NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR: Looking ahead to 2008

NASCAR: Looking ahead to 2008 By staff writer David Scott NASCAR's season ends today with the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here are some things to look for when the season starts again in February at Daytona Beach, Fla.



Off the track


Didn't you used to be?

New title sponsors mean NASCAR's top series -- the Nextel Cup and Busch Series -- will be the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. It's the third time the Cup series has been renamed since 2003, and it's happened because of a merger. Nationwide will replace Busch, which had sponsored that series for 26 years.

Hello-goodbye

Along with open-wheel drivers, Regan Smith and Aric Almirola will be solid rookie-of-the-year candidates. Ricky Rudd, who drove in a record 788 straight races from 1981 to 2005, retires after 32 seasons. Team owner Robert Yates also will retire, with son Doug taking over the racing operations in a new company. Yates Racing will operate with an association with Roush Fenway Racing.



Questions with no easy answers


Will there be more qualifying changes?

NASCAR officials have said they might look at qualifying rules, which guarantee the top 35 teams spots in each Cup field, limiting chances for teams with fewer resources to make races. Owners of those other teams are feeling left out. Cars not guaranteed spots will qualify at the beginning of sessions, series director John Darby said Saturday.

Is a new schedule coming?

The Cup's 2008 schedule looks pretty much like it has for the past several years. That might change in the not-too-distant future. Bruton Smith's recent purchase of New Hampshire International Speedway has fueled speculation he'll give his Las Vegas track a second race by moving one from either New Hampshire or Atlanta. If he does, that could cause a shuffle in the schedule.

Are we entering a Johnson dynasty?

If Jimmie Johnson does what's expected and wins his second straight championship today, he'll become the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1997-98 to win two in a row. The only driver to win three straight titles is Cale Yarborough in 1976-78.

New faces in new places

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s move for '08 to Hendrick Motorsports was one of this season's top stories. Will new surroundings (not to mention the influence of Hendrick and new teammates Johnson and Gordon) help NASCAR's most popular driver, whose last victory was 61 races ago? Kyle Busch, pushed out by Earnhardt, jumps from Hendrick to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Car of today

This season's car of tomorrow will go full time in 2008. The COT, meant to be safer and produce more competitive racing, met mixed reviews. Hendrick Motorsports dominated the COT's 16 races, with 60.9 percent of the team's cars finishing in the top 10.

Making the move

The migration of open-wheel drivers to NASCAR appears to be at full throttle. Juan Pablo Montoya and AJ Allmendinger made the jump this season and they'll be followed by Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Jacques Villeneuve and defending Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti. They'll all want to do as well as Montoya, who has a Cup victory and six top-10s.

A shot in the arm

Toyota's first Nextel Cup season has been, by all accounts, a bust (no victories, one second-place). The arrival of Gibbs -- and drivers Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin -- will almost certainly make Toyota instantly more competitive.

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