NASCAR’s Own Version of March Madness

“In the next week we’ll hear lots of talk about bubble teams, making the cut and “do or die”. Most of the talk will center around the beloved NCAA tourney, but NASCAR has its own version of March Madness, although no one will bet any money or try to follow NASCAR’s version from work.

Hanging On (for now)

  • John Andretti Thanks to some leftover owner points from the DEI-Ganassi merger, Andretti has qualified for the first four races. He has one top 20 finish and hasn’t fared worse than 31st so far. If Andretti can last one more race and avoid trouble it would be a surprising story for the early season.
  • Sam Hornish Jr I have heard several times that this is a make or break year for Hornish in NASCAR. That’s just ridiculous. The man has one full season in a stock car and has a pretty impressive resume in open wheel racing, plenty of lesser drivers have lasted longer in stock cars.
  • Ryan Newman Newman has had a few rough races with about every kind of problem: mechanical failures, tires, wings falling off. So he might slip out of the top 35? He may have to qualify for a race on time!
  • Joey Logano While some are relishing in his struggles, let’s remember he’s 19. Not everyone-even Mark Martin-endorsed phenoms-should be compared to Kyle Busch. And remember that Logano lost basically all the winter track time that rookies normally use to acclimate to a new team.
  • David Gilliland It feels like a long time ago when Gilliland came out of nowhere to win a Busch race and almost instantly land a ride with Yates Racing. Now he’s back with another unknown team (sports car team TRG) and if he can attract sponsorship, might wind up in the top 35 despite missing Daytona.
  • Mark Martin In recent years Martin has shown a softer, more optimisitic side. That was before Martin returned to fulltime racing in 2009. Any therapeutic breakthrough was lost after two engine failures, a wreck from a flat tire and a 35th place in owners’ points. And Martin gets to go to Bristol, a track he loves so much that he skipped all four races in the last two years.
  • Ready to Pounce (or at least willing to crawl past others’ misfortune)

  • Aric Almirola It’s hardly surprising that Almirola has struggled so far this season. The good news is that he has run very well at Bristol with 8th and 13th place finishes. His 2009 prospects don’t bear much hope, but if he finds a way into the top 35, the team keeps paying the bills, then who knows? Almirola certainly deserves the chance to show what he can do.
  • Scott Speed Until he makes the top 35 I’m going to call him “Lacks”. I wonder if Red Bull notices where AJ Allmendinger sits in the standings (20th). Lacks has avoided major trouble to this point but he’s never raced at Bristol before.
  • Paul Menard Not only is Gilliland in the top 35, both Yates cars are on the outside. Menard has been in this spot before in 2006. He didn’t return to the 35 until August when DEI acquired owners points to secure his safety.
  • Travis Kvapil Kvapil spent several weeks in the top 20 in points last year and wildly overachieved. This year has been disaster so far. At least Paul Menard is squandering the owners points Kvapil’s team gifted him.