Sprint Cup Preview: Reutimann, Robby Gordon, Ambrose, Waltrip, Speed
I am going to preview the rest of the drivers by manufacturer. First up, the Toyota drivers. Don't worry, Scott Riggs or Joe Nemechek fans, I have a special entry for teams like yours. It is going to be called the Mom N Pops Preview.
Mom N Pop: A Sprint Cup team that has bought equipment on the cheap during the recession and plans to run the full 2009 season, with little or no financial backing and a household name driving.
Certainly an underdog, this team may or may not be a start and park effort (and seeing how they are all running Toyotas, my guess is the equipment was bought from what was Bill Davis Racing).
In case you didn't notice, and judging by the fact that certain television networks focus on just a handful of drivers, you probably didn't, Reutimann started to come on strong in the second half of the 2008 season.
He even won the pole at Homestead in November. Reutimann's first year and a half in the series was a struggle, but can you blame him for being partnered with a brand-new team and manufacturer? Being an inexperienced driver at this level is tough enough in itself.
Entering 2009, I truly believe Reutimann is capable of being one of the series' biggest surprises. But I do not see him backing up his 22nd-place points performance of one year ago, just based on the fact that there are several new or revamped teams that should find their way into the top 25 of the standings.
Losing Ryan Pemberton to Team Red Bull hurts, but Elliott Sadler's former crew chief, Rodney Childers, should step in and do an adequate job. Don't be surprised if David shocks the world and wins a race this year.
Robby has now successfully pulled off the manufacturer Texas hat trick, switching to Toyota for the new campaign after being with Chevy in 2005-06, Ford in 2007, and Dodge last year.
Unless he plans on spearheading Honda's entry into the Sprint Cup Series during the worst recession in several generations, there is nowhere else to turn if this doesn't work out. But given the horsepower advantages Toyota enjoyed last year, how can RG not be pleased?
It seems as if the sponsorship on the No. 7 car decreases each year, but Gordon keeps plugging along as a small, single-car, owner/driver operation. With it looking like there are going to be just 35-37 guaranteed competitive teams each weekend, this should increase this team's chances of putting on some solid performances.
As long as Robby doesn't get overzealous behind the wheel, he is one of the best drivers in the business. Don't be surprised if this team sneaks into the top 25 in points by the end of the season.
Hometown: Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
No. 47 Little Debbie/Clorox/Kingsford/Bush’s Baked Beans Toyota
Crew Chief: Frank Kerr
Owner: Tad Geschickter/Brad Daugherty
Kangaroo Meat, as Kevin Harvick once called Ambrose in a commercial, has quickly gained a solid following amongst fans from both Down Under and here in the States.
Having Marcos Ambrose in the Sprint Cup Series for the 2009 season is a huge positive, as it should draw even more international fans to the sport.
A lot of people questioned his ability when he first entered the Truck Series a few years ago, but Marcos has proven to be one of the best racers in the world, especially on the road courses.
Like any rookie (Marcos will not be eligible for ROTY for running more than seven races in 2008), he faces an uphill climb. This is a new, more competitive series, with a car that is a completely different animal than the Nationwide machine.
The No. 47 will struggle on ovals, but I fully expect them to contend at both Sonoma and the Glen. On the bright side, Ambrose will still be paired with the JTG Racing team, although their flagship Cup effort will be fielded out of the MWR shop.
A few weeks back, Mikey dropped a hint that 2009 may be his last season in Sprint Cup, after a quarter decade of calling the series home.
I don't know if he is calling a bluff, tired of dealing with the multiple responsibilities that come with being an owner/driver, or realizes that NAPA is going to bail on him if he continues to run 30th each week, but it will be interesting to see if this story develops any further as the season unfolds.
The second year of Michael Waltrip Racing was much better than the first, even if Waltrip did finish 29th in points. The No. 55 team qualified for every race after missing 22 of 36 in '07, and solidified themselves in the top 35 entering the new year.
Mikey has assembled a ton of talented people around him, including Steve Hallam, Cal Wells, and Bootie Barker, and while he may not be the best driver in the world, that should allow him to finish in around the same spot in points this year.
Just a few short years ago, the aptly named Scott Speed was supposed to be the young man that drummed up the dying interest of Formula One in the United States. But here we are in 2009, and Speed is ready to burst on the scene in Sprint Cup competition.
After failing in F1, the young Californian went to Dietrich Mateschitz and asked to keep him a part of Team Red Bull, only this time working his way up the stock car ladder.
For a driver trained in the open wheel ranks, the ascension he has made in two short years through ARCA and Trucks to Cup is amazing, and suggests a bright future in this sport.
Speed's first four races in Sprint Cup competition could be summed up by saying it looked like a monkey doing a football (using the PG version here). He ran even worse than Allmendinger did as a rookie.
But at Homestead, Speed started second and finished 16th, showing just how quick of a learner he is. 2009 will be a year of growing pains and ups and downs, but this fruity, slightly wacky young man deserves your attention.
Don't forget to catch him running some Nationwide events for Michael Waltrip either. I wouldn't be surprised if he won a race in that series in 2009.
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