View From the Couch: 2008 Sprint Cup Review

Last week I asked people what they thought of the 2008 season. The results were mixed, but overall people felt disappointed with the season. There were certainly highlights during the season like a thrilling Daytona 500, both Bristol races My suspicion is that the CoT played a big part in these feelings. Without a competitive car, a handful of teams figured out a comfortable setup and then ran away with races. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson combined to win 24 of 36 races. They won 66% of the races and no other driver won more than two (Jeff Burton and Kasey Kahne). Even last year when Hendrick Motorsports dominated the season, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson only combined for 16 wins. Even including the next top two drivers, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, who each won three races, that’s still only 22 of 36 races. Will 2009 allow other teams to catch up or will the elite teams continue to remain at the front of the pack?

Other 2008 Notes and Loose Ends

  • After a string of talented rookie classes, there was bound to be a letdown eventually. Without further seasons for evidence, it’s safe to say that 2008 is one of the weakest rookie classes in a long time. DEI’s Regan Smith won Rookie of the Year despite zero wins, top 5’s or top 10’s. The last rookie with fewer than three top 10’s was 1990 when the late Rob Moroso won with one top ten. Even accounting for Smith’s controversial 18th place finish at Talladega, it was still a miserable season for rookies. Rod Roddy, tell Regan what he’s won: A place in the unemployment line! Come on down!

  • In a week of indulgence, allow me to review a few of my preseason predictions: Jeff Gordon would struggle-check. Regan Smith, ROY-check. Toyota won more than six races-check. Kyle Busch will be Gibbs’ best driver-check. A fulltime team will shutter their doors-check (sadly). Sonoma and Watkins Glen will be the most exciting races of the year-not so much. Keep in mind I also predicted that Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr would make the Chase and neither came close.

  • On the back of his win at Homestead Carl Edwards passed Jimmie Johnson to score the highest total driver rating for 2008. Edwards had the most wins (9), top 5’s (19), top 10’s (27), driver rating (108.6) average finish (9.5) and most laps in the top 15 (78.6%). For his part Johnson was third in wins (7), third in top 5’s (15), second in top 10’s (22), second in driver rating (107.3), first in poles (6), laps led (1959) and first in championship trophies (1). To put it in stick and ball terms, Edwards won the MVP but Johnson went home with the ring. People can complain that Johnson’s year was worse, but the same thing happens in the NFL almost every year.

  • Mark Martin scored 4 top 5’s and 11 top 10’s in only 24 weekends of work. He’s returning fulltime in 2009, but what would have happened if he had race the whole schedule in 2008? Based on his averages, Martin would have scored 6 top 5’s and 16 top 10’s for a full season. His 13.3 average finish would have been worth roughly 4450 points which would have been right ahead of David Ragan for 13th place. Even crazier, Martin’s numbers would have put him on pace to be in tenth place after Richmond and made the Chase. Obviously that’s making quite a few assumptions (like DEI putting together 26 good races), but the fact that Martin is still good enough to make the Chase-even in mediocre equipment- is something to keep in mind for next year.