The just-completed 2008 season featured a number of highlights, and plenty of lowlights, as well. Here are a few of Dave's thoughts on both fronts, in an effort to kick-start a conversation for today's "Post Turkey Day" edition of Sirius Speedway...
THE BEST --
Jimmie, Part III: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus did what only one other team in the history of the sport had ever done, winning their third consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship. Incredible consistency combined with seven victories to make the #48 team the best in the business once again, and they will almost certainly be favored for a four-peat in 2009.
Carl Edwards: He combined aw-shucks humility, the kind of intensity that prompted him to wrap his hands around a fellow driver’s neck every now and again, and the raw skill necessary to compete for both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series championships. A premier wheelman who’s great with the fans and media, as well, Edwards will be a part of NASCAR’s championship picture for years to come.
Kyle Busch: Eight wins in the Sprint Cup ranks, combined with 10 Nationwide victories and three more in the Truck Series made Shrubby the fastest gun in NASCAR this season. The air went out of his balloon once the Chase began, but Busch served notice that he will be someone to reckon with in 2009, and beyond.
The COT: Pronounced “dead on arrival” and “undriveable” by some drivers and media members a year ago, NASCAR’s new racer improved dramatically in 2008. It raced well just about everywhere, despite having its implementation timetable accelerated by one full year. It also saved Michael McDowell’s life in an early April qualifying crash at Texas Motor Speedway. `Nuff said.
THE WORST --
Empty Seats on Race Day: The plunging economy took its toll on NASCAR this season, with empty seats the norm at most venues. Skyrocketing gasoline prices trimmed the number of motorhomes in the infield lots, as well, making it a gloomy season for track operators. The good news is that there were still between 60,000 and 100,000 fans at most races; numbers that make the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball pale by comparison.
Hornaday’s Media Nightmare: After a Mike Wallace/60 Minutes-style ambush interview in early September, ESPN The Magazine writer Shaun Assael set new standards in yellow journalism when he wrote that former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday had “received shipments of testosterone and human growth hormone from an anti-aging center that has been linked to drug-related scandals in the NFL and Major League Baseball.” In his zeal to portray Hornaday as a 600-horsepower version of Jose Canseco, Assael slow-played the fact that Hornaday briefly used only a mild steroid cream to treat a diagnosed case of Graves disease. After a shameless, weeklong media frenzy, Hornaday was cleared of any wrongdoing. No apology was ever issued by Assael or ESPN The Magazine.
Indy: There’s plenty of blame to be shared for the July 27 debacle at the Brickyard. Goodyear failed to adequately test the tires they planned to use in the event, NASCAR stubbornly insisted that the problem would fix itself in time, and race teams continued to “push” tires that clearly were not up to the challenge. End result? A stop-and-go race that would have tested the patience of Job, thousands of irate fans and a public relations nightmare of unprecedented proportions.
It’s not over yet, either. Just wait and see what the ticket sales look like for the 2009 edition.
Plight of the Open Wheel Rookies: Jacques Villeneuve never made it out of Daytona Beach in February.
Dario Franchitti had barely gotten his bearings when a broken leg in a Talladega Nationwide race sidelined him for more than a month. Lot long after returning, his team was shuttered due to lack of sponsorship. He’ll be back in an IndyCar in 2009, after never truly getting a fair crack at NASCAR.
Fellow Open Wheel alum Patrick Carpentier was a victim of… well, I’m not sure what he was a victim of, other than a team that was unwilling to wait for a rookie driver – a driver they chose -- to adapt to his new surroundings. Simply put, Patty C took a royal screwing this year.
The Layoffs: The excitement of Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway was muted by a series of layoffs that shook the NASCAR garage. A handful of particularly tactless teams laid off employees in the back of their haulers before the season finale, and the blood-letting continued in Charlotte the following week. In all, it is expected that 700-1,200 workers have lost their jobs in the last month, as teams tighten their belts for what will certainly be a leaner season in 2009.