The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not in Sprint Cup: Kobalt Tools 500 Edition by Mike Lovecchio -- Tuesday March 11, 2008

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Who's Hot / Who's Not in Sprint Cup: Kobalt Tools 500 Edition

Mike Lovecchio · Tuesday March 11, 2008

 

Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch has been the talk of the NASCAR community in the first month of the 2008 season. The 22-year-old Las Vegas native has suddenly become Sprint Cup’s most electrifying star, earning his stripes as one of the most mesmerizing phenoms in all of sports. Leading both the Craftsman Truck and Sprint Cup series points, in addition to placing third in the Nationwide standings, Busch picked up the first win for Toyota this weekend, as well as his first win for Joe Gibbs Racing and crew chief Steve Addington’s first win as a Cup series crew chief.

There is no doubting that the younger Busch is one of the hottest drivers right now, but his JGR teammate Tony Stewart is also just as hot — under the collar. After Sunday’s race, Stewart blasted Goodyear for bringing such a hard tire to Atlanta, a tire which in his view left cars uncontrollably loose. Due to those comments, supported by several other drivers, Goodyear earns its debut spot on the Who’s Hot / Who’s Not list, while for the first time ever we have a driver on both the “Hot” and “Cold” list at the same time.

Who might that driver be? Check the list below to find out, as well as the other comers and goers in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup.

HOT

Kyle Busch: The outspoken young star turned a lot of people off with his immaturity last year, but on the track, Busch has earned respect from anybody who watches the sport. With his win at Atlanta, Busch extended his points lead to 73 over Greg Biffle after recording three Top 10s in the first four races. Expect that string of success to continue this week at Bristol, too; Busch hasn’t finished outside of the Top 10 there in his past four races, and is the defending champ of what was NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow debut last March.

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle have been the top-performing cars out of the Roush Fenway stable to start 2008.

Carl Edwards: Arguably the only driver as Hot as Kyle Busch, Edwards was a transmission problem away from potentially winning his third straight race. With Hendrick Motorsports struggling (if you can call it that) and Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon outside of the Top 12, Edwards, along with teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, is showing that Roush Fenway Racing is one of the teams to beat in ’08.

Greg Biffle: Biffle could have won this weekend had he not burned off his tires racing Tony Stewart for second down the stretch. Instead, Biffle was forced to settle for fourth, which was still a fine accomplishment; it’s his second consecutive Top 5 and third Top 10 in the first four races. That’s a fine streak to have going to Bristol, which was also good to Biffle last season — with finishes of 10th and 5th, and the No. 16 team will look to stay hot again at the half-mile this week.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Junior Nation has a lot to be proud of, as Earnhardt has carried the Hendrick Motorsports banner in the first month of the season. Junior was again the highest running Hendrick car this weekend, finishing third, his second straight Top 5 finish. Now, he heads to one of his best tracks; in his last 12 Bristol starts, Earnhardt has nine top 10s, six top 5s and one win.

OTHERS: Tony Stewart (Top 10 finishes in every race completed this season)

WARM

Brian Vickers: What a difference one year makes. At this point last season, Red Bull Racing was one of the dismal Toyota teams desperately looking for an opportunity to crack the Top 35; but now, Vickers has turned the No. 83 team into one of the surprises of 2008. Vickers hasn’t made a splash all the way at the front quite yet — he has only one Top 10 — but the former Nationwide champion has been a model of consistency. With finishes of 12th, 11th, 13th and 9th, Team Red Bull’s “A” team is well on their way to making some noise.

Mike Skinner: Need a car in the show? Call Mike Skinner. One week after replacing Jacques Villeneuve and putting the No. 27 Bill Davis car in the show, finishing 30th, Skinner was again summoned to help a team in trouble. The second car from Team Red Bull, No. 84, had yet to make a race all year heading to Atlanta; but with Skinner at the helm, things changed in an instant. Temporarily subbing for A.J. Allmendinger, Skinner qualified 34th and finished 27th, once again showing that he can drive more than a truck these days.

COOL

Jimmie Johnson: Sure, 13th in points isn’t disappointing to most teams, but it is for the two-time defending champs. For the second straight week, Johnson was an afterthought; needing the help of two Lucky Dog passes, the No. 48 came home with a shaky 13th place finish, the last car on the lead lap. This comes one week after an embarrassing 29th place finish at Las Vegas that had crew chief Chad Knaus scratching his head and observers wondering if all is well in paradise. Right now, Johnson’s lone Top 10 this season came at California, where he finished 2nd; but since then, this team hasn’t shown themselves capable of running at the front.

Bold Prediction: Johnson will be on the “HOT” list at this time next month and in the Top 5 in points.

Elliott Sadler: Sadler hasn’t run too bad as of late, but a crash at Atlanta dropped the No. 19 car to 20th in points. After a 6th place run in the Daytona 500, Sadler has yet to crack the Top 10 since, with his best finish coming at Las Vegas, where he finished 12th.

COLD

Goodyear: I wasn’t surprised by Tony Stewart’s post-race comments on these tires, since he basically echoed what he had said earlier in the week in the garage during Happy Hour. But what did surprise me was (gasp) he mentioned that both Hoosier and Firestone could do better. Stewart may have been speaking on behalf of the majority of the drivers in the garage when he said the tires were too hard, but NASCAR and Goodyear clearly have different opinions — don’t expect the two to merge anytime soon. Whether Stewart gets fined for his criticisms or not is anyone’s guess; however, 24 hours later it’s clear Goodyear’s credibility took a major hit Sunday with one comment from one of the sport’s biggest names.

Carl Edwards: For the first time ever, a driver is on both the Who’s Hot / Who’s Not “HOT” and “COLD” list. Why? Edwards may have fallen just short of his third straight win this week, but the transmission failure that ended the No. 99’s day at Atlanta resulted in a 42nd place finish. This comes one week after a 100 point penalty following Edwards’ win last week at Las Vegas, both crushing early season blows for a team running this well. Suddenly, the man who was tops in points when the checkered flag flew at Vegas has fallen to 17th in the standings, easily the largest drop in the series over the past week.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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
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