Cami Starr · Monday May 15, 2006
After a short track race at Richmond and a go round with the Lady in Black, this week’s All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time for some teams. The extra time around the shop is a welcome break for some that are struggling to either turn their season around or trying to stop a skid backwards in the standings. For other drivers who are on a roll, like Greg Biffle, of course the break couldn’t have come at a worse time.
What other drivers are itching to get back on the track, and what ones are thankful for the break?
Read this week’s Starr Report to find out Who’s Hot/Who’s Not after Darlington :
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth rebounded from his troubles at Richmond to score his seventh top 10 of the season. His third place finish at Darlington gave him a small gain on point leader Jimmie Johnson, and also closed the gap to one point between he and second place driver Tony Stewart. Even though he has only one win, he still looks to be a major player in this year’s championship race.
Jimmie Johnson: Getting boxed in during his green flag stop late in Saturday night’s race could have cost Johnson a top three finish, but finishing fourth was good enough to extend his point lead over Tony Stewart to 93 heading into the All-Star break. With a series leading eight Top 10’s and no DNF’s, Johnson is making things hard for the drivers trying to get within 400 points of the leader before the Chase starts.
Jeff Burton: Burton continued his quiet climb up the standings with a ninth place finish at Darlington and is currently tenth in the rankings, tying his highest mark to date this season. Burton has scored Top 10’s in four of the last five races, leaving many to believe it’s only a matter of time until he breaks through and gets that win to snap his 158 race winless streak.
Denny Hamlin: With a win in the Busch Series Friday night and a Top 10 Saturday night, Hamlin had a good time with the Lady in Black this weekend. Hamlin was the highest finishing rookie for the fourth time this season, and has scored three Top 10’s in the last five races. Now 13th in the points, it looks like Joe Gibbs has landed a rookie in Hamlin that can deliver on a consistent basis.
Greg Biffle: After scoring his first Top 5 of the season last week, Biffle said he felt like he won the race. This week he got to experience that feeling for real as he earned his long awaited first win of 2006. Following two strong finishes, Biffle has gained nine places in the standings and is closing in on the Top 10 or at the very least the 400 point mark as we near the halfway mark of the “regular” season.
Tony Stewart: Stewart managed to lead at least one lap in each of the first nine races, but has suddenly gone cold in the last two, failing to lead a lap in either. With no finish worse than 12th in the last eight races, you can’t say he’s totally fallen off his game, but he’s not the weekly threat to win as he has been in the past. The bright side for Stewart is that with the summer months fast approaching, you can count on him hitting another hot streak which should help him close the gap on Johnson.
Brian Vickers: After a DNF at Richmond, Vickers followed it up with a 41st place finish at Darlington and now is a season low 21st in the standings. His finish at Darlington was his third finish of 37th or worse in the last five races. While his Hendrick teammates are heating up the track, Vickers is cooling off and losing ground, which makes you wonder just how long Hendrick will stick by his young driver.
Casey Mears: Mears’ disappointing slide after a strong start to the season continued in Darlington this week. His second straight 17th place finish once again dropped him out of the Top 10 and narrowly out of Chase contention. It’s been eight races since Mears scored a Top 10 and as the competition heats up, he’d better turn things around soon if he wants to make his first run at the title.
JJ Yeley: As his JGR teammates start to warm up, Yeley’s performance has hit a mediocre slump. With only one Top 10 this year, Yeley sits 23rd in points heading to the All-Star break. The equipment and talent is there, but some better luck and stronger qualifying runs would go a long way in improving his results.
Kasey Kahne: With two wins and a season high second place rank in the points, things were looking up for Kahne this year. And while his season is far from ruined, this recent cold spell hasn’t done him any favors. Three straight finishes of 20th or worse, two of those being 30th on back, have him down to eighth in the points. If Kahne wants to be in championship contention, he’ll need to snap this spell and warm up as the Chase draws near.
Michael Waltrip: After dipping below 35th in the owner standings, Waltrip felt the added pressure of stepping up his qualifying efforts. While he hasn’t missed any races yet, his results on the track haven’t improved his position. The struggles this season make you wonder if Waltrip’s focusing too much on his Toyota plans instead of the season at hand.
Dave Blaney: Like his BDR teammate, Blaney hasn’t had anything to brag about this season. He hasn’t put up any DNF’s this year, which is a positive, but he doesn’t have any Top 15 finishes either. Lack of factory support may be a partial cause for the team’s struggles, but all the blame can’t be placed on that. The team as a whole seems to be struggling mightily this year.
Many teams will use this weekend’s All-Star race as a mini test session for the Coca-Cola 600 coming up at the end of the month. But the question is, will any of that make any difference if point leader Jimmie Johnson stays true to form and once again takes the win at his sponsor’s "home track"? Currently only the Top 10 are eligible for the Chase, and while several other teams are within striking distance of the 400 point mark if Johnson should stumble in the coming weeks, will any of that make a difference if the 48 team keeps running like it has? We’ll just have to wait to find out those answers as the countdown continues to Richmond.
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