The 2009 NASCAR season is less than a month away, and as we approach it, there are several pressing issues that one contemplates.
Here is a look at the Top 10 NASCAR questions that fans are asking:
10. Will Joey "Sliced-Bread" Logano go stale this year?
He's long been heralded as the best thing since sliced bread. Logano has more pressure on him to succeed this year than any other driver in the Series and he's only 18-years-old. He wasted no time showing off in the Nationwide Series, winning in just his third attempt.
Now, he steps into the seat of a two-time NASCAR champion, Tony Stewart, with one of the sport's most dominant drivers last year, Kyle Busch, as his teammate.
In order for critics to take it easy on Logano, he'll have to win at least one race and finish in the top 15 in points.
9. Will Tony Stewart "Smoke" the competition in his new role as owner?
This season, Stewart leaves the comfort zone of Joe Gibbs Racing (where he has spent his entire career). He attempts to do something that only one other driver in the Series is doing full-time right now—owning and driving his own car.
Smoke fans are expecting great things in his return to the bow-tie manufacture, and with Hendrick Motorsports equipment, the possibilities are endless.
Smoke needs to pull out a win to keep the critics off of his back in '09, and possibly a Chase berth, if he doesn't want people saying, "See, you should've stayed at Gibbs."
8. Will Dale Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing survive past '09?
This merger was the second in two years for Dale Earnhardt Inc. (a sign of the trying times in NASCAR). The team had seven full-time rides when it merged and now is clinging to three with the third not sponsored. Martin Truex Jr. appeared to have full sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops but recently learned they would be on board for only 23 races.
Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42 was fortunate enough to get the Target sponsorship from the (now de-funct) No. 41.
If this team is going to survive and keep one of the sport's greatest driver's name in the competition, it will need some good runs this year to land sponsorship dollars.
With Chip Ganassi giving the team an at-the-track presence, it could be a turnaround year for EGR.
7. Will Mark Martin win the championship?
Martin has been in the sport for 26 years. He has 722 career starts, 35 wins, 243 top-fives, 396 top-10 finishes (that's 55 percent of the time by the way), and an average finishing position of 14.7.
Pretty impressive numbers, but the one thing Martin lacks is a championship. He's finished as the runner-up four times and in the top-five 12 times.
After a semi-retirement following the 2006 season, Martin comes back full-swing looking for one last shot at the title with the powerful Hendrick Motorsports.
If he doesn't win the championship, sure, he'll still be remembered as a great driver, but he'll also always have that stigma that he couldn't close the deal.
6. Will we see a full-field in all 36 races?
It's no secret that times are tough across the county, and that holds true for NASCAR as well. Fans and teams have learned that their sport isn't invincible to the trying times.
During the offseason, mergers between teams closed down several cars that were full-time last year, moving others up into their places in the golden top-35. Some of those teams, however, also have folded or are not running full-time causing the list to be shuffled around.
On a positive note, NASCAR has seen 15 new teams submit paperwork for ownership and cars for approval this season, so although there may not be 43 of the same teams every weekend, maybe the part-timers will show up enough to fill the fields.
5. Will Jeff Gordon retire?
Gordon has been racing for 17 seasons, has 545 starts, 81 wins (15 percent), 247 top-fives (45 percent), 336 top-10s (62 percent) and an average finish of 13.4. He has won four championships but none since 2001.
It's long been rumored that he is ready to retire (with his wife and baby) just as soon as he gets that one for the thumb.
Gordon has struggled in three of the last four seasons, collecting no wins for the first time since his rookie season last year.
Gordon may not retire after '09 unless he gets that fifth championship.
4. Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a Cup title?
NASCAR needs Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon to do well in order to be successful. They are the two most-loved (and sometimes for Gordon, most hated) drivers in the league today. When they aren't running good, fans don't show up.
Earnhardt has a huge name to live up to. His father, the Intimidator, won seven championships prior to his death in 2001.
Earnhardt showed promise as the 2008 season kicked off, winning the Budweiser Shootout and his Duel race in his first two times hitting the track in an HMS car.
The No. 88 team started out leading in many races, or at least running up front, only to fall behind other drivers and slowly fade out of the top-10.
If Junior could win a championship in '09, it could be the turning point for NASCAR. It would probably bring in millions of dollars in new merchandise sales and maybe revive the fans who have given up. Only time will tell if Junior has what it takes to compete with teammate Jimmie Johnson.
3. Will mergers be the norm in the offseason?
It's become an everyday part of NASCAR. Two teams merge together, in hopes that they can survive another season.
This year we saw Ganassi Racing merge with DEI (the team's second merger in two years), Team Yates form a "partnership" with Hall of Fame Racing, and Richard Petty Enterprises merge with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports.
It seems that having a multi-car teams is the only way to survive in the big leagues. The problem with the mergers has been that although the teams had enough cars to field four rides, they don't have the necessary sponsorship.
With teams like Penske Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Robby Gordon Motorsports still fielding two or less cars, it looks like more mergers could take place during '09 or before the 2010 season.
2. Will NASCAR survive a tough economy?
The loss of fan attendance, viewership, and most importantly, the sponsorship dollars, has NASCAR on the edge of its seat.
The sport, at one time, was the fastest growing in the world. Viewership was skyrocketing, stands were packed, and sponsors were just eager to spend millions of dollars to display their logos on the cars.
Now, teams are struggling to find any sponsors that are willing to spend the money necessary to grace the hood for 36 races.
This year could be a staple season for NASCAR. With all the changes taken place in recent years, the sanctioning body has got to put a halt on changes.
Fans don't like changes and neither do sponsors. Sure, the top-35 rule was a good way to guarantee sponsors that they would be in the races, but what about the other 20 or so teams that can't get sponsors because they weren't guaranteed. It also hasn't proven to be the golden ticket as we've seen countless teams in the top-35 run unsponsored.
NASCAR has got to get back to its roots and bring the life-time fans back to the stands. There are several ways to do this, such as lowering ticket prices and quit altering the rules to benefit certain drivers.
This season will be a tough one for NASCAR, but it sure won't be the last.
1. Can anyone de-throne Jimmie "Three-Peat" Johnson?
Johnson appeared to be on his way to breaking his streak of championships last year. Busch and Edwards were running laps around the competition and everyone had forgotten about the (then) two-time defending champ.
When it mattered most (in the Chase), Johnson surged to the top and won his third championship in a row.
This year, he was a bit disheartened to learn that he was not the unanimous pre-season pick for the championship.
All that does is put more determination in the No. 48 team to go out and do the unthinkable—four in a row.
The no testing ban could be open or close the opportunity window for Johnson's journey towards four wins. While on one hand it prevents the Lowe's team from building an even greater advantage, it also lessons the chances for other teams to close the gap.
2009 will be a signature year in NASCAR, and it could end with Johnson winning his fourth straight championship.
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