To finish what I started, here are more thoughts about some of the competitors and teams as the beginning of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Daytona looms.
Jeff Gordon: Well, those “Wonderboy” days are long gone and I think that when it comes to another championship, the fifth of his career, more than a few folks have suggested it won’t happen.
Gordon hasn’t been the dynamo he once was – he won 33 races in three years when he was a kid, but only four in the last four seasons – let’s not forget he’s made the Chase and finished among the top 10 in points in every year but one since the “playoff” began in 2004.
For five of the last six years he’s been overshadowed by teammate Jimmie Johnson. But then, so has everybody else.
To me, there’s no doubt Gordon can win another championship. His skills haven’t eroded and let’s remind ourselves that he still drives for Hendrick Motorsports, which has long since proven its title-winning savvy.
But I personally believe – note I said personally – that Gordon, who will be 40 years old in August, might have adjusted his priorities.
He’s now the father of two children and I believe that any man who becomes a dad and wants to be fully dedicated to the care, health and welfare of his children often looks at his career differently.
He sometimes reaches the conclusion that, however and whenever possible, family must come first.
Which certainly does not mean Gordon won’t try his best in every race. But it does mean that he won’t make the kind of sacrifices he once did to achieve his goals.
It’s just no longer that important. Besides, Gordon has already carved his name into NASCAR lore and on the list for certain Hall of Fame membership.
Frankly, if he’s still racing at, say, age 45 I would be very, very surprised.
Denny Hamlin: He beat himself up pretty good throughout 2011 after losing the 2010 title to Johnson by 39 points after Hamlin won eight races that season, a personal best and tops among all competitors.
Last year, he won once, barely made the Chase and finished ninth in the final standings. That was quite a meltdown and Hamlin admitted he sometimes struggled emotionally.
I am no sports psychologist – word was one counseled Hamlin – but I would suggest to the Virginian that the best thing he can do is put 2011 behind him. Then compete this season with the fire of a man with something to prove.
My thinking is that Hamlin now has someone who can help him, perhaps immensely.
His new crew chief is Darian Grubb, who served as Tony Stewart’s pit boss last year but was, inexplicably to some, dismissed even though his boss won five races in the Chase and his third career title.
I can assure you Grubb was dealt an emotional blow. And I believe he’s going to be determined to perform at his best in 2012, if for no other reason than to prove his worth – and, yes, mostly to Stewart Haas Racing.
The union between Hamlin and Grubb is one that likely involves two men who have resolve and something to prove.
That’s a very powerful combination. And do not be surprised if it brings powerful results.
Richard Petty Motorsports: In many ways it is difficult to see the name of stock car racing’s once and forever “king” attached to an organization that has been beset with financial problems – and is a mere shadow of what Petty Enterprises once was.
But RPM has managed to survive and again will be part of the NASCAR landscape in 2012.
However, logic dictates that competitively, it’s not likely to do all that much. If nothing else, it can’t match the resources enjoyed by other organizations.
And, to be honest, its two drivers aren’t going to be listed as favorites to win any race.
Well, Marcos Ambrose will get due attention at any road course event since he won his first career Cup race at Watkins Glen in 2011.
Not sure Aric Almirola, the team’s new driver, will get much notice of any kind. This is nothing against him at all. Rather, it’s just that he’s had only 36 career starts with six different teams and earned only one finish among the top five.
He may well be a top competitor in the future, and but the future isn’t now, is it?
My thinking is that if Almirola takes advantage of his new opportunity and can put up a few good numbers, and Ambrose wins at least one oval track race and finds his way into the Chase, it will be a banner season for RPM.
A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne: Allmendinger, who raced with RPM in 2011, got the ride at Penske Racing. He replaced Kurt Busch.
Allmendinger is now with a proven winner and has the best opportunity he’s ever had to win his first Cup race and make the Chase.
I think he knows that. And it certainly helps that he won the 24 Hours of Daytona. No, it’s not a NASCAR race, but victory of any kind boosts a driver’s confidence and, in Allmendinger’s case, indicates that Penske may have made a very good decision.
Kahne is now with Hendrick Motorsports and he has, rightfully so, gushed about his excitement over his new opportunity.
Why would he not? He’s been without a victory for three seasons and, despite that, Hendrick thought enough of him and his ability to sign him as Mark Martin’s replacement.
What we have here are two guys who have been afforded opportunities of which they could probably only dream.
When competitors get the chance to improve their status and competitiveness – and ultimately their careers – that is exactly what they should strive to do.
Which, I think, is what Allmendinger and Kahne intend to do.
I think it will be very interesting to see how they fare this season.
Richard Childress Racing: I think it is better team, or should at least be so, than it has displayed in recent seasons.
Kevin Harvick has maintained his status as multiple race winner and championship contender. He won four times and finished third in points last year.
But that level of performance has not been maintained throughout the entire organization.
For example, few would have imagined that in 2011, Jeff Burton would sink to 20th in points with only five finishes among the top 10.
I realize that not every organization can always have all its teams win races or even make the Chase – although that’s happened.
However, I do think RCR can, and should, perform better. I’m not alone.
If nothing else, just ask Childress himself.
I’m done for now and thank you for your indulgence. Your thoughts are, as always, welcome.