Atlanta Recap, Morgan Shepherd on Droppin' the Hammer
March 2009 Dale Wilkerson
With one race to go before the 2009 Owner's Points are set to determine the top-35 in Sprint Cup racing, several big name drivers are flirting with being on the outside looking in when it comes to be assured of a starting spot for each race.
Mark Martin currently stands at 35th in owner's points. Martin has suffered through several engine failures, and then a blown tire this week at the Atlanta Motor Speedway during the Kobalt Tools 500. Martin needs a strong run at Bristol to secure his spot inside the top-35. Ryan Newman has also had a rough start to the 2009 season. Crashes, engine problems, and poor handling racecars have made the Rocket Man look more like a tricycle peddler. Joey Logano is also in the low 30s and needs to have some good top ten runs to lock his team in the top 35 as well. For the fourth time in their NASCAR careers, Kyle and Kurt Busch have won back-to-back races. Kurt dominated the Atlanta race, to follow Kyle's win at Las Vegas last week. Last year, Kyle Busch won a NASCAR record 21 races across the top three levels of NASCAR racing; Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and the Camping World Trucks. This year, "Rowdy" Busch has four point race wins, and a win in his qualifying race for the Daytona 500. Saturday even a bad transmission could not keep him from picking up another win. Like him or not, this boy can flat drive a racecar. One team that has surprised some folks this year is the #33 of owner Richard Childress and driver Clint Bowyer. Bowyer had driven the #07 for Childress through last season, but was asked to turn that car over to Casey Mears and jump into to this new team, without the security of last year's owner's points. Bowyer has not missed a beat. He currently stands second in both drivers and owners points, and pending he qualifies for Bristol, this start up team is looking like a title contender for 2009. As for Bowyer's old ride, Casey Mears is currently back in 25th in points. This has got to be a make or break year for Mears. He has driven for Ganassi, Hendrick, and now Childress but the results are not reflecting the equipment. Granted, while he was with Hendrick, I don't believe he was getting the best cars and engines; those went down the hall to the 24 and 48 teams. But at Childress, all of his teams made the chase last year, and from Bowyer's first four races this year, it looks like the 07 should be running as good as the 33. Another surprise after the first four races is the #44 of Richard Petty Racing and driver A.J. Allmendinger. This car started the year outside the top-35 in owner's points and currently stands 20th. Allmendinger will need to lay down a fast qualifying lap at Bristol, so he can relax a little when the tour pulls in at the Martinsville Speedway.
On the Nationwide Series, it has been good to see veteran driver Morgan Shepherd running better this year. Shepherd switched from Dodge to Chevrolet with help from Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. At 67 years young, Shepherd looks ready for the long haul this season. Over his racing career, he won the 1980 Late Model Sportsman title. This series is now known as the Nationwide Series. He drove on the Sprint Cup level for Kenny Bernstein, The Woods Brothers, The Jackson Brothers, and for Spartanburg's Bud Moore. Shepherd will join Greg Moore, Ronnie Black, and myself on Droppin' the Hammer this Saturday morning. The show airs from 11:00am to 12noon and can be heard on 103.3-FM, ESPN-1400AM, on the Internet at www.espn1400am.com We will talk to Morgan about his first races, his time on the Cup circuit, and his mission work in the mountains of Virginia as well. Also on this weeks show, former Greenville-Pickens Track Champion Kenneth Headen will talk about his plans for 2009, and Charles Hudson will give us call from the Rockingham Raceway to give us and update on ARCA practice for the upcoming Carolina 200.