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Early season breakdown: What we've learned

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

We're five races into the 2008 Sprint Cup season. What have we learned? Who has surprised us? Who has been a disappointment?

Y! Sports will break it all down, continuing today with the five things we've learned so far in 2008.

Thursday: Five surprises

Friday: Five disappointments

1. Kyle Busch is the real deal.

If we didn't already know it, Rowdy Busch has proven he is the future. Rick Hendrick may have wound up with the sport's most popular driver, but he let go of the next big thing.

History will judge if Hendrick made the right decision, but so far it looks like he made the wrong one. He should have let go of Casey Mears.

Now the question remains, why isn't Kyle Busch more popular? He's insanely talented, has tons of personality and rattles all the cages NASCAR fans usually like to be rattled. So why are there not more 18 fans out there?

2. Toyota is all about Joe Gibbs Racing.

No Toyota driver outside the Gibbs stable has proven to be competitive. Yes, the overall program is better and yes Brian Vickers is 17th in the points standings. But Toyota was so bad in 2007 the only place for them to go was up, and Vickers still isn't a threat to win.

In just five races, Gibbs has proven wrong many critics, who predicted JGR would fall flat on their face while transitioning from Chevrolet to Toyota. Not only are they having success, they're actually better now than they were a year ago.

3. Dale Jr. made the right decision

This one's obvious, considering he's fifth in the standings and has been in contention every week. But more than that, Junior jumped off the Dale Earnhardt Inc. ship at just the right time.

While his father's organization is getting better, it's going to be at least a season or two, maybe longer, before they're on the same level as the elite teams, and Junior doesn't have the time and his fans don't have the patience to wait that long.

There's still a weirdness hearing him talk about Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as teammates, but visions of him driving the No. 8 are fading fast.

4. Jimmie Johnson's 2007 was more amazing than we thought

Because Johnson has been so consistent year in and year out, we sometimes take for granted how difficult it is to stay on top, even for the 48 team.

Watching Johnson struggle so far in 2008 re-emphasizes just how far in front of the field they were in '07, when they won 10 races. As it turns out, it's not just as easy as showing up to the track with Hendrick equipment. You've got to make it good, and last season the 48 team did just that every single week.

Appreciate what Johnson did in 2007, because it'll be a long time before anyone can duplicate it.

5. Controversy drives NASCAR

The sport is never healthier than when there's a good old-fashioned controversy.

Whether it's Tony Stewart "punching" Kurt Busch in the NASCAR hauler, rain turning the Auto Parts 500 into the 24 Hours at California, Carl Edwards' oil cooler lid or bad Goodyear tires, NASCAR needs a little tension to keep it in the news, and so far 2008 has produced plenty of it.

So, what kinds of controversies can we expect going forward?

Here are a few: Possible points swapping between Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty and/or Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth; Tony Eury Jr. as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief; Tony Stewart vs. Someone.

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