The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not in NASCAR: Martinsville Edition by Garrett Horton -- Tuesday October 26, 2010

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Who's Hot / Who's Not in NASCAR: Martinsville Edition

Garrett Horton · Tuesday October 26, 2010

 

Good morning, race fans and happy Tuesday! We are that much closer to the next race! After Sunday’s thriller at Martinsville, I am sure that it has left everyone excited/nervous about Talladega this weekend. Obviously, we have Jimmie Johnson doing his usual thing in the Chase, and while many expected Denny Hamlin to give Johnson a run for his money this year, I don’t think anyone actually thought he would be six points out of the lead this late in the game. Then, we have guys such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, and Kurt Busch who are all but out of the championship hunt. Will we see them start preparing for next year, or will they go all out in the final four races, influencing the championship outcome while they do it? The last short track event has left many fuming, but let’s see who’s really on fire in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not.

HOT

Kevin Harvick – I hope I am not jinxing Harvick like I did with Jeff Gordon after I declared him Jimmie Johnson’s biggest title threat two weeks ago. Either way, it was a great weekend for Harvick. His truck driver Ron Hornaday picked up his first Martinsville win, while Harvick’s Nationwide car driven by Mike Bliss nearly pulled off the Saturday sweep. And Harvick the driver had a pretty good day as well; he led 97 laps en route to his first top 5 ever at Martinsville, gaining 15 points on Johnson as we head to Talladega, where he happens to be the most recent winner. What about that pit crew swap? It seemed to work great as the No. 29 team had excellent stops all race. With just four races left, though, Harvick will either need to start winning or hope for some bad luck with Johnson and Hamlin.

After a season filled with mediocrity, Mark Martin gave his fans something to smile about on Sunday with a second-place finish.

Mark Martin – Martin nearly pulled off a Harry Gant on Sunday, rallying from a mid-race crash to almost pick up his first victory of 2010 at age 51. Although he wasn’t able to pick up the win, the second-place finish was Martin’s best this year just a couple of weeks after having the fastest car at Fontana. Through the first 13 races of 2010, Martin had five top-5 finishes. It took 19 races for him to get another, but after his lap 227 crash even a top 20 appeared unlikely. As can be the case in short track races, the damage actually made his car perform better, and Martin was running the fastest laps in the final portion of the event. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought he had just won the Daytona 500 from his interview.

Honorable Mention: Tabasco sauce, random I know, but I have some sitting by my desk; David Ragan’s seat; Jeff Gordon’s sponsor status for next year; Todd Bodine’s championship chances; and NASCAR being featured in CBS’ Undercover Boss

WARM

The Nationwide Series isn’t the only place Brad Keselowski has impressed as of late. A 10th-place finish Sunday was the high point of a disappointing campaign with Penske Racing on the Cup side.

Brad Keselowski – Heading into the past weekend, two things looked likely for Keselowski; he will be the 2010 Nationwide champion, and he might possibly run the entire Cup schedule without a top-10 finish. Turns out there’s nothing to worry about on both counts. With his win at Gateway, Keselowski only has to start the final three races to earn the Nationwide trophy he’s coveted for most of his career. He also solved that top-10 dilemma by scoring a tenth-place finish at Martinsville, his first with Team Penske. It isn’t the Cup season Brad wanted by any means, but his race on Sunday is a step in the right direction for next year.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Guess who’s back? Just kidding, but Sunday’s performance was exactly what Earnhardt needed. He led more laps than in all previous races this year combined, and his seventh place result keeps him solidly in the top 20 in points. If any driver should be excited about going to Talladega this weekend, it should be Earnhardt, who has nothing to lose and everything to gain at the superspeedway he once dominated.

Honorable Mention: Tornado season; another Kurt Busch feud; teammates fighting; start and parks not parking so soon at Martinsville; Jeremy Clements

COOL

Gateway International Raceway – Depending on how you look at it, this track could be on fire. The way I see it, however, is that Gateway put on two great shows this year to go out with a bang. It is for this reason I don’t think the track should be totally upset, but it has to sting to have arguably the two best finishes of the year, then not even host a race for the upcoming season. Even if the track were to come back, a little banking added to it would be nice. Do that and we have ourselves another Darlington.

