It’s February, Time to go Racing Again!

After the dreariness of the long winter months, it’s finally time to beat the winter blues with some good old NASCAR racing. For NASCAR drivers, it’s time to get back to work. Thirty-six races means thirty-six opportunities to take a trip to victory lane.

On the other end of the spectrum, fans all across the country anxiously await the end of the off season. It’s time to get the blood pumping and the mind fixated on race stats, point standings and winless streaks.

On that note, let’s can the small talk, and check out some things to look for as the 2008 season gets underway:

For those drivers outside of the top 35 in owner points, the first five races are going to be anything but stress-free. Securing enough points so that they are automatically locked into the field each week will be a challenging task. When the cars roll into Martinsville Speedway on March 30, teams that make it in the top 35 in owner points can breathe a little easier.

As the clock ticks down until the 2008 NASCAR season officially opens at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is poised to shake up the NASCAR scene and showcase his talent with consistent top-5 and top-10 finishes. After all, Jr. won’t be shut out of victory lane this season, that’s for sure!

Junior isn’t alone in when it comes to proving his abilities in 2008. Several drivers have something to prove this year, especially those drivers whose contracts are on the verge of expiring at the end of the season. Whether it’s making strides towards better finishes or solidifying their status as top-notch drivers, guys like Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards need to step up to the plate this season. Also, with Roush Fenway Racing facing the necessity of cutting a driver from its Sprint Cup Series roster from five drivers to four by 2010, Roush needs to take a close look at which drivers are most valuable to his organization. Already stated by Roush Fenway’s team president Geoff Smith, the plan is to make a decision in 2008 on which driver to cut so the distraction doesn’t have to linger on for two more seasons. You can bet that broadcasters, media and fans alike will be keeping a close eye on these drivers throughout the year.

It’s anything but humdrum at NASCAR this season as many team cars have undergone a facelift with new sponsors adorning the hoods, deck lids & quarter panels of the cars. For starters, DEI’s # 8 Chevy will sport a new look in 2008 with Steak Ummm Company LLC and the Army sponsoring their car. Stanley Tools will sponsor the #19 car of Elliott Sadler in 2008, while AMP Energy, Mountain Deand the National Guard will provide sponsorship for Dale Earnhardt Jr #88 Chevy. Moreover, many sponsors have decided to play a game of switch-a-roo, shifting their sponsorship from one team to another. For instance, Mars U.S. brands will now serve as the primary sponsor on the #18 car for 30 races during 2008. Budweiser moved over to the # 9 car & Sate Water Heaters will sponsor the #66 car. Heading into 2008, there are close to 100 corporations on board with big-ticket sponsorships.

For many drivers, the 2008 season will also mark a fresh beginning with new teams. Jeremy Mayfield has moved from Bill Davis Racing to Haas CNC Racing, J.J. Yeley from Joe Gibbs Racing to Hall of Fame Racing and Scott Riggs made the move from Gillett Evernham Motorsports to Haas CNC Racing. After making his departure from DEI at the end of the 2007 season, Dale Jr. is now a member of the Hendrick Motorsports camp. Last but not least, we can’t forget about young gun Kyle Busch’s move from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Although David Reutimann won’t be switching teams in 2008, he will, however, be changing numbers throughout the season. He’ll begin the year in the #00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, but will replace Dale Jarrett in the #44 UPS Toyota after 5 races. Casey Mears will also be running a new number this season while remaining with the same team. The recently #5 Chevy, formerly driven by Kyle Busch, will now be driven by Casey Mears. The #28 will once again hit the track with Yates Racing as the #88 shifts over to Hendrick Motorsports.

This season NASCAR is spearheading some new changes to the All-Star race. Beginning in 2008 the race, previously known as the Challenge, will now be called the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race. Officials decided to call it what it is — a race. The race involving drivers not already qualified for the event, previously known as the Nextel Open, will now be called the Sprint Showdown. Additionally, each of the four segments will be lengthened to twenty-five laps, giving drivers the opportunity to actually race.

Aside from some of the minor changes to the All-Star Race, NASCAR has pulled out all the stops in the pits as they have announced a pit road rule change. For starters, cars may not be pushed past the flag person at the end of the pit road. Unless otherwise authorized, once the race is underway, cars may be started by hand in the pit area only. Under no circumstance is any car to be hand pushed more than three pit boxes away from their assigned pit box, into the acceleration zone or onto the race track from the pit area. Cars may not receive any assistance after the white flag has been displayed except those cars making pit stops. In addition, a team member must be in contact with the outside tire(s) until the outside tire(s) reach the inside half of the pit box before the car leaves its assigned pit box. Furthermore, any tires left in the outside half of the assigned pit box, or beyond, will result in a time or other penalty.

How will the Car of Tomorrow run now that teams don’t have to flip-flop between two cars? Well, in 2007 many of us thought that we had hit the snooze button during the COT races. Even still, I honestly have a good feeling about 2008. After the off season with all efforts predominantly placed on preparing the car for the season ahead, teams had the opportunity to get a better grasp of the new car and work out some of the unknowns.

NASCAR & NASCAR teams will continue to roll out more sponsorship changes and driver additions long after the flag waves at Daytona. Hope your seatbelts are fastened securely because this season promises to be anything but dull.

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