NASCAR is becoming an ‘Over the Hill Gang’

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 25, 2005

Much has been made of the &uot;old guys&uot; standings in the points standings so far this year. I saw a stat last week that showed the average age of the drivers in the top 10 increased more than five years since the same time last year. Veterans like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Sterling Marlin, and Dale Jarrett all occupy spots in the top ten after the race in Texas last week. Many theories have been thrown about as to why the veterans seem to be performing better this year.

Some point to rules changes about car set-up implemented by NASCAR favoring the older drivers, others say it is just cyclical; I say that these guys are just darn good drivers and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them doing well. The guys that are considered &uot;veterans&uot; are veterans for a reason; they can drive a racecar.

Greg Biffle continued his strong streak of strong performances with a victory at Texas last week. Going back to last year, Biffle has won three of the last eight races and has five top-ten finishes in seven races so far this year. Jimmie Johnson extended his streak of 13 consecutive top-ten finishes and remains atop the points standings with Biffle trailing in second place.

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Wallace, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon round out the top five in the points standings. Marlin, Martin, Elliot Sadler, Ryan Newman, and Jarrett make up the sixth through tenth positions. The top 10 are guaranteed a chance to compete for the championship in the last ten races of the year; however, if a driver is within 400 points of the leader after the first 26 races, those drivers are also in the chase. Currently, there are 16 drivers within that 400-point window.

There are already rumblings in the garages about possible driver movement among teams next year. There will be at least two top-tier openings next year with the retirements of Martin and Rusty Wallace. Biffle has been mentioned as a candidate for the no. 2 Miller Lite ride, as have Jamie McMurray. Ryan Newman, Ricky Craven, and Michael Waltrip have been connected to the no. 6 ride with Roush.

Martin Truex, Jr.’s name has been linked to both Robert Yates Racing and Evernham Motorsports. I would be shocked if Dale Earnhardt Inc. lets Truex get away. Either way, look for Truex to be driving on the cup circuit next year.

The first night race of the year is Saturday night in Phoenix. I see more and more races being moved to primetime slots, as the television networks exert their influence on the NASCAR scheduling process. That’s fine with me – I love watching a race under the lights.

This race will be different than any other Phoenix race. Until this year, the race in Phoenix was in November and during the day. This will be the first spring race under the lights at Phoenix. The track conditions will be different for this race. With that being said, throw past performances out the window; this is a whole new ballgame.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has won the past two races at Phoenix and has top-tens races in the past two weeks under his belt. He is inching toward the top ten, but I still don’t think he is in a position to visit victory lane. My pick to win this week is Tony Stewart.

The race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Saturday and the racing begins at 7:30 on FOX. Enjoy the race.

Jeff Findley is publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. His racing column appears in several newspapers in the Southeast. He can be reached at