With the fireworks of Daytona in the rear-view mirror, NASCAR heads into the second half of the season. The plots thicken as 2007 has proved to be ever bit as intriguing as February promised. Here are 10 storylines to watch as the season heads into the stretch run.
1. Dream team: Can anyone stop the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut? All four of its drivers have won in '07, giving the team 10 victories in 18 races. Jeff Gordon is dominating the points, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join the powerhouse in '08. Lost in the Hendrick hype, however, is that Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and even Dale Earnhardt Inc. are having strong seasons. All have multiple drivers in the top 12 in the standings.
2. Team schemes: -- In '07, the concept of team has taken on some interesting dynamics. Earnhardt and Kyle Busch are lame ducks, but also racing for a title. Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have a war of words after a team crash, while Jamie McMurray gives his teammates credit for his victory in the Pepsi 400. Even close friends Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who seem to flourish because they are on the same team, rip each other in the media after a game of cat-and-mouse at the end of a race.
3. Tomorrow today: -- Though several of the questions from the beginning of the season are unresolved, the Car of Tomorrow is here to stay. While many are still unhappy with it, most teams have stopped complaining and started working on improving their version of NASCAR's new template. Of course, questions continue to pop up -- such as does the CoT mean the end of bump drafting on superspeedways?
4. Go sit in the corner: With the advent of the Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR officials have started dishing out stronger penalties more often. Or perhaps teams have become more aggressive at attacking gray areas in the rules. Either way, the loss of points and the suspension of crew chiefs have become a major topic whenever NASCAR fans convene for debates.
5. Welcome to my world: At the beginning of the season, many in NASCAR felt Toyota's invasion of the Nextel Cup circuit would prove to be disaster. They were worried about Toyota changing the dynamics of the sport with strong financial backing of their teams. Instead, the catastrophe turned out to be the cars Toyota teams fielded. Nobody needs to worry about Toyota spending itself to the top, at least for a while, as the teams have struggled just to qualify. Still, Toyota has made great strides, and this needs to continue just so it can start '08 in the middle of the pack.
6. Musical chairs: Where will you favorite driver end up and who will be left without a seat? The Silly Season started even earlier this year when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. The next domino will be Kyle Busch, who Earnhardt is displacing at Hendrick Motorsports. While Busch could go to a team that has an opening or that is looking to add a car, there's also a good chance he could bump another driver out of his current ride. Either way, there will be more drivers switching teams this year than usual. You'll need to buy a program at Daytona next February so that you can keep track of everybody.
7. Swappin' paint: Another reason you'll need the Daytona program is to figure out which company is sponsoring which driver. Sure, sponsors change every year but this year there could be more of a revolving door instead of the trickle of departures and arrivals. Once again, Earnhardt got the game going with his move. His longtime sponsor, Budweiser, will ride with a new team in 2008, while Junior will have new corporate colors.
8. Addition by subtraction: Before the season began, many questioned if DEI could survive if Dale Jr. left the team. Since Earnhardt's departure became a done deal, Martin Truex Jr. has flourished. He's won a race and climbed to 10th in the points. Suddenly, there's talk of DEI adding a team and rumors of drivers such as Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne coming on board. Through it all, Earnhardt has continued to be a solid performer.
9. Race to the Chase: -- Can Dale Jr. hold on to the 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Championship? Can McMurray or Ryan Newman squeeze their way into the field? Can someone like Greg Biffle get hot and blast their way into the playoffs? Who will wilt and fall out of the top dozen?
10. Chasing wins: Will the new point system make a difference in who gets crowned the '07 Nextel Cup champion? This year, the drivers that make the Chase playoffs will get seeded by the number of victories they were able to pile up in the first 26 races of the year. If they Chase started today, Gordon and Johnson would start 30 points ahead of everybody else because they each have three more victories than any other driver.