Nearly one fourth of the way through the 26-race regular season, here are the five biggest surprises so far in the Sprint Cup series in 2009.
This offseason Busch's owner
So what's wrong with the No. 88 team? For starters -- and Junior will be the first to admit this -- Earnhardt has made as many mistakes on the track so far this season as any driver on the circuit. He's sped on pit road, overshot his pit box, forgotten to pit when his crew called him in, caused accidents -- basically, made all manner of gaffes. This isn't to say that Junior isn't talented; anyone who's watched him carefully knows that he can pull off moves on the track that few other drivers can. But this season Little E has displayed a propensity to lose his concentration if only for a second or two, and this has cost him dearly.
Still, all of the pieces are in place for this team to surge. Earnhardt's equipment is second to none, he's getting insightful feedback from his teammates
But don't think Martin is out of it yet. If he can rip off five or six straight top-10 finishes -- and he certainly has the talent and the team to do just that -- then he'll be within eyeshot of the top 12 by the midway point of the regular season. Plus, this team already has won two poles, which is an indication of the car's quality and speed. Though he's got a lot of ground to make up, I nonetheless like Martin's chances to advance to NASCAR's postseason.
Reutimann's fast start reflects the emergence of MWR as a serious player in the Cup racing. With the backing of Toyota, MWR made as many gains this offseason as any other team, improving its engines, its aero-package, even its pit stops. I still think Reutimann is a long shot to advance to the Chase, but so far in 2009, he's been one of the best stories in NASCAR.
How has he pulled it off? Well, Bowyer is perhaps the most underestimated driver in the garage. Even though he finished third in the final standings in '07 and fifth last year, Bowyer gets overlooked because he rarely reaches Victory Lane. In 115 career Cup starts, he has only two wins. And while it does take victories in the Chase to capture the championships -- Jimmie Johnson has proven this over the last three years -- it doesn't require wins to advance to the Chase. Go ahead and pencil Bowyer into the playoffs.