The offseason has had its share of silliness and wackiness. It had its share of moves by both drivers and crew chiefs. We saw Kurt Busch go from Penske to a low-funded team in Phoenix Racing, we saw AJ Allmendinger leave Richard Petty Motorsports to take over the #22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge, the list goes on.
With the off-season pretty much over, its time to discuss the offseason (or “Silly Season” if you will). Who better to discuss the NASCAR offseason than SB Nation’s Motorsports Editor/guru Jeff Gluck.
Brandon Butler: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Jeff for me, and for Stock Car Spin readers. First off, as we all know, Kurt Busch was let go from his ride at Penske Racing, and he would then go sign with Phoenix Racing. What are your thoughts on Busch’s stunning move to Phoenix Racing?
Jeff Gluck: As we all know, Kurt Busch was let go from his ride at Penske Racing, and he would then go sign with Phoenix Racing. What are your thoughts on Busch’s stunning move to Phoenix Racing? At first, I thought it might be a bad move by Kurt because a poor season in a mediocre car might damage his on-track reputation (which remains stellar despite his off-track troubles).
But the more I think about it, it seems like a win-win. There really are no expectations, so if he pulls off a top-10 here and there or somehow wins a race, it’ll be a tremendous achievement and it will remind everyone what a great driver he is.
Brandon Butler: With Best Buy leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, AJ Allmendinger decides to leave RPM for Penske Racing to take the job of driving the #22 Shell Dodge. Do you believe Allmendinger will have more success at Penske Racing then he did at RPM?
Jeff Gluck: Allmendinger HAS to have more success at Penske than RPM. If he doesn’t, then he’s going to be labeled as the guy who got chances at big teams but couldn’t capitalize (like Casey Mears). With that being said, I think he’ll have the resources and team behind him to get it done. He’s committed and serious about his new ride, and I think he’ll win a race this season.
Brandon Butler: Tony Stewart had one of (if not) the biggest comebacks in Sprint Cup Series history as he won 5 races during the Chase and went on to win the Sprint Cup Series Championship. If you were to give a prediction, do you think Stewart will repeat?
Jeff Gluck: No, I don’t think Stewart will repeat. Changing crew chiefs is a significant shakeup, and it’ll take time to get the communication down. Plus, Stewart really wasn’t very good for most of last season – until the Chase started and he caught lightning in a bottle. But I don’t see that lightning striking twice (at least not two years in a row). Stewart still has work to do in order to build his team into a consistent contender, which is why he changed crew chiefs in the first place.
Brandon Butler: Jeff, I cannot get through this interview without talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr. He had a better (all-around) year in 2011. He made the Chase by the skin of his fingernails, he had chances to win 1 race in 2011, and now has a great relationship with crew chief Steve Letarte. If you were to give a prediction, do you believe Dale Jr will get back to victory lane in 2012?
Jeff Gluck: Man…I can’t imagine he could go another year without winning. Especially after last year, where he was so close several times. And you know that team is trying everything they can. The thing is, I would have said the same thing at the start of 2009, 2010 and 2011. It’s stunning he’s gone so long without winning one, just because you’d think he’d steal a fuel-mileage or rain-shortened race somewhere along the line. It really is amazing to think there were 18 different winners last year and Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t one of them.
Just based on that fact, I think he’ll win a race this season – maybe three. Heck, he could win the Daytona 500.
Brandon Butler: I hope you are right on that one. Junior Nation would go nuts if he were to win. Lets talk about another Hendrick driver, Mr. 5-time, Jimmie Johnson. in 2011, Johnson’s reign as Champion (for 5 consecutive years) came to an end. Do you think 2012 will be more of a “redemption year” for Jimmie Johnson or will we see him fall off once again?
Jeff Gluck: Yep, I think that’s exactly what will happen. Johnson will win title No. 6 this season after coming out more focused and refreshed than he’s been in years. That team is hungry again, and that’s dangerous for everyone else. Six championships in seven years isn’t too bad, by the way.
Brandon Butler: Your right Jeff. Six championships in just 7 years is a remarkable accomplishment that might not be done again in our lifetime. Final question for you Jeff. 2011 was “the year of the first-time winner”. Marcos Ambrose, David Ragan, Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne, and Paul Menard won their first career race in the Sprint Cup Series. Its always great to see newcomers win races in the Sprint Cup Series. Do you think we’ll continue to see this trend of first-time winners?
Jeff Gluck: I don’t think we will see many first-time winners this year, except for maybe AJ Allmendinger. The thing is, there isn’t much turnover in the Cup Series and most of the regulars have now won already. The only regular drivers who HAVEN’T won a race in their careers are Allmendinger, David Gilliland and Dave Blaney (unless I’m missing someone). So the odds aren’t good on that question.
We have an interview with 2010 NASCAR iRacing.com World Champion and Eutechnyx Setup Guru Richard Towler coming real soon, so check back soon.