Ahh, the days are counting down. Today, we reach Day 24 of my 35-day preview leading up to the Budweiser Shootout.
Hard to believe we are two weeks away from seeing the stars of NASCAR take to the high banks of Daytona!
Today, we look at a team that has been wishy-washy this off-season.
First, they were kicking driver Aric Almirola to the curb for past champion Bobby Labonte, then they missed out on that and thought about closing the team, now, Almirola is on tap to drive full-time again.
Almirola has gotten a bad deal out of both Gibbs Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. in his short NASCAR career.
Remember the Nationwide race that he won the pole for, started, was running up front and then was taken out so Denny Hamlin could take over? Hamlin went on to win that race, giving Almirola his first “official” victory, but he still wants one of his own.
Now at the newly formed Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, he has been shoved around and told this and that.
It appears he has a ride full-time in 2009, but then again, we do have three weeks until the cars hit the track for the Daytona 500.
Here is a look (as of today, of course) at Almirola’s team:
Today’s Spotlight: No. 8
Driver: Aric Almirola
Sponsor: NONE [Yet?]
Driver 2008 Stats: Almirola only competed in 12 Cup races last year, but still managed to pocket more than $1.3 million. He had one top-10 finish and averaged a finish of 25th.
News: This is yet another team that has been in and out of the news all off-season. First, Almirola was the odd man out at the newly formed EGR, but was later told he would drive full-time in 2009.
The problem? A big fat "NONE" next to the sponsor above.
This team has struggled to keep sponsorship, and many might not be willing to shell out millions of dollars a year on an unproven driver.
Almirola now has Juan Pablo Montoya and Martin Truex Jr. to look up to as teammates. Neither have extraordinary statistics (except for Truex’s back-to-back Nationwide Championships), but both have a win at the highest level and more track time than Almirola.
My Prediction for 2009: This team will struggle mightily in 2009. Almirola has yet to prove at the Cup level he has what it takes to be competitive week in and week out (albeit, he hasn’t raced more than two races in a row).
On top of that, DEI hasn’t proven they are ready to compete with the big boys either (and let's be honest, Ganassi Racing wasn’t all that great, either.)
I see a finish of between 30th and 35th for this team in 2009.
Will this team remain in top-35: Just as I thought all the teams from here on out would be just fine in this category, I came across Almirola. While this team should have no problem staying in, they could be one that teeters near the line all season.
With the fields being expected to be less and less this season, there may only be 35 teams consistently showing up at the track.
Up Tomorrow: No. 6 David Ragan
This story also appears on my blog: Sports 101
Reminder: Only 14 days until the Budweiser Shootout!
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