New drivers disappoint
Franklin County Times
After eight races this season, it seems the influx of open wheel drivers into the world of NASCAR isn't going completely as planned.
Of the six drivers with recent open wheel experience, Juan Pablo Montoya sits highest in the points standings at 17th, even though he has not posted a Top 10 finish in 2008.
The other five drivers' performances can be labeled as nothing but disappointing. Sam Hornish, Dario Franchitti and Jacques Villenueve have each won the Indy 500, including the last two, but none are higher than 33rd in the points standings. In fact, Villenueve did not make the field for the Daytona 500 and has not attempted a race with Bill Davis Racing since.
But Villenueve is not the only open wheel newcomer to lose his ride. AJ Allmendinger was replaced in the Red Bull No. 84 Toyota by veteran Cup and Truck Series driver Mike Skinner at Atlanta after failing to make a race in the young season. At the time, the team said if Skinner could get the car competitive again and hopefully crack the Top 35 in points, then AJ would return to the seat.
I don't see that happening. Skinner has qualified that car on time each week since the change. Even though he is averaging only a 30th place finish, Skinner is getting the car in the show and that is huge.
As for Franchitti and Hornish, rumors were put to rest this week that neither will compete in the 2008 Indy 500. The rumors surfaced in relation to Hornish after Penske South hired former Ganassi driver David Stremme as a test driver.
With that being said, much can change quickly and I wouldn't be shocked to see one if not both of these guys competing at Indy on the Sunday before Memorial Day. I also wouldn't be shocked to see one, if not both of these guys, return to open wheel racing before the NASCAR season ends.
It's been a tough season for open wheel drivers but look for one to win the Nationwide this weekend. NASCAR travels to Mexico City for the fourth time this week to the 2.51-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course. Montoya won his first stock car race last year at this race, and I think he wins it again.
In fact, Montoya's only two victories in NASCAR have been on road tracks, which is not surprising given his past. He also won at Sonoma later in the year. Remember last year when he punted fellow road course ringer and teammate Scott Pruett to win the Nationwide race? Maybe we can see some of that some excitement this week in what is usually a mundane road course.
Because of traveling to Mexico, the Cup guys are off next week, but return in a big way next week at Talladega.
Jason Cannon is the publisher of The Franklin County Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (256) 332-1881, ext. 11.