The Starr Report · Cami Starr · Tuesday June 5, 2007
There were two beasts roaming the Delaware countryside gunning for the Nextel Cup circuit this weekend: the Monster Mile and Mother Nature. For the third time in the last five weeks, rain pushed back the start of a race by a day, leaving teams condensing their weekly schedules and scrambling for alternate travel plans. But you can bet Martin Truex, Jr. wasn't complaining. The driver of the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet continued the streak of first time winners by dominating Monday's event, giving Chevy 12 wins in 13 races this year. Not everyone got such a good jump on the week like Truex did, however; just ask Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. They garnered plenty of headlines of their own for their latest run-in, which almost turned into a rundown for one unfortunate crew member on pit road. Meanwhile, for the first time since Daytona, there wasn't a Hendrick car to be found in the Top 5. Was that a sign the world is coming to an end? Or could teams finally find themselves gaining ground on this year’s dominant performers? The Monster Mile left us with more questions than answers in that department.
In the meantime, which drivers eluded the beast and left Dover riding high, and which ones were beaten down on Monster Monday? Read this week's Who's Hot and Who's Not in the Nextel Cup series to find out.
Carl Edwards: While Cousin Carl is scorching the Busch Series, his results have been a little less dramatic on the Cup side; still, he's getting harder and harder to overlook as his consistency grows stronger. Edwards was looking for the Dover Double this weekend, but after a strong showing in the Cup race fell short to Truex’s dominant performance, he had to settle for a third place finish, easily his best of the season. With six finishes of 15th or better in the last seven races and two Top 5s in the last three, Edwards has climbed up to sixth in the overall point standings. Clearly, the way this “young gun” is running suggests that perhaps Matt Kenseth won't be the lone Ford driver in the Chase after all.
Matt Kenseth: Speaking of Kenseth, it's been more of the same from him as of late; quiet, consistent finishes have helped him nail down the third spot in the season standings. Once again, the Roush-Fenway Racing driver got plenty of help from his boys on pit road; they worked all day on adjustments and helped him gain valuable spots during yellow flag periods. As a result, Kenseth came home with a fifth place finish, his eighth Top 5 of the year, moving him to gain 17 points on Jeff Gordon.
Martin Truex, Jr: Monday at Dover, Truex showed that D.E.I. might just be okay after all when Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes off after the season. He led 216 laps at Dover, 162 more laps than he had led in his entire Cup career up until that point, on the way to a dominating performance. With his first Nextel Cup win, the New Jersey native put the No. 1 car back in Victory Lane for the first time since Steve Park won the week after Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed at Daytona in 2001; ironically, that race was also run on a Monday. The win was his first Top 5 of the year and his fourth Top 10, which is good enough to vault him to 13th in the standings, now only eight points behind part-time driver Mark Martin.
Casey Mears: After having such a rough start to the season, many people were wondering if Mears' win at Charlotte was just a one shot, lucky gamble on fuel, and if he would quickly revert back to being ‘that other Hendrick car’ starting this weekend. But at Dover, Mears earned a respectable 13th place finish, giving him three Top 20s in the last four races and moving him to 27th in the season standings. Equally important to the fact that he didn't tank after the win, the move up the point standings separates him almost entirely from the bubble teams, allowing the organization to focus on race setups instead of worrying about making the show.
Clint Bowyer: With this recent string of first-time winners, you can bet Bowyer is sitting back wondering when it's his turn. Over the past four races, Bowyer has been the hottest of the RCR faithful, posting Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races despite some less than favorable results with the Car of Tomorrow. One thing Bowyer will have to watch in the near future is that he doesn't fall into another slump, though. After posting similar stats at the start of the year, he went four races without a Top 10, dropping off the radar screen as quickly as he’s discovered it. Keeping up Bowyer’s momentum will be the key to staying in the hunt for both the Chase and his first win.
Ryan Newman: Had it not been for an engine failure in the Coca-Cola 600, Newman would be one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. But as things stand, he's pretty damn warm following a second place finish at Dover. The only driver capable of keeping pace with Truex on Monday, Newman led 135 laps after starting from the pole – that’s more laps than he led during the entire 2006 season combined. In the last five weeks, he has four Top 10 finishes and has moved from 24th to 16th in the overall point standings. Still searching for that elusive next win, Newman and the No. 12 team can at least take solace in the fact that they are getting it done in both the Car of Tomorrow and the non-Car of Tomorrow in recent weeks.
