In the Pits
Four drivers enjoy rebirths during 2008 Cup season
The 2008 season may go down as the Year of the Turnarounds in the Sprint Cup Series. Four drivers in particular—Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and David Ragan—have left a disappointing 2007 behind them, and this season they find themselves either inside the top 12 or on the verge of entering the coveted territory. Here’s a brief look at each of their turnarounds:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt has quickly adapted to his new Hendrick Motorsports surroundings. Last season, through 14 races, Earnhardt had one top-five and five top-10s—and a 14th-place points position. In 2008, he has six top-fives, 10 top-10s—and is third in the series standings as of mid-June.
The driver-rating statistic alone tells the story of 2007 vs. 2008 for Earnhardt. Last season at this juncture, Earnhardt had a driver rating of 95.1. This season, he has a 104.8, which ranks second in the series behind Kyle Busch’s 108.8. Last season through 14 races, Earnhardt had six driver ratings above 100 (and 12 in all 36 races of 2007). This season, he already has 11.
After finishing second in the final series standings in 2005, Biffle missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in each of the last two seasons. If this year’s success continues, he’ll easily be back in the Chase. Last year through 14 races, Biffle had one top-five, three top-10s and sat 19th in the standings. This season, he has five top-fives, seven top-10s and ranks seventh in the standings.
As with Earnhardt, Biffle’s driver rating has also taken a huge jump. Last season at this time, Biffle had a driver rating of 73.0, and earned a 100-plus driver rating in only one of the first 14 races. This season, he’s at 94.7, notching driver ratings of 100-plus seven times.
After a series-high six wins in 2006, Kahne tanked in 2007. This season’s a different story, as Kahne has returned to his winning ways with victories in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Last season, Kahne scored his lone top-10 finish of the first 14 races with a seventh-place run in the Daytona 500, and was mired in 28th place after 14 races. This season, Kahne has two wins, seven top-10s and sits ninth in the series standings.
Ragan, arguably the surprise story of the season, is enjoying a tremendous second year that might result in a Chase berth. Last season, Ragan had one top-five finish the entire season. He has two already in 2008. After 14 races last season, he was in 26th place. As of mid-June, Ragan stood 13th, just seven points behind 12th-place Tony Stewart.