The 2008 NASCARRacing Sprint Cup season was dominated by a smallcircle of teams that have ingeniously advanced their entire programsover the past four or five years. Most NASCAR fans will agree theRoush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing,and Joe Gibbs Racing are at the zenith of the sport when it comes toon-track performance and achievements. Take a glimpse at the driverroster for each of the above mentioned teams. Roush Fenway Racingboasts a blend of talented personalities in Carl Edwards, MattKenseth, Greg Biffle, David Ragan, and Jamie McMurray. HendrickMotorsports owns perhaps the most star-studded lineup in NASCARhistory with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and MarkMartin. Richard Childress Racing possesses perhaps the mostconsistent trio of drivers with Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and ClintBowyer. He added former Hendrick Motorsports driver Casey Mears tohis driver roster for the 2009 season. Joe Gibbs Racing has theyouthful vigor of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and rookie Joey Logano,with their ages ranging from 18 to 28. Logano replaces the two-timechampion Tony Stewart. In 2006, the four teams made up eight of theten drivers in the Chase for the Championship. In 2007, theyoccupied ten of the twelve slots in the ten-race championship chase. In 2008, the entire Chase for the Championship field was drivers andteams from the ?big four?. Clearly, it is no surprise that otherteams may tremble at the thought of having to compete with thesejuggernauts. However, there are a few teams out there with driversand personnel capable of giving the big four a run for their money.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing: DaleEarnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates wereseparate entities prior to the merger in November of 2008. Rememberthe Coors Light Dodge battling the Budweiser Chevrolet in the early2000's? Now they are one operation, combining their resources withthe intention of competing at a higher level. Earnhardt GanassiRacing has their share of critics, but they have two talented driverswith solid sponsors. Martin Truex Jr qualified for the Chase for theChampionship in 2007 after winning his first race at Dover. Truex Jrquickly became a popular driver with his laidback outdoorsmendemeanor. Juan Pablo Montoya is not one of the more popular driversin the Sprint Cup garage, but no one can say that he is not talented.Montoya and Truex Jr are both capable of winning a race in 2009 withEarnhardt Ganassi Racing equipment. In fact, the organization ispractically depending on it. Aric Almirola is expected to compete inall thirty-six races in 2009 in the No. 8 car. Stewart HaasRacing: Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are significant upgradesfrom Johnny Sauter and Scott Riggs, but how will they stack upagainst the big four? Stewart Haas Racing will use engines andchassis supplied by Hendrick Motorsports, but they are no HendrickMotorsports, at least not yet. In due course, this team willflourish with Stewart and Newman as the drivers. Stewart is atwo-time champion and Newman is a Daytona 500 champion so they do notlack credentials. Stewart and Newman winning a race in 2009 is notthat far-fetched, especially on the restrictor plate tracks as wellas the road courses. It would come as a surprise if they are fastenough to contend at the 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks.
Richard Petty Motorsports: LikeEarnhardt Ganassi Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports is fresh off amerger and name change. Formerly Gillett Evernham Motorsports andPetty Enterprises, they are now one team with four drivers. KaseyKahne is the star, the driver that will likely produce the bestresults. Elliott Sadler is the veteran who has struggled in recentyears, but hopes to turn the corner. Reed Sorenson and A.J.Allmendinger are hungry young drivers itching to earn a trip tovictory lane. Kahne provides the only real threat to the big four. Allmendinger may emerge as a pleasant surprise if he has theopportunity to compete in the full slate of races. Penske Racing: Kurt Busch is the only driver in Penske Racing's three-team shopthat can really threaten the big four. Busch qualified for the Chasefor the Championship in 2007 after winning two races. Ryan Newmanwon thirteen races in Penske Racing equipment, but bolted after threesub par seasons. David Stremme replaces Newman, but you get thefeeling that Penske settled for his test driver. Sam Hornish Jr iscomparable to Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson when he is driving in theIndy Racing League, but his results in NASCARRacing have been downright awful. Hornish may beginto show signs of potential in 2009.
Yates Racing: Yates Racing hasmade some bold moves this off-season. After forming an alliance withHall of Fame Racing, they were able to use the Ask.com sponsorship tolure 2000 champion Bobby Labonte to their neck of the woods. Labontejoins Paul Menard and Travis Kvapil. Menard and his sponsor,Menard's, fled Dale Earnhardt Inc, joined Yates Racing, meaningthat the team has two fully sponsored cars. Travis Kvapil may notcompete in all races unless sponsorship is found. Labonte may contendon the restrictor plate tracks, and possibly the short tracks. Menard still has a lot to prove in NASCAR's highest level ofcompetition. Red Bull Racing: Red Bull Racing has a couple ofyoung drivers that will put it all on the line. Brian Vickers owns aSprint Cup victory and had shown considerable progress in his twoyears at Red Bull Racing. Scott Speed is a rookie, and it may take afew banged up race cars before he fully catches on to this NASCARRacingthing. Michael Waltrip Racing: DavidReutimann is Michael Waltrip Racing's strongest driver based on hisresult over the 2008 season. He ended the season on a high note withsolid performances at Texas and Homestead. Michael Waltrip has yetto show any signs of contending in his own equipment. Marcos Ambrosewill be a contender on the road course tracks, but he may struggle onthe ovals.
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