Cami Starr · Tuesday March 7, 2006
After an early break in the season, it’s time for both me and the Cup teams to get back in action this week. While the Cup guys are headed to Vegas, I’m taking a look back at the past two weeks to let you know Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Nextel Cup Series. Two big surprises this week, as one driver is hot that you may not expect, while on the other side, one driver who was supposed to be burning up the track this year has suddenly gone cold. Who are they?
Check out this week’s Starr Report to find out.
Jimmie Johnson: Despite the Knaus mess, Johnson is off to a near perfect start this season. He backed up his Daytona 500 victory with a second place finish at California. If he keeps this pace up, maybe he will tell Chad to take an extended vacation. Ok, doubtful… but it’s a thought.
Casey Mears: Many people, including some of the smart writers here at Frontstretch.com, picked Mears to have a breakout season in 2006. So far he’s hasn’t disappointed. Only Mears and Johnson have two top-10 finishes this year and with two straight seventh-place finishes at Vegas, Mears could continue his hot streak this Sunday.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth was in the right place at the right time Sunday in Fontana to take his first win of the season. The victory bumped Kenseth up twelve spots in the standings to third, only 47 points behind Johnson. This coming weekend, Kenseth could hit the jackpot again by posting his third Vegas win.
Carl Edwards: After a 43rd place finish at Daytona, there wasn’t any place for Edwards to go but up. And he did it in style in California by finishing in third place. It’s early in the season, but the more distance Edwards can put between himself and the bottom of the standings the better. With the new Chase format, drivers don’t get many mulligans anymore. Edwards took one at Daytona, but should be spared from using another one this weekend at Vegas where Roush Racing has a strong history.
JJ Yeley- With an eighth place finish in Fontana, Yeley showed that there are two promising young rookies residing at Joe Gibbs Racing. He struggled in just four starts last year, but he seems to be turning over a new leaf in 2006. He’s currently second in the Busch series standings and with his first top-10 in the Cup Series, perhaps Yeley can feed off that momentum and put in a strong run this weekend in Vegas.
Tony Stewart: Has the reported return of Tony the Terrible been greatly exaggerated? Despite finishing dead last at Fontana, the defending Champ was smiling after climbing out of his car early on Sunday. A blown motor took Smoke out at lap 215 and dropped him back to 22nd in the standings. So what is there to be so happy about? Stewart was excited about how his car ran up until that point and how the team was able to move back up through the field after a pair of setbacks. That may be a problem for the competition. But it’s still early, and we’ll have to watch to see if this team really is poised for a serious run at back-to-back titles.
Michael Waltrip: It’s not a great sign when a team sponsored by an auto parts store drops a cylinder due to bad spark plugs at the start of a race. But that’s what happened to Waltrip on Sunday in Fontana. The team did manage to fix the problem, but not before falling several laps down, causing a 36th place finish. Following a mediocre 18th at Daytona, Waltrip currently sits 27th in the standings. An off-season merger “bought” his spot in the first five races of the year, but if the team can’t shake off some of their bad luck, the next 31 might be touch and go.
Greg Biffle: Biffle was on the top of many people’s pre-season favorites lists to win the Nextel Cup title, and with good reason. He won a series high six races in 2005, and put up a strong fight against Tony Stewart for the championship. So what is he doing in 38th place in the standings after two weeks? Well, in two words"¦ bad luck. He cut a tire at Daytona on the last lap, and was dominating the field in California before a blown motor dropped him to 42nd place. At this point in the season last year, Biffle was 5th in the standings. But now is not the time for Biffle fans to panic. With Vegas coming up, Biffle has a great shot at heating up and starting his climb back up the standings.
So, dear race fans, what can we expect this coming week? Will the young Gibbs drivers continue to impress? Can Biffle rebound and hit the jackpot, or will he have to call out the National Guard? Will Jimmie Johnson’s string of top finishes continue while Darian Grubb keeps Chad Knaus’ seat warm on top of the pit box? Can Michael Waltrip get some quality NAPA parts under the hood? Only time will answer those questions, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
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