Brad Morgan · Tuesday August 6, 2013
The follow up to the Party in the Poconos 400 was a party of a different kind. Wrecks and tire failures claimed several drivers in the latest race at the Tricky Triangle, leaving several cars behind the wall when the checkered flag waved.
Hendrick Motorsports survived almost unscathed, with Kasey Kahne emerging victorious after a series of daring late-race moves left him ahead of his teammates. Jimmie Johnson survived damage with a 13th-place finish that actually expanded his points lead over Clint Bowyer.
This edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not shows that Hendrick Motorsports will likely be a favorite down the stretch, free agents are beginning to separate themselves from each other, and rookies can struggle too.
Kasey Kahne didn’t have the type of race he was expecting during Round 1 at Pocono Raceway in June because of a phantom vibration that plagued the No. 5 Chevrolet shortly after the drop of the green flag. In a return trip to the 2.5-mile triangle Sunday, Kahne fared much better.
The Hendrick machine paced the field for a race-high 66 of 160 laps, and Kahne passed teammate Jeff Gordon after the final restart to claim his second victory of the year.
Kahne continues to rebound from a rough month of June; outside of a 32nd-place finish in the Coke Zero 400, the No. 5 team has not placed worse than 11th since departing Michigan. Back-to-back top-3 results have elevated Kahne back to eighth in the standings, and are enough to position him ahead of the pack in Hot or Not. To stay there, Kahne will need a top 10 at Watkins Glen, something he is yet to accomplish in Sprint Cup.
After winning the Brickyard 400, Ryan Newman was excluded from HOT because he had failed to show the type of extended success exhibited by regular high rankers, but that all changed with a fourth-place finish Sunday. It is enough to bump Newman’s positioning up a notch, and improves his résumé in preparation for a much anticipated departure from Stewart-Haas Racing.
Newman has closed the gap between himself and wildcard bubble driver Martin Truex Jr. to nine points going into Watkins Glen, where he is capable of placing inside the top 10. For now, Newman’s future remains a mystery, but success going forward could mean a high-profile landing spot when decision time eventually comes.
Kyle Busch heads to Watkins Glen needing only a repeat performance of his past results there to break into the hot category. The Glen stands as one of Rowdy’s strongest tracks; with seven top 10s in eight attempts there, he’ll certainly be looking to add another win Sunday.
The No. 18 team arrives in New York looking like a Chase contender. Numerically, Busch’s eighth-place effort at Pocono wasn’t as good as his sixth there earlier this season, but both finishes are part of a long-running string of positives for him. Busch has eight top 10 finishes in his last eleven Sprint Cup starts, and continues to strengthen his hold on sixth in the standings with the Chase approaching.
With two consecutive good finishes (seventh and eighth), Joey Logano has managed to stay within striking distance of prominent Chase contenders. At Pocono he took advantage of a sixth-place start, running among the leaders for the duration en route another top 10.
Logano is currently 17th in standings, which is deceiving because that is only 38 points outside of a Chase spot under his current conditions. Things would likely look a lot better if not for two 40th-place finishes at Daytona and Loudon weighing the No. 22 team down.
To make the Chase without a win, Logano will need to make the most of the next five races. At Watkins Glen, a repeat of 2011’s career-best fifth-place finish would do wonders for his Hot or Not state.
Richard Childress can’t be happy with the way the return trip to the Poconos turned out for his three-car operation. Only Kevin Harvick finished on the lead lap, posting a 17th-place run. His other two drivers, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard, were taken out as part of a massive wreck on lap 110. Both of their RCR Chevrolets were taken to the garage afterwards, but only Menard’s No. 27 returned to finish the race.
While Harvick sits comfortably, fourth in points, Burton and Menard are in danger of falling outside the top 20. With Harvick stepping in for Ryan Newman at SHR after 2013, the future isn’t all that bright for the Childress organization.
Childress may opt to call Austin Dillon up from the Nationwide Series as a result, but could also sign Newman to a contract. With the struggles of Burton and Menard, Childress may be tempted to expand to four teams to house both drivers.
Sprint Cup’s favorite rookie couple had a hard time staying on track at Pocono. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. exited on the first lap after involvement in multi-car wreck. He would return later to log laps in a crippled No. 17 Ford Fusion.
Danica Patrick’s accident was perhaps more embarrassing because of the way it happened. Richard Childress can thank Patrick for destroying two of his cars after Patrick lost control of her Chevrolet on lap 110 – a mistake that also claimed Travis Kvapil, leaving him extremely displeased with the former IndyCar driver.
Juan Pablo Montoya has been the focus of several cold comments this season because of his aggressive driving style, a characteristic that has once again relegated him to the Hot or Not cellar.
Montoya sprung the aforementioned wreck that claimed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after his No. 42 Chevrolet got loose and shot up into the rookie’s car. Even though the wreck didn’t end Montoya’s day – he finished three laps down in 28th – it does nothing to help repair his reputation as a reckless driver.
He currently stands 23rd in the standings, outside of the wildcard cutoff. Without a win, even being inside that window won’t mean much with only five races remaining before the Chase. He’ll need a win at Watkins Glen and multiple top-10 finishes to make noise in September.
Outside of gracing the warm portion of Hot or Not over a short span during the spring, Montoya has been a disappointment. His numbers would suggest that acquiring a good ride when his Earnhardt-Ganassi contract expires after the 2013 season might be extremely tough to do.
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