Ahhâ€¦Bristol, home of short track racing at its best: hot tempers, bent up sheet metal, and this year, wings and splitters. Wings and splitters? Yep, you heard right. This weekend, the long awaited (or dreaded) Car of Tomorrow took center stage in the Food City 500, and the reviews were mixed at best. The race winner, Kyle Busch, didn't have nice things to say about the car and even the guy that stayed home, Mark Martin, proclaimed he wasn’t a big fan. But some drivers, and they all better learn to deal with it because they are racing it again this weekend. You can bet the Toyota teams are happy to see it back, it seemed like a good equalizer and it worked to get Jeremy Mayfield and A.J. Allmendinger into the action for the first time this season. So which drivers left Bristol as the hot drivers of today and which left as the cold drivers of tomorrow? Read this week's Starr Report to find out.
Jeff Gordon: After staring on the pole for Sunday's race, things quickly went south for Gordon in the Food City 500 at Bristol. Battling to stay on the lead lap, the No. 24 team made adjustments on their Impala every chance they got. By the end of the day, they got it right and Gordon ended the day in third. Thanks to three Top 5s, four Top 10s and no finish lower than 12th, Gordon now holds the series point lead heading into another short track CoT race at Martinsville this weekend.
Jeff Burton: NASCAR'S resident Mr. Nice Guy finished second this weekend, after opting not to rough up race winner Kyle Busch in Sunday's overtime period. The runner-up finish marks Burton's best finish of the year and his fourth Top 10 in five races. Now, just three points behind the other Jeff (Gordon) in the standings, the No. 31 team certainly seems to be hitting on all cylinders so far in 2007.
Kyle Busch: While Busch wasn't happy with the new CoT, he was certainly happy to leave Bristol with the trophy in his hand. Following his first win of the year, the latest Busch brother to conquer the Tennessee short track, moved up eight spots in the standings to sixth. The No. 5 team has been running well all year, but has managed only three Top 10s to go with finishes of 24th and 32nd. Right now they are lacking the consistency of some of the others in the Top 10, but should they correct that; they could be one of the hottest teams in the series.
Clint Bowyer: Often when an organization is running as well as Richard Childress Racing is, there is one team that is left out in the cold and not performing up to par with the others. That is not the case with this organization so far this year. All three teams are in the Top 10 in points, including Bowyer. He's holding serve with his veteran teammates, currently sitting eighth in the standings thanks to three Top 10s; including an eighth place run on Sunday at Bristol. They've been stout all year, with the race at Vegas their only blemish so far in 2007. It doesn't look like you'll find a sophomore slump around here.
David Stremme: What a difference a year makes. After five races in the 2006 season, Stremme was lagging back in 38th place in the standings; with a season high finish of 26th. Flash forward to 2007. Now you'll find him 11th in the standings with five finishes in the Top 20. While he's yet to put a tick mark in the Top 10 column, you get the feeling that this team is coming close. They have been consistent all year long and are clearly making progress and gaining momentum in the right direction.
Greg Biffle: Following a 41st place finish in Atlanta last week, Biffle fans may have been worried about another poor start to the season that plagued them last year. Well Biff Buddies, no need to panic. While the No. 16 hasn't been lighting them up in the first five races of the year, they did manage to score their first Top 5 of the season this past weekend at Bristol. Other than Atlanta, where he got tangled up with David Reutimann, there haven't been any major disasters this year. He's steadily making his way towards the Top 10 in points, gaining 11 places last week to move to 16th overall.
Brian Vickers: If Vickers and his Red Bull Team could get a handle on qualifying, they could easily be the class of the Toyota field. Granted, that is a big IF considering how things have gone so far this year for the newest members of NASCAR, but when Vickers does manage to make a race, he's made it count. He scored the manufacturer's first ever Top 10 when he made the race at Fontana and was running well at Vegas before getting caught up in someone else's payback. This weekend at Bristol, Vickers managed to keep his nose clean and bring home his Camry in 15th place. If not for the two DNQ's, this team would be warm and most likely solidly in the Top 35.
Kurt Busch: If I would have bet you a Busch brother would have won at Bristol, I'm sure plenty of you would have bet it would have been Kurt, not Kyle. Even I would have taken that bet, considering he was my Roll the Dice pick this week in Picks N Pans. But like a lot of other fans, I was let down by the run the blue deuce turned in on Sunday. Busch started deep in the field, but a poor handling car and bad timing on pit stops put him several laps down and 29th at the end of the day. That seems to be a reoccurring theme with this team that has managed to score just one Top 10 finish. They run strong, but then something happens to keep them from getting the finish they should. Until they get off this roller coaster, it could be a long season for this team.
Kasey Kahne: Three crazed fans in a Durango aren't the only thing chasing Kahne, bad luck is as well. Sunday at Bristol, he started on the front row and looked to be a contender even into the second half of the race. That's when bad luck and tire problems set in. The resulting 19th place finish was good enough to keep Kahne above the Top 35 cutoff, but there is little room for error in the coming weeks. Qualifying usually isn't a problem for this team, but with bad luck following them at seemingly every turn, they don't need that kind of extra pressure right now. You can bet Kahne is hoping the return of Kenny Francis to the pit box, will bring about a reversal of fortune.
Ricky Rudd: Following a front row starting spot for the Daytona 500, it seemed like Rudd might have a storybook return to the Cup Series and Robert Yates Racing. But in the five races run so far this year, the story has quickly turned into a nightmare. At Daytona he ended the day 26th; which including the same finish at Atlanta, is his best finish to date this season. Also gone is his qualifying prowess, taking provisionals in two of the four races since his second place run at Daytona. Currently 33rd in the owner standings, the No. 88 team is safeâ€¦for now. But unless they can step up their race day performance, this fairytale is not going to have a happy ending.
Sterling Marlin: Add Marlin's name to list of underachieving drivers so far in 2007. Following a pretty decent end to the 2006 season, hopes were high for Marlin heading into this year. All is not doom and gloom though, he did finish 17th at Daytona and looked poised to have a good finish at Vegas before motor problems hit at the end of the race. But as it stands now, Marlin has two DNF'S and only one finish higher than 30th in the last four races. On a brighter note, he has made all five races this year, something that can't be said for teammate Joe Nemechek, and he sits 31st in the owner points. But seeing how well Mark Martin has performed, this team is capable of much better.
David Ragan: NASCAR racing can be a fickle sport, just ask Ragan. After starting off the year surprisingly well with a fifth place fun at Daytona and a 16th place finish the following week at Fontana, things have quickly gone sour for the young rookie. In the three races since, he hasn't cracked the Top 25 and is feeling the pressures of being one of the new guys on the block. A lot is expected out of the No. 6 in the Roush-Fenway stable, and right now Ragan is finding it hard to live up to those expectations. The question now is: was his early season success a fluke or is he just hitting a patch of rookie bad luck?
This week the Nextel Cup series heads to another short track with the Car of Tomorrow. Will Kyle Busch still maintain these cars suck if he turns in another good performance? Can Joe Gibbs Racing pull off another strong showing, but this time actually reap the benefits? Will Toyota be able to get another handful of drivers in the show or should they still pack light for the weekend? We'll just have to wait until next week to find out Who's Hot and Who's Not.
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