No wins or movies for these two in 2009
Before the start of every season, writers and broadcasters predict who will soar and who will flop. Those of us brave enough to make such statements look like geniuses with some calls and first-time race watchers with others. Looking back at the start of 2009, I saw stronger campaigns ahead for this group.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Prior to Earnhardt’s 2009 season of unrelenting misery and inexplicable failure, he was the strongest Hendrick Motorsports driver in early 2008. As the year wound down he dipped into a slump. It never ended. His Hendrick teammates finished 1-2-3 in the standings while the 88 underwent a crew chief change. There were intermittent flashes of competitive spirit and speed, but there is still a long way to go for Earnhardt’s car to catch the other three. This team is the former Hendrick 25 unit. Ever since Tim Richmond got out of the car it has had trouble keeping up with the rest of the fleet.
2. David Ragan. Roush’s young gun showed some improvement in 2008 and looked steady as the year concluded. My instinct told me he would be the Cup’s next first-time winner and make the Chase. My instincts were wrong. Ragan often was mired in the back of the pack. It was a down year for the Roush-Fenway teams across the board, although some veteran drivers were able to stay competitive. Ragan’s lack of seasoning may have contributed to his slower pace. On the plus side, years like this can teach a driver a lot.
3. Elliott Sadler. His drama began with nearly losing his ride last winter. The Petty/Gillett merger started a musical chair game that almost left no seat for Elliott. Some behind-the-scenes politicking and legal maneuvering brought Sadler back to the ride he temporarily lost, a saga that concluded with him saying, “I am put on notice.” This sport has a long history of drivers suddenly finding speed and talent when their jobs are at stake. At the Daytona 500 he came within seconds of a rain-delayed win as the draft moved around him in turn one and the final yellow flag waved in turn three. All signs pointed to a strong 2009. But it was not to be.
4. Martin Truex Jr. The last surviving original Dale Earnhardt Incorporated machine won a race and made the Chase in 2007. Those feats were not duplicated in 2008. The 2009 season looked like a good time for a comeback. Like Sadler, Daytona brought good fortune with a pole in the 500. Unfortunately, just like Sadler, the good times seemed to end there. DEI merged with Ganassi, and while the No. 1 car was not always terrible, the season fell short of everyone’s expectations. Truex has moved to Michael Waltrip Racing where he hopes to regain his upward career path.
5. Kevin Harvick. Richard Childress Racing had a bad year. Jeff Burton finished the highest of the four cars. Clint Bowyer was shifted to a new team. Casey Mears has steadily been a 20-30th place finisher during his career. Harvick takes the claim as RCR’s biggest disappointment. His excellence shows in his own equipment in the Nationwide and Truck Series. But his Cup results were not up to his standards. They were so far off that Harvick was noncommittal about how long he would stay with Childress. Personnel shuffled quite a bit as the season progressed in an attempt to make all the teams better. The last month of 2009 finally brought RCR some strength and something to build on for 2010.
(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)
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