Welcome to bizarro world: Michael Waltrip in Chase territory, Dale Jr. on top-35 bubble
I’m aware it’s very early in the year and the standings need some time to settle before they mean anything.
But with only three races to go before the top 35 guaranteed spots are given out based on 2009 points, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is among the drivers flirting with dropping out of the top 35. After a rough Daytona and engine trouble in California, he’s down in the territory occupied by drivers like Robby Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield. Some more bad luck and the unthinkable could come true for Jr. … we could see him without a guaranteed spot and forced to qualify on time. The same goes for Ryan Newman, who has so much bad luck on the track he must be cursed.
Meanwhile, up atop the standings, there are some equally surprising stories. Michael Waltrip, who said he’ll retire if he isn’t competitive in 2009, has had two solid runs and sits 7th in points. I doubt that trend will continue, but it’s still a shocker. His teammate David Reutimann is also sitting in the top 12 after two races.
Tony Stewart, with his new owner/driver hat on, is off to a great start, sitting third in points. I don’t expect that torrid pace to continue, but it’s looking like Smoke may exceed the expectations I and others had for him this season in his new venture.
Mid-pack, there are plenty of stories to watch for also. The big shots who had rough Daytona finishes, like Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, are climbing fast and will be in the top 12 very shortly.
Bobby Labonte is doing a respectable job in the Hall of Fame/Yates Racing car, but does he have the goods to put that car into Chase contention?
Can the Richard Petty cars of A.J. Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson continue to rank unexpectedly high, ahead of expected team leader Kasey Kahne, or will natural order be restored with Kahne rising to the top before long?
Will either rookie -- Joey Logano or Scott Speed -- go on a roll this year, or will they battle each other for 35th position in every race this year? It appears the learning curve will be much harder for them than I thought.
Now is the time of year when everything is out of whack and nothing seems natural. Most of the anomalies will correct themselves in the coming weeks … but you never know when one of them might stick. Maybe this is the year Kurt Busch makes a triumphant return to competitive driving. Stranger things have happened.
Let me just say this, though. If Michael Waltrip makes the Chase this year, I don’t think my head will ever stop spinning.