David Ragan | No. 6 UPS Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Analysis: Ragan barely missed the Chase in 2008; he was just outside the top 12 in points for the majority of the season. Ragan was a very consistent finisher throughout 2008 and came close to breaking through for his first career win at several tracks. Six top-fives and 14 top-10s was quite a season for the quiet driver. Throughout 2008, he was often overlooked in favor of his higher profile teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, but Ragan nearly snuck in a surprise by making the Chase. He would have been the fourth Roush driver to make the Chase. In the end, Ragan finished "best of the rest" in the 13th position in points. He has plenty to be proud of in 2008 and could turn that into another strong season in 2009, including a potential run at the Cup.
Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Analysis: Logano is probably the most talked about rookie since his predecessor in the No. 20 car, Tony Stewart. Logano won the Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway in just his third Nationwide Series start, becoming the youngest ever winner in that series while also tallying two pole positions in his first three Nationwide tries. Logano has every chance of making an immediate mark in the Sprint Cup since he is joining a championship-winning team and will have a championship-winning crew chief in Greg Zipadelli. Teammate Kyle Busch joined the team last season and took an astonishing eight wins, dominating the series for quite some time. While Logano may not be a race winner as quickly as Busch was, he will have his chances and many will be disappointed if he doesn't find victory lane at least once in 2009.
Mark Martin | No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Analysis: Martin has a new lease on life after turning in some impressive finishes on a part-time schedule in 2008 with Dale Earnhardt Inc. He returns to the Sprint Cup series full time in 2009 with the powerhouse of Hendrick Motorsports behind him. He competed in just 24 of the 36 races last season, yet he still tallied four top-fives and 11 top-10s. Martin finished 28th in the championship while driving the No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet; Aric Almirola, the other driver of the No. 8 car, scored just one top-10 in the car's other 12 starts. Martin is considered by some to be one of the best drivers never to have won a Cup championship. With the consistency he showed during 2008 in less than ideal equipment, Martin should be in store for a fantastic chance in 2009 of rewriting his career history.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Analysis: After a somewhat subdued 2008 season with Penske Racing, Newman will help Tony Stewart start Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman scored one win, two top-fives and eight top-10s in 2008. The road to making Stewart-Haas a contender should be a long haul, but the team is already on the right track by starting with the driver pairing of Stewart and Newman. Stewart helped to build the No. 20 Home Depot team into a championship winner for Joe Gibbs Racing, and the engine partnership for his new team with Hendrick Motorsports shouldn't hurt his latest cause, either. The team was generally an underperformer in 2008 - it will take a great effort from Stewart and Newman to change that.
Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Analysis: Just like Newman above, the road Stewart has ahead of him could be very challenging. He is faced with ownership, management and driving duties this year. In 2009, though, having a committed sponsor during the troubled economic times could be a very big bonus to any team competing in NASCAR Sprint Cup. Stewart successfully landed sponsors for himself and Newman, which will help earn him the funds necessary to focus on the on-track product. Stewart's driving resume is very impressive; his experience with the No. 20 car's two championships will be invaluable in this latest endeavor. It might be a lot to expect Stewart or Newman to find Victory Lane regularly in 2009, but of any new team, this one might just have the goods.
Casey Mears | No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Analysis: The next season may be Mears' last to make an impression on the Sprint Cup circuit. He was an underperformer at Hendrick Motorsports, never achieving the success of his teammates. However, Richard Childress saw some value in the driver and snapped him up to expand his operation, allowing Mears another chance. Under the right circumstances, Mears could be a contender. He won just one race in his career so far, but he should be more competitive in a team where he is driving one of the main cars; his No. 5 team at Hendrick often seemed like an afterthought to teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, which was amplified after Dale Earnhardt Jr. arrived in 2008. Look for Mears to make the best of one of the premier teams in Childress' organization. A realistic chance for making the 2009 Chase could be in the cards.
About C.J. Radune
Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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