Well, we made it through weekend one of stock car Speedweeks without anyone getting gravely injured. Both the ARCA and Sprint Cup guys in the Bud Shootout were beating and banging each other in a three-wide draft at 190 MPH this weekend.
The only difference: the Sprint Cup guys are talented enough to do it, some of the ARCA guys couldn't drive a go-kart. Seriously, what is going to take for them to stop racing at restrictor plate tracks?
Someone getting killed? Beheaded? Larry Hollenbeck ought to have his license stripped for that T-bone hit on Patrick Sheltra that forced both of them to the hospital. Here's a guy with a lot of experience, including some (scarily enough) in Nationwide, and he still comes in at high speed and T-bones a car a good five seconds after it had crashed.
Hollenbeck is like 60 years old, so maybe he just had a senior moment. I don't know.
Anyways, today we take a look at the 2009 Nationwide Series. I'll be honest: this is the most excited I've been about NASCAR's second series in a few years.
1. Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards: Wild Thing and Mr. Ed started a little rivalry at Bristol in Cup competition last year, and will be the only two Cup regulars running full-time in Nationwide. Obviously, they are the title favorites and are sure to cross paths during these second-tier races where they may be inclined to take more risks.
2. The series' first trip to Iowa: I love this track, and I have a feeling both Nationwide and Truck competitors will be feeling the same way when they make their inaugural visit to the facility this summer.
3. Returning to Montreal, but not Mexico City: Keeping the international flavor in the series should be interesting, and both races in Canada have had their share of excitement. So did the four in Mexico, but the trip was too far and too dangerous for the teams to make. Montreal is just a stone's throw over the US/Canada border.
4. Some extremely talented new blood: Both Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett have been praised for their accomplishments in lower series, and at 22, get a chance to prove themselves in good rides against the best drivers in the stock car world. They won't disappoint.
5. Cup drivers running fewer races: While the series will still have a strong Cup presence in 2009, the economy is affecting sponsorships and many Cup drivers are at least cutting the number of moonlighting appearances in Nationwide.
2009 Nationwide Series Schedule
Given the reasons listed above, the Nationwide Series deserves close attention in the upcoming year, even with ESPN botching the coverage. While the number of new sponsors is low, it appears as if the series will have roughly the same number of full-time outfits in 2009, so aside from the start and parkers at the back of the field, competition should remain strong amongst the top 25 or 30 teams.
Currently, this is planned to be the final season with the old car before the Nationwide COT debuts in 2010, although the sluggish economy and ban on testing may have a lot to say about that timetable remaining in place.
And for all of those doomsday prophets out there who hate the Cup COT, the Nationwide version does not look bad at all and actually utilizes a spoiler instead of the rear wing. Time will tell how racy the car will be.
As for the here and now, I think we are going to see a three-man title battle this season between Busch, Edwards, and Brad Keselowski. It came down to Edwards, Keselowski, and eventual champ Clint Bowyer in 2008, but Bowyer will step into a part-time role with RCR's Nationwide program and not defend his title.
Kyle Busch, who won 10 times in the series last year, should step up and take his place in the championship race. As for some darkhorses, don't look past guys like Jason Leffler or Mike Bliss. Here is a list of teams currently believed to be planning to race in 2009, followed by my top 10 predictions for the new season.
I'll go off the record and also say I like the RCR #29 team to win the owner's championship, and Michael Annett for rookie of the year.
Projected full-time teams
0 Danny O’Quinn (Johnny Davis Motorsports)
00 Tony Raines (Front Row Motorsports)
01 Mike Wallace (Daytona)/various other drivers (Johnny Davis Motorsports)
07 David Green (SK Motorsports)
09 John Wes Townley (Zaxby’s)
1 Mike Bliss (Miccosukee Resorts)
6 David Ragan/Erik Darnell (Discount Tire/Northern Tool and Equipment)
11 Scott Lagasse Jr. (America’s Incredible Pizza)
12 Justin Allgaier (Verizon)
15 Michael Annett (Pilot Travel Centers/HYPE Energy Drink)
16 Greg Biffle/Matt Kenseth/Ricky Stenhouse/Colin Braun (Citi Financial)
18 Kyle Busch (Z-Line Designs)
20 Joey Logano/Denny Hamlin/Brad Coleman (GameStop/SportClips)
22 TBA (Trail Motorsports)
23 Robert Richardson II/Ken Butler III (Mahindra Tractors/Aaron’s)
24 Eric McClure (Hefty)
26 Brian Keselowski (K Automotive Motorsports)
27 Jason Keller (Kimberly-Clark/Kleenex)
28 Kenny Wallace (US Border Patrol)
29 Jeff Burton/Clint Bowyer/Stephen Leicht (Holiday Inn)
31 Stanton Barrett Jr./TBA (Rick Ware Racing)
32 Brian Vickers/Burney Lamar (Dollar General)
33 Kevin Harvick/Ryan Newman/Cale Gale (Armour Foods/VFW/Road Loans/Jimmy John's)
38 Jason Leffler (Great Clips)
40 Scott Wimmer (at least the first three races)/TBA (Key Motorsports)
41 Derrike Cope (Rick Ware Racing)
47 Michael McDowell (ICP/Tom's Snacks)-plans to run at least the first half of the season
49 Kertus Davis (Jay Robinson Racing)
52 various drivers (Means Racing)
