What are we looking to find out as the 2009 NASCAR season approaches? What do we not have to worry about?
One whopper that we fans have been faced with for the last couple, maybe few years has been the integration of the "Car of Tomorrow", would it screw up the Daytona 500? Would it change the sport in any serious way?
Unfortunately, we likely are not, or have not, seen the "financial benefits" preached around the COT because of the economy issues hitting everything, NASCAR most definitely.
That brings me to the start of questions going into the '09 season...
1. How much (more) will the sport be effected by the hurting economy?
This is something I feel like I talk about every single week on RaceHour-and I do. Who follows NASCAR for the business aspects? I certainly do not, and it does get stale, but isn't it the only thing that plays a part in this series that we love? Fans buying merchandise for a certain driver, sponsors sticking with the sport and with teams, you know the backing.
Any fan that does not acknowledge the potential threat of a worsening economy should look to Formula One.
F1 is viewed by millions around the world, getting near Olympic-sized TV audiences, and yet they are in a huge struggle of cost-cutting, there are some events removed from the schedule, and the series lost Honda as a constructor for financial reasons.
What we're looking for in 2009?
It is probably a long list, and also one I couldn't brainstorm in one sitting anyway. I want to see if any teams go under...and in the current news-time, I am very interested in seeing how the brand new (with that new team smell) Tommy Baldwin Racing does.
Scott Riggs as driver...sponsor is who? But they're signing up for the full 36 race effort! If they can survive...which means at minimum showing up and TRYING all 36...then I feel good at the end of the year.
2. Is Stewart-Haas Racing going to succeed or be a flop?
This is probably the most interesting thing to follow with the start of a new season. Some people may not have agreed with Tony Stewart's decision to jump from the highly successful Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tony Stewart has ownership part in the team, but we have only seen Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing. Tony Stewart has been a huge success at Joe Gibbs Racing...but the guy isn't getting in a Joe Gibbs Racing car in 2009. We cannot assume he will have any success at all, just because his name makes us think of success with the one Cup team he has driven for his entire career (and I don't think many people are assuming that).
Haas' CNC Racing does not have a great history of late, they've gone through drivers, not performed well, and struggle with the top 35 rule. The big thing will obviously be if the new Stewart-Hass has some level of success, how much will there be (will it be like they're hitting an invisible wall everytime they get near the top five or ten zone) and if there is not success, how long until there is?
It would be interesting to see Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman both sink...never float actually...all season long. Not to say I'm hoping for it.
3. Who's going to be hot in 2009?
This is a very simple and predictable question that refreshes every year. We've seen it over the past few years with Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, and for most of 2008 with Kyle Busch.
Even though Kyle did not win the championship, and had a less than pleasant Chase, there is no doubt we all remember how on-fire he was in the new Gibbs Toyota for most of the season. I don't like to count Jimmie Johnson in this kind of question, because he drives with the sun in the passenger seat (anyone laughing? Nobody? Okay..).
But drivers like the Kahnes, Biffles, (Edwards?), Busches, Hamlins...you get it...have their spurts that never seem to seal the deal. But the spurts are impressive and interesting to follow in the event that it does launch them to a dominating championship.
I'm not a Dale Jr. fan, but I would really like to see him be the 'hot' driver of 2009. Not by fanbase...we get it! Everyone loves him. I mean by track performance, winning, consistent points standings.
Like he said at the end of '08, they've gotten their debut over with, there are no excuses from now on. I also don't think there's a single fan who wouldn't like to see Mark Martin pop back in, steal the year, and pop back out-and the tools are all there for Mark if he still has the fire to use them.
4. Joey Logano
I might have to erase everything from No. 3 and put this name. Right next to the interesting new Stewart-Haas deal we get to follow from the start, we get to follow Stewart's replacement, Joey Logano.
There is no question that Logano belongs in the 'Cup Family'. His winning and success in his 2008 Nationwide schedule was something fresh. It wasn't David Gilliand luck, and I think David is has a great personality for NASCAR, but he just isn't Sprint Cup ilk. Yates Racing seems to agree for 2009.
Joey Logano is the real deal, quick-Nationwide winner-means-cup ready. Logano is in the right place as well-Gibbs Racing. So will he be better than Tony Stewart? Obviously we need years to answer that fairly, but right out of the box there is no reason why we couldn't get the idea of an answer to that question.
I want Joey to win, win, win, win, win, win, win...blow everyone—us, media, NASCAR bosses—away. There is a lot of hype around him, and I got chills when we learned Gibbs Racing was cutting off his limited Cup racing towards the end of 2008.
It was like saying "This is our monster, and we're putting him back in the cave to rest...this half schedule is below him. He may become tired from this...we need him strong to kill you all next season."
5. If Robby Gordon decides he doesn't like Toyota....???
I'm going to fizzle out at five...Just imagine Robby Gordon sitting in a meeting room awkwardly with a Ford rep saying "I understand I hurt you...but I want you to take me back."
-I talk about this stuff on the show RaceHour...www.jamesmadisonshow.com