This is part two in the series, looking at how Cup teams fared in 2008, and where they are headed in 2009. Each post will feature two teams and we will iron out details for the upcoming season and give our own projection for what to expect in ’09.
Team Red Bull
Both of the Team Red Bull cars entered the 2008 season outside of the top 35 in points, and were forced to qualify for races on time. And after they missed a combined 32 races in 2007, the team was looking to improve on their rookie year in Cup Series competition. In the off-season, the team brought in veteran crew chief Kevin Hamlin to lead Vickers’ #83 team, while Ricky Viers returned for his second season as Allmendinger’s crew chief. The other major change came in the hiring of former MB2 and Ginn Racing executive Jay Frye as the team’s GM.
Along with the two Cup teams, Team Red Bull brought in former Formula 1 driver Scott Speed to begin his education in stock car racing. They partnered with Eddie Sharp Racing and entered Speed in a full season of ARCA RE/MAX competition.
The team’s performance improved dramatically over their 2007 campaign, with Vickers qualifying for all 36 races and even being in contention for a few wins. Allmendinger improved as well, but the #84 still missed three races. Following a crew chief change at midseason, and the rapid development of Scott Speed, Allmendinger was released following the Kansas race in September and replaced with Speed.
Heading into 2009, Brian Vickers will have his third crew chief in three seasons, as Ryan Pemberton will take over after departing Michael Waltrip Racing at season’s end. Look for this team to continue to build on their past successes and move further up the standings this season. They finished 20th in the final owners points, and will have a guaranteed starting spot heading to Daytona. While I don’t believe this team is strong enough yet to make a run at the Chase, look for them to be a top 15 team by year’s end.
The #84 team will also look different for this upcoming season. Besides rookie Scott Speed taking over for the full run, the team will switch from #84 to #82. Jimmy Elledge, who was hired midseason last year, will continue as crew chief for Scott Speed. Aiding in Speed’s first full season will be a guaranteed starting spot in the first five races of 2009. Following the final race at Homestead in which Vickers took the wheel of the #84, the team finished well enough to earn the all important 35th spot in owner’s points.
Besides running the full Cup schedule, it was announced on December 1st that Speed will also run several races in a Michael Waltrip Racing prepared Nationwide Series Toyota. And to get him even more seat time, we’ve heard recently that Speed will return to the Truck Series in 2009 and run a partial schedule there as well.
As with all rookies, look for Speed to struggle throughout 2009. The team will be back to square one with the young driver from California, and even with his moderate successes in 2008, don’t expect Speed to set the world on fire. A top 30 points run would be a victory for this team.
Joe Gibbs Racing
After switching from Chevy to Toyota in the off-season, nobody really knew what to expect from JGR’s three teams in 2008. But they proved early on that they were ready to win races and compete for the Cup right now.
The other big change for JGR for the 2008 season was the signing of Kyle Busch to take over the team’s famed #18 ride. The car would be sponsored by M&M/Mars and Interstate Batteries. Busch and crew chief Steve Addington were first to strike for Gibbs, winning the third fourth (thanks Melissa) race of the season at Atlanta and giving Toyota their first Cup win. Busch would go on to win seven more races and entered the Chase as the points leader. But the #18 team struggled in the Chase, finishing outside the top 25 four times, including one DNF. They would finish 10th in the final standings.
Both Tony Stewart’s team and Denny Hamlin’s team remained mostly unchanged for 2008. And both had seasons good enough to make the Chase, but neither were ever really contenders. They each had one win, and finished 9th and 8th in the points, respectively.
Looking towards 2009, both the #11 and #18 teams will remain about the same. Denny Hamlin will be back with FedEx and Mike Ford, and Kyle Busch will return with M&M/Mars and Steve Addington.
Denny Hamlin’s stats for 2008 were very similar to his 2007 campaign. And neither were as good as his 2006 season, when he won two races and finished 3rd in the final standings. I would expect more of the same from Denny for next year. He’ll win a few races and most likely make the Chase. But i think this team is missing that extra something that would push them over the edge and into Championship contention.
After dominating the early part of the season, Kyle Busch faded late and it cost him a shot at the title. Look for Busch and Addington to try and pace themselves a little more in 2009. Winning eight races is great, but they need to learn how to peak later in the year, and I believe these two will figure it out and be a serious contender for the 2009 Cup.
The major change coming to JGR next season will be the addition of young Joey Logano to the Cup lineup. Tony Stewart is departing for his own team, and Logano has been tabbed to take the seat in the #20 Home Depot Toyota. While I think everyone expects Logano to struggle, I believe having veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli leading his development could speed up the transition. Logano has the talent, but he needs seat time to learn what the COT needs to be fast. “Sliced Bread” will definitely tear up some equipment in his rookie season, but I think a top 25 points finish and a few flashes of brilliance are coming for the driver from Connecticut.