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Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome to bizarro world: Michael Waltrip in Chase territory, Dale Jr. on top-35 bubble

I was all set to write something about how Matt Kenseth is back with a vengeance, winning the first two races of 2009 after a winless 2008. But then I saw the point standings after California, and my head spun in circles like the girl in “The Exorcist”

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other than the M. Waltrip thing, I don't notice anything too bizarro.

February 23, 2009 at 9:39 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gooooooooooo Mikey !!!!!!!!!!

February 23, 2009 at 9:48 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious as to why you doubt that Michael Waltrip will not have many more good finishes. Do you doubt his ability or his equipment? He was 4th in the point standings with 10 races left in the season the year before the chase format started. Has he lost his touch since then, is his equipment worse, or did he just have a string of good luck that year. I am having a hard time understanding what would make you think that Michael's continuous improvement is so bizzare.

February 23, 2009 at 10:45 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Nascar will find a way to keep Junior in the public eye. If they have to they will change the rules.
As for Michael Waltrip, no way he makes the chase. He can't drive his way out of a paper bag. The only worse driver is Kenny Wallace.

February 23, 2009 at 11:06 AM 
Anonymous Aven said...

If Jr. stays near the bubble, that will guarantee that they will eliminate the top 35 before he is impacted. Michael will find a way to work his way down the rankings.

February 23, 2009 at 11:19 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be a hoot if, after five races, Jr. has to qualify with the "Go, or go home" crowd???

And, what will the Jr. Nation do if Jr. misses a race?

All supposition, of course.

February 23, 2009 at 7:10 PM 

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