Sprint Cup Preview: Almirola, Sadler, Sorenson, Hornish, Menard

John DoeCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2009

We continue the Sprint Cup preview today with a gaggle of drivers out of the American automaker camps.

The season preview will take a break until next Monday, so I can decompress tomorrow, and do a comprehensive Super Bowl preview on Friday or Saturday night, while most other people my age are out having a social life.


Age: 24
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
No. 8 TBA Chevy
Crew Chief: Doug Randolph
Owner: Teresa Earnhardt/Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates

For a while there, it was questionable if Almirola was going to get the opportunity to run his first full Cup season in 2009, an opportunity that was promised last year. But sponsorship shortcomings aside, EGR will field a third full-time entry in the new season.

Almirola ran 12 races last year, splitting this ride with Mark Martin, picking up five top 20s along the way. Four of those finishes were on tracks of a mile or less, while the fifth was at Talladega, an event that featured the stereotypical Big One.

Almirola has to be treated as a rookie, considering he will be seeing many tracks for the first time as a Sprint Cup competitor. But if his performances last year are any indication, Aric is ready to step up to the challenge and put forth some solid efforts.

You just have to wonder if the loss of Mark Martin, Tony Gibson, and the Army sponsorship from this team will doom them, or if EGR will treat them as the ugly stepsister to Truex and Montoya's well-sponsored, potentially Chase-contending, rides.



Age: 33
Hometown: Emporia, VA
No. 19 Best Buy/Stanley Tools Dodge
Crew Chief: Kevin Buskirk
Owner: George Gillett/Richard Petty/Ray Evernham

The fallout from Sadler's supposed firing will likely stick with the 19 team and Elliott all season, which could drastically affect their performance. (Not that I would know), if you are a guy and decide to break up with your girlfriend, only to take her back after she threatens to jump off a bridge if you leave, the relationship thereafter is forever changed.

It probably becomes very awkward, and I am sure Sadler is going to experience the same thing in 2009.

With that being said, Elliott needs to come out and set the world on fire early in the year. Not only does it appear as if Gillett is ready to get rid of him (even after signing a new contract last year), but if Allmendinger runs well in the 44 before sponsorship dries up, it's going to be hard to keep him out of a ride.

There are a lot of forces that will make this team's task difficult in 2009, not to mention the fact that new crew chief Kevin Buskirk, who actually worked with Sadler at Yates in the one or two years he was actually good, is inexperienced in the role.




Age: 23
Hometown: Peachtree City, GA
No. 43 Valvoline/McDonald's/US Air Force/I'm sure there's more Dodge
Crew Chief: Mike Shiplett
Owner: George Gillett/Richard Petty/Ray Evernham

When Reed came into what is now the Nationwide Series and immediately contended for the title as a 19-year-old in 2005, I think that created a lot of unrealistic expectations on the part of Chip Ganassi, the fans, and Sorenson himself.

When Ganassi moved him to Cup competition full-time the next year, and he struggled, some self-doubt may have started to creep in. The last two seasons were not any better, and with Ganassi's Cup operation in disarray, it was probably best for the two parties to go in different directions.

Sorenson ends up staying in the Dodge camp, and joining the newly named Richard Petty Motorsports, where he will carry the huge burden of the famous No. 43. He will also have to learn how to carry many hats in 2009, as the sponsor is seemingly going to be different every week.

Even though he is just 23, this counts as Reed's second chance to prove he was worth the hype in 2005. While the RPM team has combined the talents of the GEM and Petty operations to produce a stronger cohesive effort, this entire organization, and the Dodge teams in general, face a huge uphill climb in 2009. Look for Sorenson to have a great run or two, but to be nothing more than ordinary.



Age: 29
Hometown: Defiance, OH
No. 77 Mobil 1/Penske Trucking/Auto Club Dodge
Crew Chief: Travis Geisler
Owner: Roger Penske

Hornish's rookie year in the fendered vehicles seemed to get progressively worse. For a rookie, the opposite should happen. But Sam can brag about the fact that of all the open wheelers who invaded NASCAR at the start of the 2008 season, he's the only one still standing.

There is no way to go but up for the No. 77 team in 2009, and the former Indy 500 champion is certainly a capable driver. I look for marked improvements in his performance during the new year.

The two biggest things working against Sam have to be: a. the fact he finished the season out of the top 35, and b. his propensity to hit things with said fendered vehicle. With the recession taking its hold on NASCAR, the top 35 won't be an issue for this team, and they should make all of the races.

As for the wrecking problem, that is in Hornish's hands. Most second year drivers don't wreck nearly as much as they did when they were rookies, but if he tears up a bunch of stuff again, Penske may be forced to move him back to IndyCar seeing how Castroneves is probably going to jail (I know he hired Will Power just in case for that ride, but at some point, if Hornish doesn't improve in Cup it's going to be worthless to keep trying).



Age: 28
Hometown: Eau Claire, WI
No. 98 Menard’s Ford
Crew Chief: Larry Carter
Owner: Doug Yates

Paul Menard has landed at Yates Racing on the tails of daddy's deep pockets, and seeing how he has apparently ousted Travis Kvapil out of a ride (which makes me really upset), the performance better be there or a lot of people will be calling him out.

Menard was nothing more than a 25th place driver at DEI, and if you ask me, Yates is currently the Ford equivalent of GM's Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Menard will be given the tools to succeed, considering Yates' close ties with Roush-Fenway. Plus, he will be paired with one of the best crew chiefs in the garage in Larry Carter.

But is this third year driver capable of being a consistent contender in Sprint Cup competition? I don't think so.

He will be very strong at the restrictor plate races and maybe the road courses, but otherwise, Menard will make Doug Yates wish he still had Kvapil in the car, even if it meant several millions of dollars less to finance the team.


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