Gillett Evernham Motorsports came into the 2008 season looking to rebound from a dismal 2007 campaign that consisted of mediocre finishes, no wins and with none of their drivers threatening to make the Chase. The team, although winless through the first five events of '08, have been consistent on both ends of the start-finish line. Their marquee driver, Kasey Kahne, is off to a great start, while teammate Elliott Sadler is about where he was at this point in 2007. The team's third car has shown nearly no improvements from '07 despite a driver change that replaced Scott Riggs with Patrick Carpentier. The team has also integrated a fourth team, of sorts, providing technical and research development assistance to Robby Gordon Motorsports.
Kahne, and the No. 9 Budweiser team, have begun the season on a tear. Through the first five events they have accumulated four top-10s and sit sixth in the Cup points standings. At this point in 2007, the team had one top-10, two DNFs and was a disappointing 34th in driver's points. Much of this season's turnaround has been their ability to recover from early race problems. In three of the five races this year they have come from a lap down to post top-10 finishes. The most impressive instance of this is at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Kahne went a lap down early but was able to fight his way back by race end to become one of the fastest cars on the lead lap. The most telling stats for Kahne are in his average finishes; at this point in '07, Kahne had an average finish of 17.4, while this season he has improved his average to 10.1.
Owners with Kahne on their roster should be very happy at this point. Kahne will most certainly continue to produce as the teams head to some of his better tracks in the coming weeks. It is likely that his team will continue to step it up each week to keep Kahne in position to win, while also maintaining their position in points to make the Chase. The simple fact is you can't win if you're not in position to win, and if Kahne continues to run in the top 10, the wins should come.
Sadler's 2008 season nearly mirrors his efforts at this point in '07. He started out strong this year with a sixth-place finish at Daytona, but his finishes since have been erratic, at best - 24th (Auto Club 500), 12th (UAW-Dodge 400), 43rd (Kobalt Tools 500) and 19th (Bristol). Sadler's average finish at this point last season was 17.6, while sitting 13th in driver's points. This season he has an average finish of 21.0 and sits 20th in the Cup standings. His results the past two seasons have been uncharacteristic. Sadler is a proven driver (three career wins and two chase appearances) with a proven team (the No. 19 car), but together they have been unable to be competitive on a weekly basis.
Owners with Sadler on their roster have to wonder which driver will show up each week; the racer (sixth at Daytona International Speedway, 12th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) or the wheel holder (24th at Auto Club Speedway, 43rd at Atlanta Motor Speedway)? When his car is performing well his results show it, but when his car is not performing well, he isn't able to turn it around over the course of the race the way Kahne has been able too.
Owners thinking of benching or trading Sadler should consider this. Over the course of the next five events Sadler has a combined 80 career starts, with 13 top-10s, 11 DNFs and only one win (Texas Motor Speedway). These results are with three different teams: Wood Brothers Racing, Yates Racing and Gillett Evernham. The problem is not in the equipment these are just not great tracks for Sadler - his results prove that. Fantasy owners may elect to bench Sadler in the coming weeks if they have the roster depth.
The Canadian-born open wheel star's first season in NASCAR'S top series has been difficult. In the first five events of 2008, he failed to qualify for three. In the two he did compete in, he came away with 35th- and 40th-place finishes; he currently sits 46th in driver's points. At this same point last year the No. 10 team - with Riggs driving - was mired in 36th place in driver's points. The case can be made that the team's troubles are most likely in the equipment and not so much the driver. Little doubt Carpentier's talent or commitment to become a star in NASCAR, but he needs valuable seat time to improve. The only way he will get that time is to make races, which makes qualifying his No. 1 priority.
Owners with Carpentier on their rosters are either using him as a bench filler or waiting for the road course events where he should shine. With his status as a go-or-go-homer, the team is unable to work on race setup each week, which puts them at a disadvantage if they do make an event. The fact that he has zero experience at any of the upcoming facilities should help to keep him at bench warmer status in the upcoming weeks.
Gillett Evernham has indeed improved over last season as they continue to work to regain their prominence of 2005 and '06. The team amassed only 11 top-10s in all of 2007 and after the first five events of '08 have accumulated five top-10s. They also have improved on their reliability over last season with only one DNF this year compared to four at this point last season. Kahne should almost certainly break into the winners circle soon, and if Sadler can regain some of the consistency that defined him as a driver for Robert Yates Racing, he, too, could find similar success. The No. 10 team led by Carpentier can only improve, giving the Gillett Evernham team of drivers a solid outlook as the season continues.
About Fred Moore
Moore has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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