Clint Bowyer’s Cinderella Chase beginning continued its ugly ending, his BB & T carriage turning into a pumpkin just in time for Halloween courtesy a faulty rear gear. The No. 33 car wound up 38th.

Clint Bowyer – What a crazy Chase this one has been for Bowyer. He has the win at Loudon and a second at Fontana, but his best finish after that is a 15th at Kansas. Oh yeah, he also got some penalty after that win in New Hampshire that has put him last in the Chase standings. I have heard how some people said that if NASCAR didn’t penalize Bowyer, that he would still be in top 5 in points. Well, that was before Martinsville and now, even without the penalty, he would be sitting ninth in the standings. Not much has been going right for Bowyer lately; Richard Childress confirmed that by swapping pit crews with teammate and title contender Harvick.

Honorable Mention: Justin Allgaier’s prospects for a decent ride in any series next year; Talladega forecast for this weekend; Marcos Ambrose’s and A.J. Allmendinger’s job security

COLD

Out of the frying and pan and into … Chase purgatory. Greg Biffle has fallen right out of title contention with two ugly weeks of mechanical problems in the last three – more than enough to deliver the knockout punch.

Richard Petty Motorsports – What is to say that hasn’t already been said? Kasey Kahne has already moved on, which may be a good thing. This is an organization that we all expected to be racing at least two cars next year, possibly three, but now it looks like it would a surprise to see RPM come back at all in 2011. I am a fan of a 43-car field as well as the No. 43 car on the track, and I would be devastated if neither one is a sight on the track for next year.

Greg Biffle – Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Biffle was supposed to be the underdog everyone had to look out for? He may be the only Ford winner this year, but wins don’t mean much if you can’t be consistent. Despite his win at Kansas, Biffle sits 11th in points and would be last among the Chasers if NASCAR didn’t help out by taking points away from Bowyer.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Conway (Extenze is actually letting someone else race this car?!?); start and parks in Nationwide (seven parked by lap four at Gateway); Timothy Peters

Contact Garrett Horton

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
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Five Points to Ponder: Ageless Wonders Join With Earnhardt For Martinsville Magic – Now Can It Last?
Two Jeffs, Two Long Winless Droughts, and One Big Reason Why
No Bull: What does Kurt Busch have against Hendrick Motorsports?
Talking NASCAR TV: Can ESPN Expand Their Storylines Beyond The Chase?

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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Carl D.
10/26/2010 08:09 AM
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David Ragan should be on the hot seat. He’s a mediocre talent in one of the best-funded teams in Nascar. In fairness, he has improved in one aspect… he hasn’t caused as many wrecks this year. Still, it’s a shame a guy like Justin Allgaier can’t get even a Nationwide ride while Ragan wastes precious space in the cup ranks.

Jacob
10/26/2010 08:48 AM
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Carl D: I agree. A speedTV.com reporter speculated that AJ might get the 6 car’s seat if RPM folds. If RPM pulls off the miracle and fields cars in 2011 Roush should swoop in and grab Allgaier for the 6, he certainly couldn’t do worse.

Garrett, I agree that not having the #43 on track would be sad. But I also can’t help wishing for it to fade into oblivion.
I don’t hate the Pettys. But tacking the name and number onto a broken down team doesn’t do anything for their respective legacy.
The times have changed. Petty hasn’t been able to use his “star power” to attract a big-time sponsor in a decade, an entire generation has grown up without seeing the cars as anything other than irrelevant field fillers.
Sometimes the more humanitarian choice, for someone on life support, is to turn off the machines, end their suffering, and mourn the loss. I think it is time to let the Petty legacy be carried on the strength of their history, and not another season of irrelevancy.

Brian Mc
10/26/2010 05:57 PM
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Well put, Jacob. Much like Richard’s own career which went on far longer than it should have.

Marybeth
10/28/2010 07:47 PM
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Jr. was 2nd in points the summer of 2008 in the COT. Jr. ran circles around JJ & JG in the COT so Rick took his engineer, Darien Grubb, away. Jr. has been going downhill since. I have read that his engineer has never been replaced, & that JJ & JG have 4 to 5 engineers each.