First Half Rear View Mirror
July 22, 2008 | 9:36 A.M. EST
With seventeen races left on the 2008 schedule and only seven to go in the "Race to the Chase," there's a lot on the line in the coming weeks.
But before we move ahead and pick things up again this weekend in Indianapolis, let’s take a look back at the five biggest stories from the first half of 2008:
• Kyle Busch's dream season is the main headline of 2008 with the 23-year-old not only dominating the Sprint Cup Series but winning at all three of NASCAR's top divisions on a regular basis. Busch's transition to Joe Gibbs Racing has gone better than any had anticipated and the No. 18 car has returned to the former glory is enjoyed when Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte drove for JGR. Busch has won on every type of track imaginable - mid-sized, superspeedways, short tracks and road courses - and as the series gets ready to return to venues in the second half, the No. 18 will be the car to beat most every week. If not for the Chase format, this year's championship trophy could already be sent to the engraver.
• Tony Stewart's decision to leave JGR and become co-owner of the new Stewart-Haas Racing team changed the landscape of the Sprint Cup garage for 2009. Stewart will have his work cut out for him in trying to be a successful owner-driver, but with solid funding from sponsors like Office Depot and Old Spice plus support from Chevrolet as well as a partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, it may not take Smoke as long to be competitive as it did others. Stewart's move also set off a chain reaction of driver-team swaps that will most likely find Ryan Newman as his teammate in 2009.
• Hendrick Motorsports won only two of the season's first nineteen races, a far cry from the dominating year of 2008. Newcomer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been the best of the Hendrick stable, winning at Michigan and coming into this weekend second in the point standings behind Busch. Jimmie Johnson scored the other Hendrick win while Jeff Gordon had struggled and Casey Mears drove himself out of a ride, to be replaced by Mark Martin in 2009. A third straight Hendrick championship is not out of the question, but this team will need to pick things up in the second half and in the Chase to accomplish the three-peat.
• The performance of the new Sprint Cup Series car has left much-to-be-desired with many drivers extremely vocal about their displeasure in the machine's handling. NASCAR called an unprecedented driver-owner meeting during the June Michigan weekend to curb the public complaints and assure its competitors the car was still a work in progress and that whatever changes needed to improve the product would happen in time. Although that seemed to quiet down some, the parade of several more boring races has irked fans and drivers alike, especially at mid-sized tracks.
• The economy is affecting NASCAR both on the track and off. Rising prices have kept many fans away from the track with empty seats and sparse infields on display. The upside of that scenario is a rise in television ratings, which were down the past two years, as more fans opt to watch on the tube rather than deal with out of control fuel prices and other travel-related expenses. The economy is also hurting sponsorships and manufacturer support in the garage area with many teams losing lucrative deals with companies who can no longer afford multi-million dollar motorsports programs.