The Frontstretch: Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: New Hampshire - Off Week 2 Edition by Brad Morgan -- Tuesday July 16, 2013

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Race 19-of-36 was highlighted by an underdog winner and a number of cautions due to wrecks. Over one third of the drivers were affected by accidents of some sort, giving Brian Vickers the opportunity to capture his third career win.

Many drivers experienced some sort of adversity in New Hampshire, while others escaped unscathed. This New England edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not shows why some drivers might need their time off, while others will be craving a return to the Brickyard.

HOT


Brian Vickers has worn many hats over the past few years, but his win in the No. 55 on Sunday certainly made up for all the uncertainty.

For the first time in the Chase era, there is a chance that different sets of drivers and owners could compete for the two respective Sprint Cup championships, after Brian Vickers broke a four-year winless drought at New Hampshire Motor Speedway behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 entry.

The Aaron’s Dream Machine – piloted by Mark Martin, owner Michael Waltrip, and Vickers – currently occupies the second provisional position for the owners Chase, even though none of the drivers are standalone factors in the other standings.

Capturing a rare win and helping to prove his case for a full-time contract with MWR are important measures in the longevity of Vickers’ Sprint Cup career. That combined with strong recent performances from his teammates has the No. 55 sitting atop the Hot or Not landscape for the first time this year.

Vickers’ third career win comes a week after Waltrip posted a surprise fifth-place finish in the MWR Camry at Daytona. Martin will have an opportunity to continue the impressive streak of top-five finishes July 28 in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tempers boiled over in New England, leading to an interesting choice of words for some top drivers. When Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman got together and spun on Lap 225, Newman would later lash out against Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for their actions during a lap-223 restart.

Newman also promised that he would remember who got into the No. 39 Chevrolet, while Kurt declined an interview with TNT. After the checkered flag, Kyle was available and promptly defended his brother, calling Newman a ‘stupid idiot’ and a ‘big ogre’ while claiming that the No. 78 was the car to beat.

While his comments may heat things up going forward, the younger Busch’s Hot or Not standing was also assisted by his driving. He posted a runner-up finish after leading 53 laps and currently sits sixth in drivers’ points heading to Indianapolis, where he has three consecutive top-10 results.

WARM

As it turns out, Brad Keselowski also found the top five at New Hampshire, helping to slow a two-month-long slump that has troubled the defending champion since Richmond. After capturing the pole for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 with a record 135.922 mph lap, Keselowski promptly began living up to a guarantee that he would improve his level of performance over the next few months by posting a fourth-place finish.

Heading into the race he was 13th in drivers’ points and outside the Chase cutoff for two weeks running, but after leading 14 laps, Keselowski now holds onto ninth. It didn’t come easily for the Blue Deuce team however, because Keselowski had to battle back after being beaten off pit road by several competitors who decided on two-tire stops during lap-158 stops.

Another step towards reclaiming the Sprint Cup crown would mean repeating or bettering on two straight ninth-place finishes at the Brickyard when the series visits Indiana in two weeks.

Morgan Shepherd may be 71 years old, but that didn’t prevent the veteran from starting Sunday at New Hampshire, becoming the oldest driver to compete in a Sprint Cup race. In his first series competition since 2006, Shepherd qualified 41st and finished in a Toyota owned by Brian Keselowski.

With more sponsorship, Shepherd could potentially run additional races this season, progressively strengthening his grasp on the record. If he is unsuccessful doing so, fans will be relieved to know that he plans to compete in the 2014 Daytona 500 piloting a car that was promised to him, according to Dan Gelston of the Associated Press.

As for becoming the oldest driver to compete in a NASCAR sanctioned event, Shepherd will have to wait at least five more years. James Hilton started the May 2011 Nationwide Series race at Darlington at 76 years old.

COOL

Fresh off one of her best Sprint Cup outings to date at Daytona, Danica Patrick appeared to have things under control heading towards her debut race in Loudon. Patrick ran OK until veering into the side of another car during a late-race restart, immediately ending her day with a 37th-place finish.

What’s worse is that one of the cars she took out in the accident belonged to her boyfriend. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was forced behind the wall for an extended period due to the damaged that the No. 17 Fusion sustained and would later settle for a 34th-place finish after returning to the track.

While things seem alright for the couple off the track, they are definitely having trouble staying apart on it. If the ‘Big One’ at Daytona can be discounted, it’s still the second time that the lovers have been involved in the same wreck this season. During the Coca-Cola 600 Patrick was forced into Brad Keselowski after Stenhouse refused to budge, sending her into the wall; and now Patrick is the one apologizing for wrecking him.

After being upset by Stenhouse in the Coca-Cola 600, Patrick apologized this time because the mistake impacted other drivers.

Patrick and Stenhouse remain close in the Rookie of the Year race, with Stenhouse retaining an eight point lead of his girlfriend. It’s unclear which rookie will hold the advantage when they travel to Indianapolis, but Patrick holds the edge experience-wise due to her past involvement in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

COLD

Marcos Ambrose sits 22nd in drivers’ points – close to being wildcard eligible as the Chase approaches – but he hasn’t done much to suggest that he can qualify to this point. A win eluded him in a favorable date at Sonoma in June (seventh), and while that’s disappointing, his lack of production on oval tracks is perhaps more so.

Since the Toyota / Save Mart 350, Ambrose’s finishes have gotten progressively worse, culminating in a career-worst 33rd-place finish at New Hampshire. Ambrose was racing hard with Kevin Harvick, touching the No. 29 Chevrolet several times before Harvick spun the Tasmanian driver. The No. 9 Fusion spun through traffic, collecting Casey Mears, and sustained enough damage to cripple the car for the remainder of the event.

The Richard Petty Motorsports team is hoping that their Ford doesn’t suffer the same fate at Indianapolis, where Ambrose hasn’t suffered a DNF, but hasn’t encountered the level of success needed to get back into the playoff hunt either.

Joey Logano is another driver in need of a good finish at the Brickyard, after an early wreck put him off the pace at New Hampshire, dropping him to 18th in points.

A blown tire on Lap 4 flattened the right side of the No. 22 Fusion and forced Logano to pit road, where he entered his stall backwards. Logano then attempted a 180-degree spin to set his car back in the right direction after the stop, hitting a crew member in the process, according to Yahoo! Sports writer Nick Bromberg.

Hitting a crew member en route to a 40th-place finish is enough to regulate Logano to the Hot or Not dog house. It hasn’t been pretty lately for the 23-year-old driver; after also experiencing difficulties at Daytona, he has fallen from 10th to his current spot in just two weeks.

Contact Brad Morgan

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DoninAjax
07/16/2013 04:05 PM
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I don’t think Danicky will end up like Wally and Robin. If they are still together after the Banquet it will be an interesting ride home with the Rookie trophy. Any bets on who has it? I’m sure Brian’s choice has been made already.