David Ragan: Luckily for Ragan, fellow Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Juan Pablo Montoya has been experiencing his fair share of troubles recently. Or is it the other way around? Either way, Ragan sits five points behind Montoya in the rookie standings and hasn't capitalized on the opportunity to overtake the popular Columbian for the top rookie honors. After starting the year with a Top 5 at Daytona, things have taken a slow downhill turn for the first year Roush-Fenway driver; in the last six races, he has only three finishes inside the Top 20. His 14th place at Dover did help him gain two positions in the points, but all that did for this column was simply keep him out of the freezer… for now.
Jamie McMurray: It doesn't seem like that long ago that I was boasting about how well McMurray had turned things around in his second year with Roush-Fenway Racing. But in the last four races, he's reverted back to his old ways. Since going on a hot streak and capturing four Top 10s in five races, McMurray has struggled to even find the Top 15. His 16th place finish at Darlington was his best finish in the month of May, and he's now fallen outside the Top 12 in points as a result. Were we all fooled by McMurray’s sudden turnaround gone sour, or does he still have it in him to get back into Chase contention?
Kevin Harvick: It seems like if there isn't a big payday on the line, Harvick has trouble putting up big numbers. He did put up back-to-back Top 10s at Talladega and Richmond a few weeks back, but in the three races since, he has finished 17th or worse. RCR seems to have their CoT and engine program on track, but you wouldn't have known it watching the No. 29 team struggle on Monday at Dover before finishing 20th. Harvick did recover and regain a spot in the Top 12 after another mini-slump; however, he fell two places to ninth following Dover, and you have to wonder if this group has another big push in them to get back into title contention.
Dale Jarrett: Well, there is good news and bad news in the UPS camp these days. The bad news is that they have burned up their allotment of past champion provisionals, putting Jarrett in the same predicament of making or missing races like everybody else. But there’s good news, too; he has qualified his way in on time the last two weeks after missing Richmond and Darlington. Unfortunately, once the green flag drops the bad news for Jarrett starts all over again; he has failed to finish a race since Phoenix in April thanks to three straight engine failures. Still, there’s other good newsâ€¦well I just can't think of any right now. Currently 41st in owner points, Jarrett has a snowball's chance in hell of getting back into the Top 35, leaving them fighting their teammates for one of the final spots each week. Oh, wait; I did think of some other good news. At least Dale's ahead of the boss.
Ricky Rudd: You know things are going bad when your own teammate is the cause of your third DNF of the season. But it's not like things were looking that bright for Rudd at Dover, anyway. Starting 39th, he struggled with the handling of his car most of the day and had just cleared the Top 30 when Gilliland got loose and hit him on lap 355. Not exactly the way you want to come off your first Top 10 of the season. Rudd still is 120 points ahead of the dreaded 35th place spot in the owner points, but even that amount of room can't have them feeling too safe. You can bet the team knows exactly how many more days it is until they get back to Daytona though.
Bill Elliott: Thanks to his championship 19 years ago, Elliott suddenly became a hot commodity after Dale Jarrett burned his sixth and final provisional of the year. With six free passes in hand, Elliott took over for Ken Schrader and Jon Wood in the No. 21 Little Debbies Ford, but so far it looks like their plan to build up points in the owners' standings has fallen a bit short. In his two appearances for the team this year, he crashed out of the Coca-Cola 600 and finished 35th at Dover. But the good news is that he still has all six provisionals still at his disposal. However, that's little consolation and possibly just prolonging the inevitable for this struggling veteran organization.
After another short week for NASCAR, a trip to the lovely Pocono Mountains lurks on the Sunday horizon. Can Denny Hamlin finally get into Victory Lane in 2007 at the only track on the circuit he has ever won at? Will we get another first time winner this week? Now that there is a tiny crack in the Hendrick domination, can another team continue what Martin Truex started at Dover? We'll just have to wait until next week to find out Who's Hot and Who's Not in the Nextel Cup Series.
Editor’s Note : For all the latest news and information concerning the death of Bill France, Jr. click here for all that Frontstretch has to offer on this tragic loss.
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