Cami Starr · Monday May 29, 2006
If you love pit stops, then Sunday’s race was right up your alley. With the small fuel cell and 15 cautions, the pit crews got a big workout Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600. Some flourished while others suffered some tough breaks. The teams weren’t the only ones who suffered. Tony Stewart suffered a break of his own and now has to face the Monster Mile with a sore wing. Jeff Gordon had something break in the right front of his car just before he smacked the wall and was done for the night. But it wasn’t a doom and gloom night for everyone, just ask Kasey Kahne. So who left Charlotte riding high and who left Lowe’s on a low? Find out in this week’s Who’s Hot, Who’s Not.
Jeff Burton- With his fifth Top 10 finish in the past six races, Burton continued his quiet climb into the Top 10 in the standings. His only "off weekend" during that time was a 15th place finish at Richmond, moving him from 21st in the standings following Martinsville to eighth following Sunday night’s race. The only thing missing from his stat sheet this year is a win, but given his recent string of good finishes, that could come at anytime.
Carl Edwards- If it wasn’t for a sour engine at Darlington, Edwards could very well be looking at a string of five straight Top 10 finishes and a clear view of the Top 10 in points. But as it stands now, he is 14th in the points and almost 100 markers out of Chase contention. Given the hot streak this team has been on, and if the leaders should find trouble, you can’t count Edwards out of the battle just yet. Especially looking at the way the team rebounded from early trouble Sunday night to finish third.
Greg Biffle- Remember a few weeks ago when everyone was tossing dirt on Greg Biffle and burying any championship hopes he might have? Well, he’s starting to break through all that dirt and is climbing back into title contention. With three Top 10’s in a row, his finishes look more like everyone expects and he has gained ten spots in the standings over that span. While he’s not locked into the Chase yet by any means, it doesn’t hurt that his team is getting hotter as the Chase draws nearer.
Other Hot Drivers: Jimmie Johnson Top 5 number seven and he extends his point lead. Matt Kenseth takes over second place with his second straight Top 5
Dale Earnhardt Jr- Junior has overcome two rough finishes at Phoenix and Talladega to move up to fifth in the point standings after Charlotte. His win at Richmond has certainly given this team momentum and he has carried that on to finish fifth and 11th the past two weeks. He has had some past success at Dover and Pocono, the next two tracks on the schedule, and should be able to keep pace with the teams he’s battling in the points.
Mark Martin- Another week, another solid, quiet run for Martin. His fourth place finish at LMS on Sunday was just his second of the year, but was good enough to move him into third place in the standings. With only one finish out of the Top 15 this year, Martin is showing the classic consistency that keeps him in the title hunt year after year.
Denny Hamlin- His ninth place made him the highest finishing rookie yet again this year and inched him closer to the Top 10. With three Top 10 finishes in a row, Hamlin doesn’t seem to be phased by running up front with the big dogs and it probably wouldn’t surprise many to see him get the best of them one week and come away with a win, especially as the year wears on and he gets a second crack at some of these tracks
Other Warm Drivers: Tony Stewart caught a bad break in the 600, but still is fourth in the points. We’ll have to see how much that shoulder effects him at Dover. Jeff Gordon was moving his way through the Top 10 at LMS when he hit the wall and finished 36th, but is still solidly in the Top 10.
Kevin Harvick- After a string of four Top 10s, Harvick has cooled in recent weeks with only one Top 5 in the last four weeks to go with three finishes of 20th or worse. His 34th place finish in the 600 put him at the bottom of the Top 10, his lowest position in six weeks. But those two poor finishes in a row can’t totally be blamed on Harvick and his team. A freak incident where a piece of the track knocked a hole in the radiator at Darlington and a busted tailpipe at Lowe’s were the culprits. In both races Harvick was running well, so don’t look for him to stay cool for too long.
Elliott Sadler- Following Martinsville just six races ago, Sadler was in the Top 10 in the standings and in position to possibly make it into the Chase once again. But now, that seems like a distant memory following four finishes of 29th or worse in those six races. Currently 17th in the points, things need to turn in the opposite direction in a hurry if Sadler wants to make a run for the championship. Given the way RYR is running these days, that seems like a pretty tall order.
Kyle Busch- With three finishes of 30th or worse in the past five races, its easy to see why Shrub was so upset Sunday night and tossed his HANS device at poor Casey Mears. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the results will stand on the stat sheet. He’s hanging onto a spot in the Top 10, but he can’t throw a tantrum every time something goes wrong or his frustrations will continue to grow as he keeps sliding down the standings.
Other Cool Drivers: Kurt Busch his younger brother isn’t the only one feeling the heat. With only one Top 10 in the seven races since his win, he’s down to 19th in the standings. Martin Truex Jr. with Hamlin on such a hot streak, finishing out of the Top 20 repeatedly isn’t going to help his ROTY chances.
Brian Vickers- Vickers was riding high at Talladega when he nearly won the race and came home with a third place finish. But since then it’s been nothing but bad luck and poor finishes for the young driver. Finishes of 37th, 41st and 37th have him down to a season low 27th in the standings. Any Chase hopes are extinguished and too many more finishes like that may have him on the hot seat come Silly Season time.
Dale Jarrett- The only bright spot for Jarrett on Sunday night was that he was able to beat the traffic and get home early. His 43rd place finish was his first DNF of the year, but dropped him four places in the standings. With no Top 10s since Atlanta, it doesn’t look very promising for the UPS driver to deliver a Chase bid in his final year at RYR.
Scott Wimmer- He failed to make the show for the opener at Daytona and things haven’t gotten much better for Wimmer as the season has progressed. He’s finished inside the Top 20 only once this year and currently finds himself on the wrong side of the Top 35 cutoff in owner points. His qualifying effort hasn’t been very strong this year, so don’t be surprised if Daytona isn’t the only race he misses this year.
Other Cold Drivers The duo from Bill Davis Racing. Michael Waltrip bought his way into the 600 but still finished 41st. He’s still out of the Top 35 and he shouldn’t count on a team letting him pay his way in each week. Dave Blaney isn’t fairing any better either, he’s cracked the Top 20 just twice. You can bet they are counting the days until Toyota gets on the track.
Next week the larger fuel cell is welcomed back at Dover. But that will be the least of the teams concerns as they take on the Monster Mile. Things could get even uglier for the teams trying to scrape their way into the Chase as three time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson tries to make up for the win that slipped away this weekend. Can Johnson’s hot streak continue? Will Tony Stewart be able to make it through the entire race? What will happen if the Busch brothers wreck each other? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out the answers.
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