Before the start of any season, everyone makes predictions, taking into account everything that’s new, in order to try and make sense of what might be to come. Though my crystal ball is usually spot on, it had a little bit of an oil leak or something that fogged up a few calls for 2009. Here are three in particular.
1. Matt Kenseth and Drew Blickensderfer
Kenseth and new chew chief Blickensderfer surprised everyone by winning their first two outings together, the Daytona 500 and the next race at Auto Club Speedway in California.
Following California, I wrote a column for my college newspaper, “Out of the Dust, A Star is Born.” It appeared as though these two had instant chemistry, something so valuable, yet so hard to find in Sprint Cup racing, that often is the X-factor between successful teams and unsuccessful teams.
“Blick” had a habit of doing big things out of the box as well. In 2008, he became Carl Edwards’ Nationwide crew chief midseason, beginning at Milwaukee. Drew and Carl met for the first time 30 minutes before the green flag dropped, and won the race.
Unfortunately, their success was not meant to be. With engine problems, they finished last in the season’s third race in Las Vegas, and never regained their composure. By the all-important fall race in Richmond, they fell out of the Chase.
But, if you look at it this way, I didn’t totally blow this call: the whole Roush-Fenway fleet had a terrible year, and Kenseth was often one of the best performing Roush cars at the track. If Roush-Fenway Racing had not fallen off the box as a whole in 2009, this point might not be in this article now.
2. Johnny Benson and Red Horse Racing
After winning the Truck Series championship with Johnny Benson in 2008, Bill Davis Racing closed their operation due to lack of sponsorship, leaving the defending champion without a ride for 2009.
Fortunately, long-time Truck Series team Red Horse Racing came to his rescue, hiring Benson, most of the Bill Davis crew, and purchased some of the Bill Davis fleet. Red Horse Racing had always been a solid team, though never a great team. Now that they essentially had all the pieces of Benson’s championship team, it appeared RHR would become a powerhouse.
Not so. After just a few races, still lacking a sponsor, RHR released Benson, replacing him with Timothy Peters, who had a sponsor in Strutmasters.com. A short time afterwards, Benson suffered injuries in a late model race that would keep him off the track for the rest of the year.
Peters had some good runs with RHR, including a win at Martinsville, the team's first since 2005. I do think, however, with Benson’s experience and his crew, if he had been able to bring in some money, he would have run better with Red Horse Racing. But, we’ll never know.
3. A.J. Allmendinger
When A.J. Allmendinger first began in the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 with Team Red Bull, he was clearly a fish out of water. It isn’t inappropriate to say he had the worst entry into NASCAR… ever. Not knowing the terminology, he couldn’t even tell the team if the car was tight or loose.
After suffering through 2007, Team Red Bull called in veteran Mike Skinner to help him out and mentor him. In 2008, after taking the reigns back from Skinner, he began to show signs of slow improvement. He had some promising runs toward the end of 2008 season, but was suddenly released. Fortunately, he found a new home at Gillette-Evernham Motorsports, and had some career runs.
In 2009, after GEM became Richard Petty Motorsports, many, myself included, expected big things from Allmendinger. He was quickly taken under the wings of The King, and began 2009 on the cusp of the Chase. I even picked Allmendinger in my fantasy league once.
However, as 2009 went on, he would finish 15 races 25th or worse. Though Allmendinger was showing promise as a NASCAR driver and was really becoming a strong driver in a stock car, Richard Petty Motorsports proved not to have the chops to support an increase in performance. He even had to race for part of the season without a salary while RPM was mired in financial struggles.
With their switch to Ford in 2010, maybe they’ll be better. We’ll see.