup series.
We'll also be watching:
* What was called the Car of Tomorrow. The COT was phased in last season, with frequent complaints from drivers that the cars were difficult to drive. The COT will be used in all races in '08.
* Television ratings. Last season, ratings for Cup declined to a 4.2, down from 4.7 the year before. A 4.2 is still good, but if ratings drop again, NASCAR officials will be very concerned. A ratings point represents 1,128,000 households, 1 percent of the country's approximately 112.8 million TV homes. *
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