Things Change

The above grade school phrase came to mind when looking over rosters for the upcoming NASCAR season. Of course, it was written in chalk and not red pen because we know it’s going to change throughout the season. “How much” is the question, not “if.”

But, for the start of the 2008 NASCAR season, we’re good to go on who’s where, driving what sponsored by who. Gee, imagine the possibility of showing up in Daytona to – and I dare say it – race?

Going into last year the big uncertainties, even before the first test session got the green at Daytona, were where Dale Jr. would be in 2008 and how would the new kid in the garage of Toyota do in racing?

Throughout the year we got our answers; some with surprises, some expected and some observers are still left stuck hard in the wall of wonderment. Well, it’s time to get the tow truck to drag your butt off the wall and get pointed in the right direction – forward. Because, like it or not, a new NASCAR season is just less than a month away.

Dale Jr. is at Hendrick and has new sponsors. Dale Earnhardt, Inc. isn’t a museum, but has four teams ready to roll. Roush-Fenway Racing has its teams in place with one year left until the maximum of four kicks in next year. Richard Childress Racing is once again racing up to their championship standards after putting all three teams in the Chase for the Championship last year.

Nobody expected Toyota to come out of the box on fire. Then again, nobody expected them to come under fire for “stuff in the engine” during Speedweeks last year in flagship driver and team owner Michael Waltrip. The open-wheel invasion of Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t bring the sport to its collective knees. Matter of fact, it showed open-wheelers like Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier they could come race NASCAR.

Your big questions this year are quite simple and without much drama.

Fans of Joe Gibbs Racing have the Hall of Fame coach back in the house. With Gibbs recently re-announcing his retirement, he can personally oversee how his teams switch from Chevrolet to Toyota will work. With three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships to their credit under the General Motors banner, this switch will be watched closely.

Not only by fans of Gibbs, but team owners in the garage, as well.

Let’s say I’m a NASCAR team owner who has been struggling with my manufacturer for the past several years. I’m watching what Toyota does with Gibbs and their second-year teams, as well. If they come out of the box and win the Daytona 500, plus three other races before the halfway point; I might be making a call to see what they can do for me.

If I’m a long established Ford team, I’m going to my Blue Oval Boys and asking why we can’t be as fast as the Toyota teams? It’s a classic case of classroom behavior in big time auto racing.

He has what I want, and I want it now. She’s going faster than me, give me better and more so I can go even faster.

Not everyone can win each race or championship; but teams want to know they at least stand a chance to be competitive.

Just look at the number of crew chiefs that have been jettisoned and/or moved to other teams this year. The crew chiefs and drivers are the changes we know about; the number of crew members who have made a change is staggering.

Today, you have to be an expert in one specific area of the car and be damn good at it every week. If not, you get replaced by the most recent whiz kid out of the institute. He might not know as much as you, but he’s going to do it for a lot, lot less and the team will teach him their bad habits, too.

There are two good things that are quite simple this time of year in NASCAR.

One, every driver walks into Daytona full of optimism believing this is his year. And two, we are – indeed – ready to begin another season of racing.

You better find your places, it’s gonna go by fast.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2008

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