The Frontstretch: Who's Hot/Who's Not in NASCAR: Texas/Phoenix Edition by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday November 6, 2012

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Who's Hot/Who's Not in NASCAR: Texas/Phoenix Edition

Brett Poirier · Tuesday November 6, 2012

 

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not is brought to you by StarCoach Race Tours, your home away from home at the track. Eat a hot meal, sleep in a warm place, with a cool view of the track, drinking a cold beverage with StarCoach Race Tours.

Brad Keselowski had Jimmie Johnson beat when Sunday’s race restarted with 54 laps to go. Keselowski may have been behind, but he was going to make it on fuel and Johnson wasn’t. Keselowski had Johnson beat when the race restarted with 19 laps to go; the No. 2 had more speed with two fresh tires even though Johnson had four. He had Johnson beat again when they restarted side-by-side with eight laps to go, contact notwithstanding.

Unfortunately for Keselowski, there was still one more restart.

Having seen all of Keselowski’s tricks and having learned from the previous two restarts, Johnson wasn’t to be outdone again, making the No. 48 stick on the outside line and stealing (yeah, I said stealing) the victory.

Keselowski had to be scratching his head, asking himself what he did wrong, and the truth is it was nothing. Johnson just caught break after break after break. He had luck on his side, and maybe a golden horseshoe. It turns out luck may be just as important as anything else in deciding the champion.

If that final restart didn’t take place, Keselowski would’ve won and Johnson would’ve finished second at best, leaving Keselowski with the points lead instead of heading to Phoenix seven points back. It was quite a points swing. If Keselowski loses this whole thing by eight points or less, he might think back to Texas, but I’m not sure what he could’ve done differently. He was just unlucky.

Jimmie Johnson is one happy daddy this week, and with his No. 48 at the top of the points, he has every right to be.

HOT

It turns out this Jimmie Johnson fellow is pretty good. I even have him pegged as a championship contender. Johnson continues to top 5 everyone to death, scoring his Chase leading sixth top-5 result at Texas. Two straight wins also help in eliminating the competition.

Johnson’s dominated the last two races, and he’s dominated the last two qualifying sessions as well. I mention qualifying because it has played a critical role the last couple weeks. That No. 1 pit box has helped Johnson regain track position late, and if he sits on the pole again at Phoenix, we might as well give him the Sprint Cup trophy at the end of qualifying.

How Brad Keselowski hung on to his car and still managed to stay inside of Johnson as they came off of Turn 4 with eight laps to go, I’ll never know. He fought to stay inside, banging into Johnson and even turning sideways, but by Turn 2 of the next lap, he was in the lead. That was going to be Brad’s championship moment, dueling with the Five-Time champ and leaving him in the dust, but it wasn’t to be.

Keselowski is putting himself in position to win every race, though. Don’t buy into the stats about his poor average finish at Phoenix and Homestead, either, because Brad will be there at the end again on Sunday. He has 16 top 10s in the last 18 races and nine top 5s, mostly on tracks he had little to no success at in the past.

WARM

Kyle Busch might just win one of these things before the year is out. Whether it is Nationwide or Sprint Cup, he is knocking on the door pretty consistently. Busch has the second most top 5s in the Chase with five (Johnson has six). Johnson is fighting for the championship, though, and Busch is going for 13th.

Clint Bowyer’s shot at a Sprint Cup title this season may have ended unceremoniously on Sunday with a sixth-place finish (36 points back). I kind of feel sorry for Bowyer because he has done everything right in the Chase. He just hasn’t had the speed of Johnson or Keselowski.

What Bowyer has done shouldn’t be overlooked, though. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver has scored 12 top 10s in the last 14 races and is seven of eight in the Chase. In the last four races, Bowyer has placed first, sixth, fifth and sixth. That’s an average finish of 4.5, and somehow it wasn’t good enough.

COOL

Cool is an upgrade for Kevin Harvick. The Richard Childress Racing driver scored his first top 10 of the Chase in the eighth race with a ninth-place showing. If Harvick’s season is split in half, he had eight top 10s in the first 17 races (how he qualified for the Chase), but has only four in the last 17. That isn’t encouraging for an organization which was behind the top teams at the start of the year. It seems they are even farther behind now.

Denny Hamlin’s highlight of the weekend at Texas was calling out Austin Dillon, a rookie Nationwide driver for racing him too aggressively. But Hamlin didn’t race much at all on Sunday, not looking like a driver who had won at Texas twice in recent years in Sprint Cup. On a night when Kyle Busch competed for the win and Joey Logano hovered around 10th, Hamlin was forgettable (20th).

Denny was eliminated from the championship after his problems at Martinsville, and he drove at Texas like a driver that didn’t care anymore. In eight Chase races, Hamlin has finished outside the top 10 five times. Who would have thought?

COLD

It has been an ugly last 10 races for Marcos Ambrose. After top-5 finishes in the three events before that, I don’t think anyone was expecting this slump. His best finish in the last 10 is 12th, paired with two DNFs and only four laps led. The Mike Ford experiment clearly didn’t pan out and Ambrose seemed relieved to have Drew Blickensderfer calling the shots at Texas.

Ambrose reached the top 10 Sunday, but he was wrestling with his car like he was the Crocodile Hunter. Then he blew a right front and made hard contact with the outside wall to end his day. What has been bad keeps getting worse for Ambrose, who hasn’t cracked the top 20 in six of the last eight events.

Juan Pablo Montoya hasn’t scored a top-10 finish in 19 races. What’s worse is in those 19 events, he’s placed 19th or better only four times. Considering there are about 23 competitive Sprint Cup teams (at least, in my opinion), that is pretty difficult to do.

His Huggies/Target Chevrolet was a moving target Sunday at Texas. First, he found the outside wall for some heavy right-side damage, and then later in the event Montoya destroyed the front end of the No. 42 by sliding through the grass to avoid another wreck. Drivers were better off crashing head on into the wall than hitting the infield grass on Sunday. Just ask A.J. Allmendinger, who was knocked out of the race after what looked like a casual spin. Watch out! Killer grass.

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has been missing something all season, and what has to be incredibly frustrating is, with two races left, and they’re no closer to finding out what it is.

Contact Brett Poirier

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