The Starr Report · Cami Starr · Monday June 19, 2006
Mother Nature was the big winner Sunday at Michigan, shortening the 3M Performance 400 to the 3M Performance 258. Not everyone's spirit was dampened in the rain, though. Kasey Kahne rallied back from early trouble to win his series leading fourth win of the year. Several other drivers also benefited from being in the right place at the right time when the skies decided to open up, while others had their hopes of a good finish simply washed away. So who left Michigan singing in the rain and who left feeling blue? Read this week's Starr Report to find out.
Kasey Kahne: Sometimes, the best car doesn't win a race called early for rain, but that wasn't the case on Sunday. Kasey was strong after battling back from early overheating woes that dropped him as far back as 38th place and one lap down. The win was Kahne’s fourth straight Top 10 and moved him back to third in the standings. Three of his four wins this season have come from the pole, making him a driver to beat on both Friday and Sunday. I bet Ryan Newman wishes he could have had that kind of luck.
Greg Biffle: All of Biffle's doubters better get their forks ready, as it looks like they might be eating some crow very soon. Biffle turned in his sixth straight Top 10 finish on Sunday and, as of now, has a spot in the Chase. If he holds on and makes it in, he could be too much for the competition to handle considering the roll that he's been on as of late.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: With his fifth Top 5 finish of the year, Earnhardt, Jr. moved up to fourth in the standings following Michigan. Other than rocky runs at Vegas, Talladega, and Phoenix, Junior has been in the Top 15 each week, which is a far cry from last year's results. He's likely sealed himself into the Chase, and that has to have the NASCAR brass (and a few million fans) smiling wide.
Jeff Burton: As positions have changed hands all around him, Burton has quietly held onto seventh spot in the standings the past three weeks. The key to Burton’s success has been consistency. He's not up one week and down the next, and nine straight Top 15 finishes have moved him up fourteen spots in the standings and solidly into the Chase mix.
Ryan Newman: While Newman’s results the past six weeks aren't exactly setting the world on fire, they are an improvement over where he has been. Newman’s now moved up nine spots in the standings thanks to five Top 15 finishes in the past six races. The progress is good and shows the team might finally start to have a handle on the new Charger, but the team remains a darkhorse at best in this year’s race to the Chase.
Mark Martin: It's hard to knock a driver who has been in the Top 10 since week two of the season, but Martin can't afford to rest on his laurels. After a pit snafu left him 27th at Michigan, he's dropped to fifth in the standings, 182 points ahead of tenth. That may seem like a lot, but as Richmond nears, the competition is getting fiercer, and Martin's had two of his three worst finishes of the year in the last two races. It's not time to hit the panic button yet, but the 6 team needs to stay on its toes.
Tony Stewart: The 20 car’s fender wasn't the only thing that took a hit on Sunday. With Stewart’s third finish of 25th or worse in the past four weeks, two of those being below 40th, his standing in the points has taken a hit as well. Before Tony’s wreck in the 600, he was second in points, and now he's fallen down to sixth. Like Martin, there’s little margin for error here; if Tony's slide continues, he will fall into the clutches of the hungry drivers below him.
Kyle Busch: Kyle had been fortunate enough to keep a spot in the Top 10 by throwing in a few good finishes here and there, but that finally caught up with him last weekend at Michigan when a mediocre 14th place run dropped him down to 12th overall. Busch is not out of the Chase mix by any means, but erratic finishes won't help him make the cut with this group of tough drivers.
Reed Sorenson: Well timed pit strategy helped Sorenson score his first Top 5 of the year at Michigan on Sunday, warming him up a bit. He has had some decent runs in the past five weeks, but his lack of consistency is what is keeping him from making any real progress, barely hanging within the Top 20 in points.
Elliott Sadler: As the weather has gotten warmer, Sadler and his team have gotten colder. In the last nine races, Elliott has zero Top 10's, and has fallen from 12th to 21st in the standings. He claims the rumors of him leaving Robert Yates Racing aren't true, but with results like this, how can you not wonder if the grass isn't greener somewhere else.
Jeff Green: After catching sight of the Top 20 thanks to a few Top 15 finishes, Green has now slid back to 26th place, as four finishes outside the Top 25 in the last five weeks have chilled any progress this single car team had been making. Unfortunately, not many people expect much from this bunch, and that's what they have been delivering.
Ken Schrader: Kenny has that good guy image who everyone wants to cheer for, but this year moments to cheer about have been few and far between. In 15 races this year, he has only five Top 20 finishes vs. six finishes of 30th or below. Schrader hasn't given up on his Cup career just yet, but results like that aren't going to attract many teams and sponsors.
Hopefully it will be blue, sunny skies in wine country this weekend as the teams take on their first road course test of the year. Will road course aces like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Robby Gordon pass that test with flying colors? Can Jimmie Johnson continue to pad his point lead, or will he give those behind him a break they need to get back in the hunt? Can one of the road course ringers come in and throw a curveball at everyone by taking the checkered flag? We'll just have to wait until next week to find out Who’s Hot…and Who’s Not.
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