Cami Starr · Monday June 11, 2007
Want to know the best way to ensure rain for your town? Book a NASCAR race, of course! For the fourth time in six weeks, rain wrecked havoc with race weekend, forcing a delay in the start of Sunday's Pocono 500 and cutting the race short just past the halfway point. For some drivers, like Jimmie Johnson, it wouldn't have mattered if the race had gone the distance or not…the damage had been done. But others will never know what could have transpired if the rain had simply stayed away.
Now, the day after it’s time to pick up the pieces – and suck up the water – from a wild and wacky race nearly ruined by Mother Nature. Who left Pocono singing in the rain with her and who left feeling like a drowned rat? Read this week's edition of Who's Hot and Who's Not to find out below:
Jeff Gordon: Gordon and the No. 24 team are certainly proving the old adage, “It's better to be lucky than good” to be true. By pitting off sequence, crew chief Steve LeTarte made sure his driver was up front when it counted (as in pouring down rain) to grab their fourth win of the 2007 season. Other than a crash at Charlotte where he finished 41st and an "off week" Monday at Dover where he was ninth, Gordon has finished in the Top 5 in the eight of the last ten races and has a total of twelve Top 10 finishes on the year. With Sunday's scintillating victory, Gordon also took control of the standings; he increased his point lead by 90 to 242 over now second place driver Matt Kenseth. You can bet there are an increasing number of teams hoping Ingrid goes into labor very soon!
Mark Martin: After four "dismal" finishes in a row with his new Ginn Racing organization, Martin has gotten back to normal with two straight Top 10 finishes at Dover and Pocono. Following a poor qualifying run on Friday that saw Martin start back in 35th position, the Army car quickly made its way through the field, slicing and dicing before a miscue on pit road erased all the progress Martin had made. In true Martin fashion, he soldiered his way back through the pack and was in the seventh position when the race was called. His seven Top 10 finishes have Martin sitting in the final Chase position…but don't get any ideas that he has had a change of heart and plans to run for the Cup. As he reiterated this week and told Frontstretch.com’s Vito Pugliese earlier this season, he simply has no plans to come back and run full-time.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's quest for a third straight Pocono title was washed away on Sunday as once again, a Hendrick driver was in position to reap the benefits. Starting from the outside of the front row, Hamlin seemed to be ready to pick up where he left off last year, leading the first 24 laps of the race and 49 of the 106 run throughout the day. But unfortunately, Hamlin’s quest for a win became derailed by Gordon’s pit strategy, forcing the FedEx Chevy to settle for a disappointing sixth place finish. That seems to be the M.O. for Hamlin's season so far in 2007: run strong, lead a lot of laps, and not have the hardware at the end of the day to show for your effort. But all is not lost; Hamlin currently sits third in the points and with five straight Top 10 finishes, he’s at least showing he's one of the most consistent drivers out there.
Tony Stewart: Just when Stewart gets on a roll, something seems to always jump out of the woodwork and bite him in the butt. Case in point : Monday’s run-in with Kurt Busch at Dover, which resulted in a 40th place finish and left Stewart in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. But once again, Smoke was able to rebound from adversity with a solid Top 10 finish. His fifth place run at Pocono was not just his third of the year; those stats are plenty good enough to place him sixth in the standings and solidly in the Chase. As of now, though, he'll enter the Chase with no bonus points for wins; hopefully, you can expect that to change this summer when Stewart typically runs very well.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. While teammate Martin Truex Jr. is stealing all the headlines on the track, Earnhardt Jr. is trying to keep pace. After announcing his intentions to leave D.E.I. before the Darlington race, he was able to rack up two eighth place finishes, but in the weeks that Truex stolen the limelight, Junior has finished 22nd and 12th, leaving his as the odd D.E.I. man out of the Chase (not including Paul Menard…like he really had a shot). Of course, his 100 point penalty didn't do anything to help matters much, but he's still 55 points above the cutoff with twelve races remaining in the regular season. He hasn't fallen off the pace much, but it will be interesting to see how Dale Jr. and the No. 8 team react to the pressure of watching their teammate run so well.
Jeff Burton: Following April’s win at Texas, things went quickly downhill for Burton. After that race, he was second in the standings, breathing down Jeff Gordon's neck just eight points behind. With three finishes outside the Top 20 in the seven races since, he has now dropped to 421 points back behind Gordon in fifth place. But all is not lost for the No. 31 AT&T team. Burton snuck back into the Top 10 at Darlington and at Dover. For Pocono, let’s just say he’s been close, posting finishes of 12th and 13th. It's been a slow climb back for Burton, but at least he's moving in the right direction.
