2008 brought changes to NASCAR’s biggest stage. The re-naming of the series, drivers switching teams, owners switching manufacturers, and a full season of running the Car of Tomorrow were on the list of changes for ’08.
A change that might not have been on the list was the passing of a torch to the young guys who would dominate the first part of the season. The first sixteen races of the season have brought us repeated winners, winless streaks ended in victory lane and the familiar dominant names from seasons past trying to put their names back into the books.
Ryan Newman (31) snapped his 81 race losing streak by winning the 50th Daytona 500, giving Penske Racing its only win so far this season. Newman received some help during the final lap from teammate Kurt Busch who is still looking to pick up his first win of the season.
Carl Edwards (28) took back to back wins at Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Carl was docked 100 points and lost his crew chief, Bob Osborne, for six races as a result for a missing oil filler cap.
During the first four races of Osborne’s suspension Carl had to work his way back up to the top. He struggled through a forty-second finish at Atlanta, improved to a top twenty finish at Bristol, and made a top ten in Martinsville. As his success grew he was finally able to head back to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch (23) has been the driver to beat this season and is still proving he can hold onto that claim. Kyle has picked up five wins so far this season, finishing first at Atlanta, Talladega, Darlington, Dover and Infineon.
He currently holds the points lead in the Sprint Cup Series and continues his march to become the first driver to win championships in two different series in the same years.
Denny Hamlin (27) became the second driver for Joe Gibbs Racing to pick up a win this season. His Martinsville win gave the team two of the six races but at the end of sixteen the team only picked up six; none from Tony Stewart.
Jeff Burton (40) may not be as young as the guys who have won this season but he has proven that he still has some kick left. After picking up a win at Bristol he also captured the points lead after finishing third at Martinsville. He now has been holding steady at second in the points standings to Kyle Busch.
Clint Bowyer (29) found himself in the 2007 NASCAR Chase for the Championship without a win. However when the chase started he picked up his first win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
This year he proved once again he could earn his spot in the chase by winning at Richmond International Speedway, giving Richard Childress Racing their second win for the season coupled with teammate Jeff Burton’s Bristol victory.
Kasey Kahne (28) showed he could go to victory lane by winning the All-Star race after being voted into the as the “fan favorite”. But could he show everyone he go to victory lane during a points race? He not only showed everyone he could race to victory lane during the Coca-Cola 600, but he could win again at Pocono Raceway with only a week between the two points race wins.
By winning the longest race on the NASCAR schedule (Coca-Cola 600), he snapped his 53 race winless streak.
Jimmie Johnson (32) picked up the first win for Hendrick Racing after much doubt about how well they were doing with the Car of Tomorrow. Hendrick has proven they could race their way to earning poles after claiming six out of the first seven but they hadn’t been able to show they could race their way to victory lane until the win at Phoenix.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (33) picked up only the second win for Hendrick Racing during the fifteenth race of the season at Michigan International Speedway. Earnhardt snapped a 76 race winless streak and showed his new boss and his devoted fans he could indeed win.
Nine different drivers have left their mark in this season so far. Five of the drivers are under the age of 30 while eight of the drivers are under the age of 34. Twelve of the sixteen races have been won by the five youngest winners this year.
This makes me wonder if the age of the older drivers like Tony Stewart (37) and Jeff Gordon (36) is catching up to them or if the younger drivers just have more fire and energy in them every week.
Is the struggle the older drivers are having because of their age, the fiery passion for the sport they once had has started dying out or the changes that have been made in 2008? Will they continue to let the “torch” be passed around like in the Olympics or bring it back home for themselves?