Looking back on the first half

Published 10:39 pm Friday, July 18, 2008

There is no Sprint Cup race this week, but don’t fret. Beginning next week at Indianapolis, there are 17 consecutive weekends of racing leading up to the finale at Homestead where the 2009 Sprint Cup champion will be crowned.

The first 19 races of this season have flown by in the snap of a finger and it’s hard to believe that only seven races remain before the chase field of 12 drivers is set at Richmond.

So far this season, there have been no major surprises on the competition side of the sport. The teams currently occupying the top 12 in the standings are the usual suspects. The success, no domination, of Kyle Busch would have to be the biggest story in terms of on-track performance. The solid performance of David Ragan in his sophomore season has also been nice to see.

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I would say the biggest disappointments or underachievement would be the entire Ganassi operation and, save the Daytona 500 win by Ryan Newman, the three Penske teams. There will be major changes to both those teams late in the year and into the off-season. Both will most likely lose their most productive drivers respectively, Ryan Newman for sure and Juan Montoya most likely.

It appears that the drivers currently in the first six spots in the standings are comfortable with their chances of making the chase. From 7th through 12th, all bets are off. Only 133 points separate Greg Biffle in seventh place and David Ragan in 15th. One bad finish will cause major movement among those drivers. Denny Hamlin discovered that after the race in Chicago last week, dropping five spots in the standings, from 7th to 12th, after a 40th place finish.

Outside the current top-12 Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, and David Ragan have the best spot at breaking into the chase field. Without the 150-point penalty two weeks ago, Martin Truex would be only 83 points from 12th, but as it is sits in 17th place 233 points out. That major malfunction and points penalty sealed the deal for Truex to seek other rides next season.

Speaking of new rides next season, an official announcement came this week that Ryan Newman would leave Penske at the conclusion of the season. It is widely thought that Newman will join fellow Indiana-native Tony Stewart at the newly formed Stewart Haas Racing. Look for that announcement next week at Indy.

In fact, it has been reported that Stewart might choose to expand to a three car team next season with Truex being that third driver. This deal could very well be a combo with Bass Pro Shops making the move with Truex. Stewart already has business dealings with Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops and with Newman’s reputation as an avid outdoorsman, the relationship between Bass Pro Shops and Stewart Haas Racing makes a lot of sense.

Even though the season is already half over, there is still much to be decided on and off the track. Should be exciting to watch over the next 17 weeks.