The Frontstretch: Who's Hot and Who's Not in Nextel Cup: Michigan Edition by Cami Starr -- Monday June 18, 2007

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Who's Hot and Who's Not in Nextel Cup: Michigan Edition

The Starr Report · Cami Starr · Monday June 18, 2007

 

Each year, Dads everywhere eagerly await, or dread, what their kids will get them for Father's Day. Some get ties, cologne, power tools, or handmade cards; but if your kid happens to drive a Ford in the Nextel Cup Series, there is a good chance they're going to be getting you a trophy and a salute in Victory Lane instead.

For the seventh time in the last 11 races at Michigan International Speedway, a Ford driver took home the hardware, and this year, it was Carl Edwards that kept the streak alive. That's not to say the other manufacturers didn't have their fair share of success; well, except for Dodge, but we'll get to them in a moment. Chevy had seven drivers in the Top 10 in the standings after Sunday’s race, and even Toyota managed to secure a Top 10 finish. But if your kid was driving a Dodge or your Dad is a Mopar guy, it wasn't a very happy Father's Day; the highest finishing Dodge was Reed Sorenson coming home with a disappointing 23rd.

So, what other Dads were celebrating in the audience this weekend watching their teams run strong, and which ones were embarrassed and left wanting to buy their crew chief’s son a new calculator? Read this week's Who's Hot and Who's Not in Nextel Cup to find out.

Hot

Martin Truex, Jr.: Ever since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced his plans to leave DEI prior to the race at Darlington, people have speculated as to whether or not Truex is capable of being the flagship driver for the organization in 2008 and beyond. Well, in those five races, Truex’s answer has come through loud and clear: yes, yes, and more yes. Before the announcement, Truex was 20th in the standings; now, with three Top 3 finishes, including his breakthrough win at Dover, he sits 10th, the highest ranking driver within the DEI stable. Either the pressure of being the top dog at DEI or the win at Dover flipped a switch with Truex, and right now that switch is turned up to red hot.

Casey Mears: Like Truex, Mears was seemingly the forgotten member of his team and struggling to turn in good performances. And, like Truex, Mears’ first career win has taken him from pretender to contender in no time flat. In the three races since his first career win at Charlotte, Mears has a 13th place finish at Dover and back-to-back fourth place finishes at Pocono and Michigan to lean on. While it's nearly impossible for Mears to steal the limelight away from his superstar teammates (and future teammate), he is showing lately that at least he does indeed belong with such a powerhouse team.

Carl Edwards: You may not know the name Tom Giacchi, but I can guarantee you know his face…until the hair all but disappeared. Yes, the now clean-shaven motor coach driver for Carl Edwards fulfilled his bet, and then some, to a promise he made back in late 2005 that he wouldn’t shave until Edwards got his next win in the Cup series. Well, thanks to Edwards’ win at Michigan on Sunday, Giacchi was able to lose the beard it took 19 long months, and 52 races, to grow. Even if Edwards hadn't won on Father's Day, you had a feeling that a shave was coming soon. In the last five races, Edwards has scored three Top 5s and had no finish lower than 15th, all while managing to lead at least one lap in each of those events. Currently sixth in the standings, if Edwards can feed off his momentum like the guys listed above have done, Matt Kenseth may not be the only title contender coming from the Roush Fenway camp.

Warm

Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann: In what can only be described as a year full of frustration and disappointment, Michael Waltrip Racing finally found something to smile about Sunday at Michigan. After qualifying for only his third race of the season, Waltrip did what this team desperately needed; finish strong. He managed to stay out of trouble, stayed off the wall, and ran in the Top 20 the majority of the day before bringing home his NAPA Camry in tenth place. Ironically, Waltrip's last Top 10 finish came at Michigan almost exactly two years ago.

Meanwhile, Reutimann has had better luck in qualifying this year, he hasn't had any decent finishes to show for it. That finally changed Sunday when he came charging hard from 40th starting position to finish 15th, his best career finish to in the Cup series to date. While one good weekend isn't going to magically erase the past and turn this team around, it's a solid start…it's just too bad that Dale Jarrett didn't make the race and had to see the results from home.

Kyle Busch: Unless you've been living in a cave somewhere the last week, you know that Busch was granted his release (i.e.: given his walking papers) from Hendrick Motorsports this week. That could have given him an excuse for turning in a ho-hum performance this Sunday at Michigan, but you get the idea he wants to show the boss exactly what he's thrown away. Following back-to-back races at Darlington and Charlotte where he failed to finish higher than 30th, Busch has bounced back a 17th place finish and two straight Top 10s. Still in the running for a spot in the Dirty Dozen at the end of the year, Busch needs to keep this consistency going and not fall back onto the roller coaster he was on the last two months.

