Brett Poirier · Monday April 23, 2012
Did anyone pick Denny Hamlin to win at Kansas? How about Martin Truex Jr. to lead the most laps? The 2012 season has been full of momentum shifts and surprises and Kansas was no exception. Hamlin was 20th at Las Vegas and 12th at Texas in the first two events at 1.5-mile tracks. Clearly, he was in line for a win at Kansas (sense the sarcasm).
The unpredictability has been refreshing and it also has shuffled the order in Who’s Hot/Who’s Not. Here are the drivers and teams who are trending up and trending down after Kansas.
Before Texas, Martin Truex Jr.‘s consistent start to the year could be compared to what Dale Earnhardt Jr. did in 2011. Truex Jr. was reeling off top-15 finishes without leading a bunch of laps or showing he was ready to compete for wins.
Then Texas and Kansas came. Truex Jr. led 242 laps combined in those two races and had a car capable of winning either event. This guy is for real. After six top 10s and three top 5s, Truex Jr. sits second in points and the inevitable fall we’ve all been waiting for isn’t coming.
No driver on the circuit is matching what Jimmie Johnson is doing right now, and the strange part is nobody even seems to notice. The No. 48 team was so desperate for attention they put Johnson in one of the ugliest cars ever at Kansas. There is a reason Mountain Green hasn’t been used since 1967.
Back to the point. Johnson has been flying under the radar in large part because he is yet to win a race in 2012, but it is only a matter of time. His run at Martinsville and results of second and third in the last two races prove that. We saw early in 2011 that the Lowe’s team wasn’t in championship form. Early in 2012, we are seeing a team ready to compete for a sixth title.
I don’t think we expected him to plummet like Truex Jr., but Greg Biffle, a driver who didn’t qualify for the Chase last season, can’t keep leading the points this year, right? Wrong. Biffle grabbed his series-leading fifth top 5 at Kansas, and despite Truex Jr.‘s consistency, Biffle holds a comfortable 15 point advantage in the standings.
Denny Hamlin has left something to be desired in terms of consistency in 2012. He hasn’t scored back-to-back top 10s since Daytona and Phoenix, but when the No. 11 car is right, Hamlin is hard to beat.
With two wins already, this team can afford to take some risks on setups to try and find the consistency they’ve been lacking. If they do, the rest of the field might be in trouble.
Tony Stewart’s season hasn’t gone much differently than Hamlin’s (good thing they made a crew chief switch). The only difference is Stewart has been worse. He picked up a pair of early wins, but has only one top 10 outside of those victories.
With the speed he showed at Las Vegas, Stewart should have been a favorite at Texas and Kansas. Instead, he was as much of a non-factor as David Stremme in both races, placing 24th and 13th. Maybe this team is in experimental mode after those early wins, or maybe they are really in trouble.
Whether you attribute it to bad luck or the alignment of the stars or maybe something else, the results just aren’t coming for Jeff Gordon. He has one top 10 in his last six races.
Gordon’s had his share of bad luck, but he’s also just been off in a few races this season, and Kansas was one of them. This team is capable of winning multiple races before the Chase begins to qualify, but at this point they look like a team that will just be taking up space if they do make the playoffs.
Jeff Burton is becoming more of a regular in the cold section of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not than Kasey Kahne was at the start of the year. Somehow, Burton is still 17th in the standings, but make no mistakes about it, he has about the same shot at making the Chase as Danica Patrick.
Burton has picked up some consistency in recent weeks, it just hasn’t been the good kind. The No. 31 has finished 22nd in three of the last four races. He was 29th in the other event.
Penske Racing is supposed to be one of the top organizations in the Sprint Cup garage, but they seem to have had more mechanical failures this season than all other teams combined.
Every week, it seems like at least one of the Penske cars suffers some kind of mechanical setback. At Kansas, it was pole sitter A.J. Allmendinger, who was finally starting to build some momentum, that ended up in the garage early with his third finish of 30th or worse because of an engine problem.
Last week at Texas, Brad Keselowski was behind the wall with a fuel cell issue. At Las Vegas, both cars had electronic fuel injection issues.
Neither Keselowski or Allmendinger can build any momentum right now, and neither one of them is at fault. The cars at Penske just keep falling apart.
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