The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not in NASCAR: Bristol-Fontana Edition by Brad Morgan -- Tuesday March 19, 2013

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Who's Hot / Who's Not in NASCAR: Bristol-Fontana Edition

Brad Morgan · Tuesday March 19, 2013

 

With performance of the new Generation-6 models beginning to come into question, NASCAR got just what it wanted in an exciting weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. Action packed racing took center stage as some drivers found that the World’s Fastest Half-Mile wasn’t spacious enough to contain their ill fortunes and boiling tempers.

Some not-so-lucky stars of Sprint Cup now setout for Fontana, happy to depart from the tight confines of Thunder Valley, while frontrunners look to build on strong foundations laid with race 4 of 36 in the books.

Who’s Not and Who’s Hot delivers the rundown as stock car racing’s best prepare for a return trip to the West Coast.

Kasey Kahne wasn’t just good in Bristol, he brought his 4-leaf clover.

HOT

A partially green clad No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet didn’t end up in victory lane after the Food City 500 by chance, but a little luck on the final restart didn’t hurt either as Kasey Kahne drove to a St. Patrick’s Day win Sunday, recording his first career victory at Bristol.

Move over Front Row Joe Nemechek, the win gives Kahne a total of 15 career wins, 10 of which have now come when he starts on the first row. The Hendrick Motorsports driver took advantage of good track position and a slipup by leader Brad Keselowski to assume the point with 41 laps remaining, a position he wouldn’t relinquish.

So why are these factoids and statistical ramblings important? For Kahne those numbers equate to a momentary lock atop the conversation, adding onto the momentum gained after an impressive runner-up finish at Las Vegas a week ago. Secondly, it means that the Enumclaw, WA native will have an opportunity to build on what has been a swift crusade up the standings at Auto Club Speedway, a venue where he has averaged a ninth-place finish over the past three seasons.

While Kahne was taking up most of the telecast time — to the tune of 109 laps led — another HMS teammate rode just off camera, quietly continuing what has become a showcase on the importance of consistency.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. never ran higher than sixth, but that isn’t stopping him from making an impact where it counts. By recording his fourth top-10 finish, Junior moves to second in the standings, nine points behind Keselowski, meaning that he has successfully opened the ’13 campaign similarly to last year’s effort that locked the No. 88 team into the Chase early.

Speaking of the defending champion, our resident HOT-level mainstay recorded his fourth top-five despite nearly being wrecked in an incident involving the Sprint Cup Series’ newest adversaries.

WARM

Kurt Busch made a positive stride along the comeback trail by turning in an all-important fourth place finish at Bristol, a track that he used to dominate on while employed at Roush Fenway Racing.

If anything, Busch’s first top-five since Sonoma last season shows that his success during the 2012 Chase, after partnering with the Furniture Row organization, wasn’t a fluke. For now it appears that the former champion has grown comfortable with fresh personnel and equipment, after struggling to maintain pace with the series elite as a member of Phoenix Racing. The resulting 16th place position in points is the highest for the driver since departing Penske with an “angry bird” gesture and Jerry Punch directed tirade in 2011.

Another driver has made similar strides going back to last season and now finds himself making his Hot or Not debut in the WARM category. Piloting a fluorescent yellow Chevrolet SS is one way to get noticed, but putting that machine in the top-10 in points will get you a mention; and Paul Menard has just accomplished both.

Menard made use of his fifth-place position on the grid by finishing ninth, meaning the Richard Childress driver sits ninth in the standings. This might seem surprising, but the mutton chops laden driver is no stranger to quick starts. Menard has now hit the ground pedaling in each of his first three seasons with RCR, and this time around he is thus far ahead of high profile teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick who rank 17th and 25th respectively.

COOL

Despite promising moments for Hendrick Motorsports’ two most high-profile drivers, they were unable to replicate the finishes posted by their counterparts because of tire issues. While each HMS driver made this edition of Hot or Not, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will be looking forward to California for entirely different reasons.

Jimmie Johnson was having a near-flawless season until his tire problem took him out of contention. The Lowes pit crew was able to make repairs under caution, but Johnson lost two laps in the process. Eventually, the five-time champion limped home with a 22-place result, losing the points lead in the process.

While Johnson remains relatively okay in the standings, the same can’t be said for the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger machine.

Gordon was enjoying the lead before a similar failure stymied any chance of finishing well. The Chevrolet SS was so crippled by the initial impact and secondary impact with the frontend of Matt Kenseth’s Toyota, that Gordon was forced to withdraw from the event, taking his first DNF of the season and a disappointing 34th-place result to go with it.

COLD

If two avid Tweeters take the antics outside of the Twitterverse and place their cyber rage behind the wheels of 850 horsepower Sprint Cup Series stock cars, what happens? In the case of Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, the answer is simple.

What happens on Twitter doesn’t always stay on the social networking Web site.

After watching as Logano was forcefully separated from the battered No. 11 FedEx Toyota and Hamlin upon conclusion of 500 laps, it’s safe to say that the two former teammates are now NASCAR’s newest rivals.

While Logano was battling Jeff Gordon for the lead with 150 laps to go, Hamlin nudged the No. 22 Penske Ford Fusion so forcefully that it sent the car up and around. Afterwards, the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver made it back through traffic before fading to a 17th place finish.

Hamlin went on to complete the race by using the outside wall to guide his wounded Camry to the finish line.

Contact Brad Morgan

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