Adrenaline Will Drive NASCAR to New Heights in 2008
The "drug scene" in NASCAR will shift into high gear during 2008.
In this case, the drug of choice will be adrenaline pumped through the veins of a select group of young drivers who will make enormous strides in slowing the Hendrick juggernaut that produced 18 victories during the2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season.
Among this group is Clint Bowyer, a former Kansas body shop worker who drives like and looks like a modified racer from the 1950s; young David Ragan, who proved you can jump from the prolific Legends Car to big-time stock car racing without going through the late model ranks; Kyle Busch, who has already proven he is one of the toughest young drivers in history; and Columbian Juan Pablo Montoya, who will continue to prove Chip Ganassi's formidable eye for talent. Also, watch for Carl Edwards, who could have an outstanding year and emerge as a superstar.
Established drivers such as current champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time titlist Jeff Gordon, along with Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, will have their hands full taking on this group of rising stars.
Bowyer, who doesn't even own a tie, is my choice to win the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. In fact, if the Hendrick teams had not had such an edge with the Car of Tomorrow, Bowyer could have won the championship this year.
However, the COT will be the only car drivers and teams have to deal with in 2008 as its "twisted sister" has been relegated to the role of boat anchor.
Brilliant as his operation is, Rick Hendrick's outfit simply tested more with the COT. Unbreakable engines and an advantage with the difficult front end on the COT, coupled with the impeccable skills of Johnson and Gordon, was all the operation needed to rack up its seventh Cup Series championship.
Despite still being second only to the NFL on America's sporting landscape, NASCAR must deal with the decline in TV ratings and a softness in ticket sales. However, no sport reacts faster and more positively to bad news; and rest assured some of the problems that led to those negative elements will be dealt with in 2008.
If he stays away from neckties and keeps a little Bondo under his fingernails, a winning Bowyer will go a long way in solving the bland-driver syndrome that is plaguing NASCAR. But so could Ragan, the 21-year-old Georgian who finished an amazing fifth in his first Daytona 500 driving for Jack Roush. Ragan could easily win a couple of races in 2008 and nothing stirs fan interest more than a new winner, particularly one as well mannered and humble as this young man.
Kyle Busch, who likes to be called "Rowdy," will not only sprout wings at Joe Gibbs Racing, but will make life miserable for anyone in the top-five because of his fearlessness. As they say in the Carolina Mountains, "He don't be a carin'."
Montoya, the Formula One veteran and Indianapolis 500 winner, is an enigma not only because he is one of the few successful foreign drivers in NASCAR, but he acted totally unlike a first-year driver during his march to the rookie-of-the-year title.
A fender-banging epic in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race with someone like Stewart, Johnson or Gordon is all Juan Pablo needs to ignite a fiery fan base. That could very well happen next year as NASCAR continues to tinker with the COT to make it more stable in the corners and thus, more raceable.
Edwards could be the much needed new star to hype TV ratings. His trademark backflip and charming good looks captivate the public, especially the ladies. With his talent behind the wheel, Edwards could win five or more races in 2008. If one of those victories comes in a marquee event like the Coca-Cola 600 and is an epic battle with a driver like Johnson or Gordon, his popularity will soar.
And what about NASCAR's pop superstar, Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He must win now that he's moved to Hendrick Motorsports, but that could prove to be tough. On the other hand, his successor with the Budweiser livery, Kasey Kahne, may do better now that the brilliant Ray Evernham has George Gillett's money and is spending more time in the race shop.
Where does Toyota fit into the 2008 fray, particularly now that it has the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing team? With Jimmy Makar's classic brilliance, the JGR team, led by Stewart and Denny Hamlin, will have some adjustments to make. However, the Gibbs outfit will put Toyota in the winner's circle a few times because of the COT and the new-found torque produced by the Toyota engine.
But as is the case during any NASCAR season, someone has to win and someone has to lose.
So watch for Bowyer to win the title with strong runs by Stewart, Johnson and the Busch brothers. Earnhardt Jr. will be in the top-10 and there are a lot of people hoping he wins a couple races for the sake of die-cast sales.
Ragan will win his first race and Montoya will triumph for the first time on an oval. Ryan Newman will also end his frustration with a win, and Johnson will find victory lane three or four times. You also know Gordon, Kenseth, Stewart and Kurt Busch won't go the entire season without seeing a checkered flag.
One driver will win at least six races and it could be Edwards, Bowyer or Johnson, who has already established himself as one of the sport's greatest drivers.
And don't forget, actress Ashley Judd will be sitting on top of a pit box watching her husband, Dario Franchitti, and his fellow open-wheel transplants Sam Hornish and Patrick Carpentier learn the black magic that is NASCAR.
Blame all this on the COT and a bunch of guys high on the greatest drug of all - adrenaline, which is not available in stores but can be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS and purchasing tickets for the May 17 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race or the May 25 Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.