The most consistent thing about the 2008 NASCAR season was consistency itself. Let’s all pray 2009 is about as consistent as my alcoholic, Uncle’s work attendance.
2008 did have its moments. There was the brief building of Hendricks-Roush rivalry. Greg Biffle, particularly, pulled up beside teammate Carl Edwards and looked for a moment as if he might be able to make the big pass. Edwards, of course, had plenty reason to show off that toothy grin all year. In the end Jimmie Johnson, surpassing the field with what else—consistency—won. Again. Good for him, but it left me snoozing on the sofa.
2009 has the opportunity to break out of the staid grooves cut by the same, old drivers. There is Biffle. A late bloomer to Cup racing when compared to the recent spate of still-teen drivers, he has had his success, but has never been able to take it all the way. Taking advantage of his late season momentum with a strong team behind him, his maturity and patience may make 2009 his year.
The lack of patience as a virtue could be the key ingredient for Juan Pablo Montoya. He made gains in finishes beyond the road courses in 2008, in spite of all the crashes.With a stronger foundation provided by the Ganassi-Earnhardt marriage, he can be released, snarling and stomping, straight from the gate.
Then there are all the guys who are still learning to shave. Joey Logano has already become mythic in the sheer level of expectation and who is to say he won’t live up to it? David Ragan and Aric Almirola both show promise. Kyle Busch may be irritating in his ability to let a good thing go straight to hell—as well as his head—but he is another year older and cannot be counted out. Youth brings energy.
The climate of the 2009 season itself may make conditions right for surprises. Economic realities have led to mergers and other cuts, and may also lead back to the good-old grit and ingenuity on which the sport is founded. Perfect for drivers like David Reutimann, or even Mark Martin, to make their big moves.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that is not likely to change. Everyone will hope that this might be Dale Earnhardt Junior’s year. He’ll do well, causing that hope to bloom into belief. Briefly. And then everyone will come back to down to Earth.