Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Offseason Musings

Okay, so I never wrote a wrap-up after the season finales at Homestead last month -- sue me. Work has been hectic of late, and let's face it: what more is there to say about Jimmie Johnson winning his third straight Sprint Cup title?

That's what I thought. Moving on ...

In With the New

Jamie McMurray won't be the only driver at Roush-Fenway coming to Daytona next February with a new crew chief. The team announced on Tuesday at the Drew Blickensderfer, who helped Carl Edwards finish second in the 2008 Nationwide Series behind Clint Bowyer, will be Matt Kenseth's new crew chief in the No. 17 in 2009.

This makes Kenseth's third crew chief in the last three years. After running him whole career with Robbie Reiser calling the shots, Kenseth went 2008 with Chip Bolin on the pit box. The team struggled early and never found that consistency, and Kenseth went winless for the first time since 2001.

Though I'm generally one to not change crew chiefs (or head coaches) after just one year, it was clear Kenseth and Bolin didn't have the right mix that translated to on-track success. Edwards, Greg Biffle and even David Ragan outran Kenseth for much of the year, even though Kenseth is the only one in the Roush garage with a Cup title to his name. If Jack Roush felt something had to be done, then let's trust his judgement.

Besides, he could've done much worse than Blickensderfer. Edwards won seven of the last 19 Nationwide races with Blickensderfer calling the shots, nearly overtaking Bowyer for his second straight series title. Blickensderfer also worked with Kenseth in the Nationwide Series, guiding him to three wins before taking over for Edwards mid-season.

All in all, I think this is a good move, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Kenseth back to his competitive, consistent self in 2009. He could even see Victory Lane a few times.

Only Themselves to Blame

While I grant that what's happening to Petty Enterprises is sad, I can't help but only feel but so bad. After all, if the organization hadn't fallen as far behind as it had over the past 15 years, this pending merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports might not be happening, and 2000 Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte might not be looking for a ride.

The famed No. 43 hasn't won a race since 1999, and the No. 45 is likely a thing of the last -- leaving Kyle Petty's future up in the air. A proposed merger is said to not include Kyle, while Richard Petty -- you know, The King, he of 200 NASCAR wins and seven titles -- will be on board, though no one's sure in what capacity. Sponsorship is an issue (as it is with most teams), but the fact remains:

Petty Enterprises fell behind as Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress proceeded to take over the sport. People are resources became what defined success in the Sprint Cup Series, and the fact is, Petty fell way behind on that. Now the company's trying to play catch-up, when the nationwide economic crisis is making everything a little tighter for everyone.

I hope Petty can get things right and keep the No. 43 on the track, just as I hope that ride one day sees Victory Lane again. But while everyone looks at that organization as a victim, I see it more as an offender; that company had a chance to change with the times over the past decade, but it didn't.

Petty has no one to blame for this mess but itself.

The Cool Kid

Brad Keselowski is like that kid you knew in high school. You know, the slightly sweeby one who's all cool and respected cause he's friends with the cool kid?

Make no mistake -- I'm not calling Keselowski a dweeb. But he was named the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver last week, and for anyone who wants to know why, I simply point to his car owner:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior is so popular, fans can buy a plush doll of his black boxer, Killer. It's popularity by association; if you're friends with the cool kid, you're automaticall cool. Keselowski certainly helped himself by winning two races and finishing third in the final series standings -- the highest-finishing Nationwide-only driver -- but in the end, it comes down to the guy signing the checks.

Keselowski is also a humble guy, one who in spite of his success still realizes he's not quite ready to be a full-time Cup driver. He wants to run the full 2009 Nationwide schedule, while racing in select Cup events -- then, when Mark Martin goes to part-time work in 2010, Keselowski's transition to Cup could begin in earnest.

Joey Logano might have all the hype, but Keselowski is the man as far as the fans are concerned.