Greg Biffle: Biffle's on track performance isn't the only thing that has cooled recently. This past week he announced that his contract talks with Roush-Fenway have chilled out as well. Perhaps Biffle wants to see what direction this team is really heading before he makes a commitment to sign on the dotted line. A recent crew chief change hasn't had time to spark any real positive results…but in the three races since Pat Tryson was let go, the No. 16 team has finished 43rd, sixth and 30th. At Pocono, the car was self-proclaimed junk after qualifying 41st, The Biff was never able to make any significant progress up the charts, slipping up the track to spin out Dave Blaney instead. Certainly there will be an adjustment period for new crew chief Greg Erwin, but there is little time left if Biffle wants to move up from his current 19th spot in the standings to make the Chase after being left out of the field last year.
Juan Pablo Montoya: In the first seven races of the season, Montoya looked on his way to an impressive rookie career. With a Busch win in Mexico City and two Top 10 finishes, the former F1 driver really was making the adjustment from open wheel to stock cars look easy. But in the last seven races, Montoya has seemed to have lost some of his swagger. He had just one Top 25 finish in that span before a mediocre 20th place run at Pocono on Sunday. Montoya still holds the lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, but that's not as much from his performance, but a product of his fellow rookies struggling as well. The talk of when will Montoya win has suddenly been replaced by when will he get another Top 10.
Chad McCumbee: Pocono turned out to be a pretty good weekend overall for the young driver tapped to run for Kyle Petty in his first race for TNT. On Saturday, McCumbee won the ARCA event and followed it up with a decent run in the Nextel Cup Series. At the beginning of the race, the car was tight, but the team was eventually able to make adjustments to help the youngster out with his problems. As a result, a No. 45 Dodge that had moved up to 13th position before having to pit late in the race ended the day in 25th place instead. Still, McCumbee did help the team gain one position in the owner standings. While the finish wasn't dazzling, he did accomplish what would have to be considered one main goal: to stay out of trouble and run all the laps. Well…let’s just say, Mission Accomplished!
Mike Bliss: Does the name seem at least a bit familiar? Yes, he is still running in the Nextel Cup Series in the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge but you may have forgotten about his since its approaching two months since he last made a race. Bliss and Co. have been behind the eight ball all season long, fighting to even make it into the field, and it wasn't until race four at Atlanta that he made the show for the first time. But to Bliss’ credit, he did put in an impressive qualifying run, starting ninth before ending the race in 21st. That kicked off a string of four straight races for the team, but the results got progressively worse, with the streak ending with a wreck at Texas and a 41st place finish. Seven races later, the team is still waiting to make race number five. While that has to be frustrating, they can take comfort in this simple fact: they have run in double the races as Michael Waltrip has.
Elliott Sadler: After Sadler ran so well to start his tenure with Evernham last season, you would think this team could shake their bad luck and get back on track in 2007. Not so fast. His only Top 10 finish came at Daytona and the team has been drowning in mediocrity, at best, ever since. On the bright side, Sadler has put in some strong qualifying performances in recent weeks, starting in the Top 10 at both Charlotte and Dover, although they have yet to yield any benefits. It's been five races since Sadler scored a Top 15 at Talladega; perhaps the early season woes and crew suspensions have been just too much for the organization to overcome.
Jeff Green: Things seemed to be turning around for Green and the No. 66 team after they posted two Top 10 finishes at Bristol and Phoenix. The Car of Tomorrow seemed to be the key to finally fit in order to get the team headed in the right direction. But instead, they have reverted back to form, and in the last five races, Green has an average finish of 30th. That’s hardly the stats of a driver and team who had earned so much positive feedback earlier in the year. CoT races are few and far between in the upcoming month, so if this team wants to work its way back into the Top 10, they're going to have to find a way to do it the old-fashioned way.
Next up is a trip to the Irish Hills of Michigan for a Father's Day extravaganza. Can father-to-be Jeff Gordon keep his win streak alive, or will Baby Girl Gordon come calling and pull him away from the track? Will teammate Jimmie Johnson bounce back from his 42nd place finish at Pocono and rip off a few more wins in a row for the Hendrick stable? Can Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continue their climb back from penalties, or will another first time winner steal the limelight? We'll have to wait until next week to find out exactly Who's Hot and Who's Not in the Nextel Cup Series.
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