Cool

Jimmie Johnson: Before you Lowe's Lovers get all bent out of shape, I'm not saying that Johnson is washed up or isn't a title contender. But, despite his experience beyond his years, he has suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory. For the first time since September of last year, Johnson has gone three weeks without a Top 10 finish. That's not to say that the team is running poorly, they are just unable to avoid the bad luck they seem to usually dodge so easily. At Dover and Pocono, flat tires were the culprit for Johnson’s late misery, resulting in finishes of 15th and 42nd. At Michigan on Sunday, it was a bad call in the pits about fuel mileage that cost Johnson a shot at a Top 5 when he ran out of gas with seven laps to go and resulted in a 19th place finish. But don't jump of the Johnson Express just yet. Last year he went six races without a Top 10 then went wild in the final six races of the year, scoring just one finish (ninth at Homestead) worse than second to bring home his first Nextel Cup title.

Kurt Busch: With all the talk recently of the resurgence of Penske Racing, you wouldn't be able to tell looking at purely Busch's record over the past four races. After leading 107 laps in the Coca-Cola 600, he crashed out of the race and finished 32nd. At Dover, he was involved in another wreck and then parked by NASCAR, finishing 42nd. Pocono was a little bit better, but he still couldn't find the Top 10, ending the day in 16th. This past Sunday at Michigan, Busch seemed to be in position to finally get a good result. But a vibration caused by loose lug nuts forced Busch to make two green flag pit stops, the last coming with just 18 laps to go. So what could have been a Top 5 or 10 goes down in the books as another disappointment and a 25th place finish. Thanks to a 100 point penalty, combined with some bad luck, Busch now finds himself 16th in the standings, 144 points behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 12th…and losing momentum quicker than he can achieve it.

Scott Riggs: After missing last year's Daytona 500, Riggs came out strong in the remaining races and managed to finish 20th in the overall standings in 2006. This year, he scored a Top 10 and 11th place finish in a four race span, but then two races later, failed to make the show at Darlington. While the unintended week off might have given the team more incentive and determination to run better, those results haven't shown up on the track. In the four races since his DNQ, Riggs has an average finish of 23.5 and still finds himself 41 points on the wrong side of the bubble. However, to be fair; you can't put this all on Riggs and the No. 10 team. The entire Evernham has been running poorly all year and even tried to pull out last year's car this weekend at Michigan, only to once again find dismal results.

Cold

A.J. Allmendinger: While the rest of the Toyota camp has had at least one race with moderate success this year, Allmendinger has yet to be so lucky. Making just eight starts this season, his best finish has been 31st at Charlotte and this past Sunday at Michigan. Obviously, the majority of the Toyota teams were behind the eight ball when the season started, but Allmendinger has suffered most with a lack of track time to try and get better. The fix won't be an easy one. Even if the Red Bull team catches fire in the second half of the year, getting back to the Top 35 in points is nearly mission impossible. That means not only will his rookie season be one of frustration and extra stress to make the show on speed each week; likely his sophomore season will bring more of the same.

David Stremme: In the first nine races of the season, things seemed to be looking up for the second year driver. He was 14th in the standings following his second Top 10 finish of the year at Talladega and he appeared solidly entrenched in the Top 15 of the Nextel Cup standings. Then came back-to-back DNFs at Richmond and Darlington and the Coors Light Express has seemed to have derailed. In the six races since Talladega, he has no finish higher than 17th and an average of 31st. Currently 22nd in the points, a spot in the Chase is no longer an outside shot, but a hail mary at best. Like Riggs at Evernham, you can't put this squarely on the driver. After a strong start to the year, all three Ganassi drivers have taken a dive as of late. For Stremme, staying afloat long enough to earn a Top 20 in the final standings would be a job well done.

Johnny Sauter: Add Sauter to the list of drivers who have seen a promising start to the year take a plunge as of late. He wasn't exactly lighting up the field, but his ninth place finish at Phoenix along with other strong runs in the CoT had people thinking that the Haas CNC team was onto something this year. But a wreck at Talladega triggered a downturn that hasn't seen Sauter finish on the lead lap in the last seven races since. He has been lucky enough to hang onto the all important 35th position in owner points, but if he keeps running like this; that bubble is bound to burst sooner or later.

This week, the Nextel Cup Series heads to wine country for the first road course race of the year at Infineon Raceway. Will Jimmie Johnson be able to right the No. 48 ship and get back into the Top 10 in points? Can Tony Stewart finally score his first win of the season after coming oh, so close? Can Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr. keep up their torrid pace while turning right and left? Or will one of the road course ringers come in and spoil the party? We'll just have to wait until next week to find out Who's Hot and Who's Not in the Nextel Cup Series.

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