|The 2008 NASCAR Racing Sprint Cup season was dominated by a small circle of teams that have ingeniously advanced their entire programs over the past four or five years. Most NASCAR fans will agree the Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing are at the zenith of the sport when it comes to on-track performance and achievements. Take a glimpse at the driver roster for each of the above mentioned teams. Roush Fenway Racing boasts a blend of talented personalities in Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, David Ragan, and Jamie McMurray. Hendrick Motorsports owns perhaps the most star-studded lineup in NASCAR history with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Mark Martin. Richard Childress Racing possesses perhaps the most consistent trio of drivers with Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer. He added former Hendrick Motorsports driver Casey Mears to his driver roster for the 2009 season. Joe Gibbs Racing has the youthful vigor of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and rookie Joey Logano, with their ages ranging from 18 to 28. Logano replaces the two-time champion Tony Stewart. In 2006, the four teams made up eight of the ten drivers in the Chase for the Championship. In 2007, they occupied ten of the twelve slots in the ten-race championship chase. In 2008, the entire Chase for the Championship field was drivers and teams from the ‘big four’. Clearly, it is no surprise that other teams may tremble at the thought of having to compete with these juggernauts. However, there are a few teams out there with drivers and personnel capable of giving the big four a run for their money.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates were separate entities prior to the merger in November of 2008. Remember the Coors Light Dodge battling the Budweiser Chevrolet in the early 2000’s? Now they are one operation, combining their resources with the intention of competing at a higher level. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has their share of critics, but they have two talented drivers with solid sponsors. Martin Truex Jr qualified for the Chase for the Championship in 2007 after winning his first race at Dover. Truex Jr quickly became a popular driver with his laidback outdoorsmen demeanor. Juan Pablo Montoya is not one of the more popular drivers in the Sprint Cup garage, but no one can say that he is not talented. Montoya and Truex Jr are both capable of winning a race in 2009 with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing equipment. In fact, the organization is practically depending on it. Aric Almirola is expected to compete in all thirty-six races in 2009 in the No. 8 car. Stewart Haas Racing: Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are significant upgrades from Johnny Sauter and Scott Riggs, but how will they stack up against the big four? Stewart Haas Racing will use engines and chassis supplied by Hendrick Motorsports, but they are no Hendrick Motorsports, at least not yet. In due course, this team will flourish with Stewart and Newman as the drivers. Stewart is a two-time champion and Newman is a Daytona 500 champion so they do not lack credentials. Stewart and Newman winning a race in 2009 is not that far-fetched, especially on the restrictor plate tracks as well as the road courses. It would come as a surprise if they are fast enough to contend at the 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks.
Richard Petty Motorsports: Like Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports is fresh off a merger and name change. Formerly Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises, they are now one team with four drivers. Kasey Kahne is the star, the driver that will likely produce the best results. Elliott Sadler is the veteran who has struggled in recent years, but hopes to turn the corner. Reed Sorenson and A.J. Allmendinger are hungry young drivers itching to earn a trip to victory lane. Kahne provides the only real threat to the big four. Allmendinger may emerge as a pleasant surprise if he has the opportunity to compete in the full slate of races. Penske Racing: Kurt Busch is the only driver in Penske Racing’s three-team shop that can really threaten the big four. Busch qualified for the Chase for the Championship in 2007 after winning two races. Ryan Newman won thirteen races in Penske Racing equipment, but bolted after three sub par seasons. David Stremme replaces Newman, but you get the feeling that Penske settled for his test driver. Sam Hornish Jr is comparable to Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson when he is driving in the Indy Racing League, but his results in NASCAR Racing have been downright awful. Hornish may begin to show signs of potential in 2009.