The Frontstretch: Who's Hot/Who's Not: Michigan/Bristol Edition by Brett Poirier -- Monday August 20, 2012

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Who's Hot/Who's Not: Michigan/Bristol Edition

Brett Poirier · Monday August 20, 2012

 

With drivers the caliber of Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman fighting for the final wild card spot, many fans expected them all to get hot and combine to win a bunch of races before the Chase.

I was one of them. I guess I forgot why these teams were fighting for the second wild card spot in the first place: they haven’t been very good. Gordon earned a win (earned might not be the right word), and Newman has put together some decent runs, but with the sense of urgency high with only three races until the Chase, it doesn’t really seem like anyone wants the spot.

Kyle Busch has two top 10s in the last six races, and Watkins Glen was one of them, so don’t use that excuse. Gordon made a mistake at Watkins Glen and had a mechanical failure at Michigan, and while Carl Edwards does have two top 10s in the last three races, he couldn’t find Victory Lane right now if they lit up a Subway sign above it.

Instead of a fight, it has become a limp to the finish. Who is going to get the final spot and play absolutely no factor in the playoffs? I guess only time will tell. Here is who’s hot and who’s not after Michigan.

Brad Keselowski and his Penske Racing team look to be sending manufacturer Dodge out in style with an impressive summer run.

Hot

For the third straight week, Brad Keselowski was competing for a win in the final laps. He came up short on all three occasions, but the No. 2 team is making itself heard heading into the Chase.

Keselowski finished runner-up on Sunday, and while a victory at Michigan would have been huge for Dodge in each of the manufacturer’s backyard, Dodge should be proud of the effort Penske Racing is putting forth this summer. Penske Racing easily could have coasted through this season before switching to Ford next season, but they’ve instead worked all season to make their Dodges faster.

Keselowski is on a Jimmie Johnson-like stretch of seven consecutive top 10s, and chances are it won’t end at Bristol where he won in the spring.

The race to get in the top 10 in points was over weeks ago, and then Kasey Kahne went and opened the discussion right back up. Four top-three finishes in the last seven events will do that for a driver.

He is still 33 points out, but with the way Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are performing as of late, I’m betting that with three races left, Kahne gets into that top 10. If he can do it, it will cap one heck of a comeback from a driver that was lower in points than Joe Nemechek after six races (maybe not Nemechek, but you know what I mean).

Warm

Greg Biffle had momentum on his side after an impressive sixth-place showing at Watkins Glen. It parlayed into his second victory on Sunday. The Roush Fenway driver has top 10s in four of the last five races.

In Victory Lane, Biffle talked about how his team hasn’t been discussed enough in Chase talks, and he has a case. His competitors better hope he isn’t within striking distance heading into Homestead because there are few drivers better at getting around that track.

There isn’t much flash or sizzle to Ryan Newman, but he knows how to put himself in good positions at the end of races. And while the rest of the teams he is competing against for the final wild card (besides Marcos Ambrose) are tripping on their own feet for the final 100 meters, the No. 39 team hasn’t been the quickest, but they aren’t making mistakes either, and that just might be enough.

Cool

There have been times in this season where Tony Stewart could do no wrong, and Newman couldn’t find the top 10. Roles seem to have switched at Stewart-Haas.

Stewart is just following the template he made last year, which is enter the Chase with the least amount of momentum possible (Maybe that wasn’t a mistake after all at Watkins Glen).

I’m not sure that following the 2011 template is the way to go in 2012. The No. 14 team needs to take a look at the standings this week and go, “Oh, crap. We are only 34 points ahead of 11th, and our three wins won’t count for anything if we aren’t in the top 10.” Stewart is a lock for the Chase either way, but it would be a real shame to fall out of the top 10 and waste those bonus points. Are you reading this Denny Hamlin?

Several different teams had some time in the spotlight in the manufacturers’ backyard on Sunday. All of the Michael Waltrip Racing cars led, a couple Hendrick cars led, the Penske cars led, and of course the Roush Fenway cars. Where was Gibbs? Toyota’s top team was abysmal at Michigan.

Kyle Busch started 23rd and never found his way into the top 10, finishing 13th. The only thing the No. 18 team should be happy about is that it was a rare uneventful day (no mechanical failures or giant mistakes).

Cold

Kevin Harvick is apparently following the Tony Stewart template. He isn’t doing it right, though. More crashes and mechanical failures would help. Harvick hasn’t really had anything go wrong, his cars just haven’t been up to speed. He has been on an agonizingly slow decline down the standings this summer with one top 10 in the last eight races. His results from the last four races tell the story: 13th, 16th, 15th and 16th.

Much like Harvick, Denny Hamlin has also been on the steady decline. Hamlin has done it a little differently though. Hamlin has two wins and three second-place finishes this season, but has five finishes of 25th or worse in the last nine races. Nobody’s been more hot and cold in 2012 then the Virginia native.

With Kahne coming, Hamlin better start looking over his shoulder, or he may enter the Chase with nothing.

Contact Brett Poirier

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