60 Carl Edwards (Scott’s/Save-a-Lot/Vitamin Water)
62 Brendan Gaughan (South Point Casino and Spa/US Fidelis?)
66 Steve Wallace (5-Hour Energy Drink/US Fidelis?)
81 D.J. Kennington?/others? (Randy MacDonald Motorsports)
87 Joe Nemechek (NEMCO Motorsports)-may only run part-time, depending on sponsorship
88 Brad Keselowski (GoDaddy.com/Unilever/Delphi)
89 Morgan Shepherd (Faith Motorsports)
90 MSRP Start and Park Team A (Phil Parsons/Randy Humphrey)
91 MSRP Start and Park Team B (Phil Parsons/Randy Humphrey)
99 Michael Waltrip/Scott Speed (Aaron’s/Best Western/Red Bull)-only sponsored for ~25 races
Notable part-time teams
2/21 Austin Dillon/Clint Bowyer?/Stephen Leicht? (Richard Childress Racing)
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr./Martin Truex Jr./Tony Stewart/Mark Martin (Fastenal/GoDaddy.com/Unilever)
10 David Reutimann/others? (Beringer Vineyards)
17 Matt Kenseth/others? (Ritz/CitiFinancial?)
36 Marc Davis (WHUR Radio)
56 Larry Foyt (Daytona)/others? (Mac Hill Motorsports)
59 Marcos Ambrose (JTG Daugherty Racing)
70 Mark Green (Foretravel Motorcoaches)
77 Peyton Sellers (SFP)
98 Paul Menard (Menard’s)
PROJECTED TOP 10 POINTS FINISHERS:
1. CARL EDWARDS (60): After winning the 2007 title, last year did not get off to a strong start for Cousin Carl and the 60 team. Drew Blickensderfer took over as crew chief, and Edwards was able to track down and almost overtake Clint Bowyer for the championship.
He has another new crew chief in 2009, Dan Stillman, but Carl wouldn't be running for the crown if he didn't think he could win it. This Busch-Edwards-Keselowski battle could be one for the ages.
2. KYLE BUSCH (18): Rowdy won ten times last year, but he seemed to have the win or crash trying mantra in his 30 Nationwide starts. To take home his first NASCAR national title in 2009 (in Nationwide and/or Cup), he is going to have to not take unnecessary risks that could cost a solid points day, even if it means not winning.
And we all know how much that means to Kyle. Oh, and yeah, he has to beat that Edwards guy.
3. BRAD KESELOWSKI (88): Two years ago at this time, Brad Keselowski was an unknown racing for an unsponsored, sometimes start and park team. A year ago at this time, he was starting his first full season for Junior Motorsports, and before all was said and done, he was in the thick of a championship battle. Look for that to be the case again in the new year.
4. JASON LEFFLER (38): Leffler had a down year by the 38 team's standards in 2008, finishing ninth in points and only accumulating three top fives. Jason won Toyota their first Nationwide race two years ago, and I expect to see him back near the top of the standings and in victory lane this season.
5. MICHAEL ANNETT (15): Last spring, I ranked my top 10 prospects coming up through the stock car ranks. I almost immediately regretted not including Annett on that list, because this kid has impressed me in ARCA and limited Truck starts.
Moving up to an established Germain Nationwide team should increase his stock even more.
6. MIKE BLISS (1): Bliss was strong in not one, but two cars in 2008, starting out with Armando Fitz's organization before moving to the No. 1 car. He was the first driver in some time to find sustained success in James Finch's machines, and I look for Mike to break into victory lane in 2009.
7. JOEY LOGANO (20): Sliced Bread is only running some 24 races in the Nationwide Series, but given the fact that he will be driving a Gibbs car, and Gibbs cars dominated the series in 2008, Logano should have no problem winning events and finishing in the season top 10.
8. STEVE WALLACE (66): Young Steven made some serious headway in 2008, and aside from crashing into a fence at Daytona during preseason testing, didn't really make himself look like an ass. Another year of seasoning and more pressure from dad and the fans to perform should help Wallace move up the points ladder.
9. JUSTIN ALLGAIER (12): Allgaier seems like he has been around ARCA forever (winning the title in 2008), but he is still just 22 years old. With plenty of seat time under his belt, now is a good time to make the move to Nationwide.
There will be some growing pains for a team bumping up from a part-time schedule, but Roger Penske will not be disappointed in this choice.
10. BRENDAN GAUGHAN (62): Brendan has been caught back in his original home, the Truck Series, since a pedestrian rookie year in Cup in 2004. Let's see if he can "parlay" this opportunity with former Cup teammate Rusty Wallace's two-car Nationwide team into another chance at Cup. Stremme was strong in this car last year, and I expect Brendan to be as well.