Brett Poirier · Tuesday April 17, 2012
Saturday night’s race at Texas resulted in big shifts in momentum in the Sprint Cup Series. Drivers that had it coming in such as Stewart-Haas drivers Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman slowly watched it slip away in what had to be a long night for both men. Newman finished 21st and Stewart was 24th, two laps off the pace in what’s typically a strong track for the organization.
On the opposing side, Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne finally both had much-needed strong showings. Gordon placed fourth and Kahne was seventh, part of a four-car “sweep” for Hendrick inside the top 10. That means Gordon and Kahne are out of the cold in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not.
Greg Biffle proved he is a championship contender at Texas. The Roush Fenway driver had shown remarkable consistency in the first six races, but he wasn’t fighting for wins in those events, or in any event in 2011 for that matter.
But once this team built a foundation of consistency this season, the next step was winning a race. Check. The way Biffle did it shouldn’t be overlooked, either. He tracked down five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and made an aggressive pass late in the going, almost losing control of his car off of Turn 4. That move showed where Biffle’s confidence is right now – extremely high.
Rick Hendrick’s 200th win may have slipped away for a second straight race, but if Jimmie Johnson keeps performing the way he has been, Hendrick will have that win in no time.
Johnson has top 10s in five of the last six races, and it should be six out of six because he ended up 12th after restarting second on the green-white-checkered at Martinsville. He could easily have three wins already at Las Vegas, Martinsville and Texas if the five-time champ could only get things to go his way in the final laps.
The series heads to Kansas next, a track Johnson dominated in the Fall. If he leads 197 laps again… expect Mr. Hendrick to leave with trophy No. 200.
The teams at Michael Waltrip Racing scored four top 5s all of last season. Well, they’ve already posted five top 5s in the first seven races of 2012. MWR does have three teams now, compared with two in 2011, but the stat still speaks volumes about how far this organization has come.
Those stats have certain paid off in the season standings. All three of Michael Waltrip Racing’s teams currently sit in the top 11 in the owners points; in comparison, no other organization has more than two teams that far up in the standings.
Mark Martin and Martin Truex, Jr. showed their strength at Texas. Truex Jr. sat on the pole and led 69 laps before finishing sixth, while the veteran Martin ran in the top 5 for most of the race and wound up third.
If Roush Fenway Racing was going to win a championship this season, it would have to be on the back of Carl Edwards, right? Matt Kenseth and Biffle are proving otherwise. Kenseth and Biffle are tied with a series-high four top 5s and they’ve each visited Victory Lane. Much like his teammate, Kenseth is proving he is here to stay. His consistency has the Daytona 500 winner in a tie for second in the standings.
Joey Logano started his contract year on the right foot, scoring back-to-back top 10s at Daytona and Phoenix. Since then, he hasn’t seen the top 15. Even with Jason Ratcliff calling the shots this season, Logano hasn’t been on pace with his teammates. It has been the story of his Sprint Cup career.
It has to be frustrating for Joe Gibbs to watch Logano dominate Nationwide races, like at Auto Club, but not be able to put top 15s together consistently at the Cup level. If Logano keeps running this badly, Gibbs is going to have a tough decision to make about the young driver’s future.
Kyle Busch has shown more speed in 2012 than Logano, but the results don’t look much better. After seven races, Busch has two top-10 finishes, the same as his teammate. While the No. 18 team has suffered its share of bad luck, it also hasn’t shown the ability to compete for wins. Everyone expects Busch to turn it on and reel off multiple victories at some point, but when will that be?
Brad Keselowski criticized NASCAR late last season for bringing electronic fuel injection to the sport. Keselowski was fined for his comments at the time, but it appears Penske Racing is still paying the price. Both A.J. Allmendinger and Brad Keselowski have had EFI issues cost them solid finishes this season. On Saturday night, Keselowski had another problem getting fuel to his race car. This time, it was the fuel pump in his No. 2 Dodge. He finished 36th.
It’s been feast or famine for Keselowski in 2012. He has three top 10s to go with three results of 32nd or worse.
Marcos Ambrose isn’t cold because he hasn’t run well this season, he’s here because he can’t catch a break. Ambrose ran out of gas on the last lap Saturday night, while running in the top 10. He ended up 20th. It was his fourth finish of 20th or worse this season.
Three of those four races should have gone differently for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver. He was running in the top 10 early at Bristol before getting caught up in the Kasey Kahne debacle, and in the second race of the season at Phoenix, he was third before suffering a mechanical failure. Ambrose is mired back in 24th in points, but he probably should be closer to 15th, or maybe even higher.
Even with new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who was brought over from Roush Fenway in the offseason, Jeff Burton isn’t running any better in 2012 than he did in 2011. Burton posted a sixth-place result at Bristol, but he is yet to finish on the lead lap since.
Results of 22nd, 22nd and 29th in the last three races aren’t going to get it done at Richard Childress Racing. Burton finished four laps off the pace at Texas. After several crew chief changes, how long before the finger gets pointed at the driver?
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