Brad Morgan · Monday July 8, 2013
Jimmie Johnson was celebrating in Victory Lane as fireworks went off following the Coke-Zero 400. He was among the drivers who survived the 400-mile event without suffering damage in six cautions, including one red flag stoppage.
Other Chase hopefuls weren’t as fortunate, as their chances were hurt one-by-one in several multi-car accidents.
This edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not shows that there’s a growing divide between those with positive momentum and others who aren’t beginning to shine heading towards a date at Loudon.
Jimmie Johnson completed a Daytona sweep by winning the Coke-Zero 400 in a resounding way, further strengthening his hold atop the Sprint Cup standings. The five-time champion led 94 laps – including the last 30 circuits – to claim his fourth victory, halfway through the 2013 campaign.
The No. 48 team was clearly prepared to backup Johnson’s Daytona 500 win, making changes that kept the Chevrolet at the front of the pack while track temperatures dropped. The win ties him with Matt Kenseth for the most victories in Sprint Cup and helps to extend his lead over new runner-up Clint Bowyer to 49 points.
When the series travels to Loudon next week, history and recent form show Johnson as the clear favorite to collect another winning result at the 1.058-mile oval. In 22 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he has three wins and eight top 5’s, with his most recent trip to victory lane occurring in the 2010 summer visit.
Kevin Harvick’s prolonged top-10 streak is still alive because he was able to stay ahead of the carnage that unfolded behind the leaders. A third-place finish puts a halt to the Richard Childress Racing driver’s struggles in restrictor plate races, ending a two-race DNF draught.
Harvick had no problems keeping his RCR Chevrolet in striking distance of Johnson during the 400-lap event, at one point posting a lap time of 197.465 mph which stood as the fastest green flag speed of the race. He would need that speed during the late goings; after dropping to the back of the pack to avoid being collected in the case of a ‘Big One’, the No. 29 team used a fuel-only stop to assist in his return to the front.
Jamie McMurray stayed wildcard eligible thanks to a seventh-place finish under the lights. His first successful restrictor plate race of the season makes it two consecutive top 10 finishes for the two-time Daytona winner, the first time during the ’13 campaign that the Earnhardt-Ganassi driver achieved the feat.
McMurray was able to avoid problems during the six cautions despite being in the midst of some of them, and paced the field twice for 10 laps. The finish moves him to 17th in the standings, only 24 points behind Tony Stewart (10th).
At New Hampshire, McMurray could use a similar effort to help reverse a prolonged run of mid-pack finishes. The No. 1 team last had success there in the 12-year veterans debut season with the organization, posting a third-place effort during the 2010 Chase.
Michael Waltrip has made the most of his restrictor plate-only Sprint Cup schedule of late, posting a 5th place run in the Coke-Zero 400 to accompany his top 5 at Talladega in May. The veteran part-timer followed his driver/teammate Clint Bowyer to the finish line, assuring solid finishes from two Michael Waltrip Racing entries.
In his 51st Sprint Cup start at the 2.5-mile track, Waltrip displayed the patience of a driver with much experience. After starting seventh, he waited for the right moment to strike before receiving damage from Bowyer during a lap-128 pit stop. After the No. 55 team repaired the Camry, Waltrip guided it through two multi-car wrecks that occurred within 10 laps of the finish.
The 50-year-old driver will again pilot the Aaron’s Dream Machine at Talladega Superspeedway in Oct. 20’s Camping World RV Sales 500.
Kasey Kahne returned to Daytona after crashing in the Great American Race in February. The Hendrick Motorsports driver once again came up short of finishing after a lap-155 accident put the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet behind the wall.
In 39 career Sprint Cup restrictor plate races, Kahne has yet to record a single win, while some drivers have managed multiple victories and others have achieved their only career wins. His Hendrick machine has been fast in such events this season, but he has managed to complete only 68.9% of all restrictor plate laps, resulting in finishes of 36th, 42nd, and 32nd respectively.
Kahne will hope for better luck at Loudon, where he recorded a win in this event last season and a 5th place run in the return trip in September.
A.J. Allmendinger was unable to regain his early-season form while running a special Neil Bonnett-inspired Country Time Lemonade theme aboard the No. 51 Chevrolet. The part-time driver’s lap-149 wreck makes it four consecutive starts with no finish better than a 19th at Michigan.
He’ll get another chance inside the Phoenix Racing machine at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but the odds are against him, judging by his history there. While Allmendinger has improved at Loudon in recent years, his average finish (25.1) stands among the worst of active Sprint Cup drivers.
Paul Menard’s chances of making the Chase continue to worsen after a lap-23 blown engine dashed any hope of turning things around at Richard Childress Racing-friendly Daytona International Speedway. His latest misfortune has the driver on the ropes with eight races remaining before the playoff stretch, 20th in points and in danger of falling out of the wildcard picture going forward.
Menard started from the sixth position, hoping to return to form at Daytona, but ended up with a 43rd-place finish and next to nothing to show for it. He’s now fallen from 11th to 20th in just two weeks, meaning that a solid effort at New Hampshire is crucial to keeping him in the Chase picture.
Unfortunately, Loudon serves as 1-of-8 Sprint Cup tracks where Menard as failed to record a top 10 finish. But, last season’s 12th-place effort there stands as his best career finish, meaning that a positive finish isn’t out of his grasp.
Michael McDowell has made start-and-parking seem routine during the 2013 season. The Phil Parson Racing driver continued the unpopular practice at Daytona by retiring because of a vibration after completing only 33 circuits.
In 16 starts this season, McDowell has 13 finishes of 40th or worse, making his 2013 campaign one of the worst in history.
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