NASCAR's silly season hasn't even officially started since the season hasn't even ended yet, but in the world of NASCAR, unlike other more structured sports, it never really ends.
Drivers can be fired or replaced (Bobby Labonte) at a moment's notice, leaving their former teams scrambling for an even lower replacement driver than the one who failed.
Keeping in mind that its not even The Chase yet, here are three intriguing teams to keep and eye on in 2010:
1. Martin Truex Jr (above) no. 56 NAPA Michael Waltrip Racing
I see him as the Ryan Newman of 2010 in comparing him to another seemingly finished driver who revived his career with a simple change of scenery. Like Newman, he too will be switching makes and models trading Chevrolet for Toyota next year and I expect him to legitimately compete for a Chase spot next year, likely sneaking in on the back end of the Chase eerily similar to what Newman did this year.
While I'll have him pegged for at least one win, unlike Newman's goose egg (so far) this year, the fact he already stole a capable crew chief in former Kurt Busch counterpart Pat Tryson, shows an obvious upgrade from Kevin Manion, who currently holds the post.
Tryson comes from a winning tradition first at Roush (when they were good) and most recently, during his brief time with Kurt Busch. He hopes to transition that over to his new home.
Look at it this way, Truex gets a crew chief that made the Chase, and made it comfortably (7th seed). There are 43 teams any given Sunday and his was one that made the Chase. Could be worse.
Finally, he's surrounded by actual capable talent in a former driver (Waltrip) with his excellent connections around the sport, and an even better teammate in the emerging David Reutimann, whose leaps and bounds better than Juan Pablo Montoya, who Truex clearly didn't take notes from and who clearly has superior equipment.
Montoya simply managed to make the Chase by being passive and learning from the Jimmie Johnson school of racing for points over wins.
This team is clearly on the rise and a Chase spot in 2010 would be the next natural progression like the 83 team did this year. Having just two cars each week, unlike Earnhardt-Ganassi's sometimes trio stable which includes John Andretti, will allow the team to focus on just two cars and prepare them solidly each week.
A Kyle Busch season (four-eight wins) is not out of the question, but more realistically, doubling his career win total to two would be a nice start.
Also, if you think this is fun now, wait until Truex's younger brother, Ryan, whose been tearing up the Camping World East Series (three wins, six top five's in only nine starts and is leading the standings) joins the team in the future.
Projection: Chase driver, 10 seed.
2. Brad Keselowski, no. 12 Verizon (no decals) Penske Racing
Keselowski comes across to me as an arrogant punk who sometimes needs to get smacked (see Carl Edwards, Talladega, 2009). Whether its his dirty Rusty Wallace/Dale Sr/Tony Stewart-like aggressive driving style or his homeboy status with created NASCAR personality, as opposed to actual driver, Dale Jr, there are plenty of things I don't like about him. Besides the fact that he's not a Southern driver in a sport where I think this should still be the norm, at least he's not quite Jimmie Johnson repulsive.
With that said, the day he left the Hendrick juggernaut to take a chance on another up-and-coming (where did that come from?) team in the form of Penske Racing, I gained new respect for him.
Not only did he leave that dasterdly team (apparantly big brother will keep an eye on him for the future, though) but he now drives for a team and a model that simply must thrive to survive.
By Richard Petty Motorsports dodging over to Ford for next year (yes that was intentional), the move leaves Penske as the lone Dodge team to cheer for next year if you are a fan of that make. For that reason alone, Keselowski is bound to pick up fans. Learning from a former Cup champion each week in Kurt Busch can't hurt either.
Expect to see Brad as a bubble Chase driver right up until the end, only to fall short (in Clint Bowyer fashion) with maybe a win or two next year and several top 10's.
Projection: Chase bubble driver, contender all year
3. Richard Petty Motorsports (collectively)
What I began to preview this year, with this article, should only continue to improve now that Yates Racing (with their history of engine/horsepower success) finally has some real drivers driving for them. We know Kasey Kahne is a given, although I don't feel as confident about him making the Chase in consecutive years given the fact this is only his second in the Chase's six years. He's clearly the leader with A.J. as the other half and the rest as spare parts by default only.
A.J. Allmendinger is certainly still promising with seven of his last ten races being top 20 or better. I'd take him on my team.
Elliott Sadler should be fired due to lack of talent and replaced with Jaime McMurray, but when he did race in the no. 38 for Yates and Ford, he did have some of his best years-2004 Chase participant. So you never know. Its a long shot, but if Brian Vickers and Reutimann can snap long winless droughts, can Salder be far behind?
Paul Menard sucks and is an absolute waste of time and space, but since money talks, especially in this economy, Daddy continues to foot the bill for the family sponsor, Menard's. Hopefully he tires of the sport soon enough and retires to join daddy as an empty suit, silver spoon child that he is and leaves the blue collar sport to the drivers and fans who truly understand and love it.
For those angry about the loss of a once traditional power in Yates and those in the Dodge camp mentioned above, take solace in the fact that there are now two legit Ford teams instead of one and the shadow that was Yates. It could have been worse. It could have been another Toyota team as was rumored here.
Projection: Kahne Chase bubble driver, Allemindinger Chase contender (15-18 range), Sadler the toss up (either continue to tred water, or revived), Menard 30th in points.
There you have it. Three fresh storylines to watch from under-the-radar teams come 2010.
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