The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not in Sprint Cup: Pre-Brickyard 400 Edition by Mike Lovecchio -- Tuesday July 22, 2008

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As teams approach one of the most prestigious races in the Sprint Cup Series and fans and drivers are refreshed following a rare off weekend, it’s a perfect opportunity to recognize some of the streakiest drivers heading into this year’s Brickyard 400. Of course, one man has been in a league of his own all season – but another driver has surprised in mirroring Kyle Busch’s points total over the past nine races.

Who is that famous wheelman giving Busch a run for his money? And who’s season is suddenly running on life support after a strong early start? See who are some of the worst drivers in the series as of late, and who has an opportunity to kiss the bricks on Sunday by checking out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup.

Kyle Busch has celebrated through seven different Cup Series victories this year, en route to climbing to the top of the championship standings over rival Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

In a league of his own

Kyle Busch: What Lil’ Busch has done this season has been nothing short of amazing. Whether it’s the 13 Top 10s in 19 starts, or the seven wins, or the five wins in his last nine races, the Vegas native has put himself in an excellent position when the Chase rolls around. And did I mention that he has the best average finish (7.0) of any current driver with more than one start at Indy?

Say what you want about the guy, but more and more fans are starting to respect him. With a 262-point lead in the current point standings, if he somehow loses the championship in the Chase, it’ll be a shame.

HOT

Matt Kenseth: In typical Kenseth fashion, not much was said about the past champion in the early part of the season. Much of that can be accredited to a slow start that left him 22nd in points after Richmond — but in the nine races since, Kenseth has gone toe-to-toe with points leader Kyle Busch:
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Last 9 Races:
Kenseth: 0 Wins, 3 Top 5s, 8 Top 10s = 1,359 points
Ky. Busch: 5 Wins, 6 Top 5s, 6 Top 10s = 1,386 points
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With the type of consistency that Kenseth has shown as of late, it would not be a stretch to say that he has gone from Chase afterthought to championship contender.

Carl Edwards: In his last ten races, Edwards has recorded an impressive eight Top 10 finishes to keep Kyle Busch in his sights. Two of his non-Top 10s have come in the past three weeks, but his 32nd place finish two weeks ago at Chicagoland was a result of damage to his front splitter, ruining what could have been a fourth win of the season for the No. 99.

WARM

Brian Vickers: Vickers had just two Top 10s in his first ten races, but has registered three Top 10s in his last six. And with seven consecutive Top 15s, the No. 83 is suddenly fighting for the Chase, just 95 points behind Denny Hamlin.

David Ragan: Another surprising Chase contender, Ragan, like Vickers, has turned it on as of late. Three Top 10s in the last five races has him 15th in points, but a wreck at New Hampshire and a 24th place at finish in his other two races leaves him on the outside of the Top 12 looking in.

Jimmie Johnson: You know expectations are high when you’re sitting 5th in points and critics still aren’t satisfied, but that’s what you get when you’re a two-time defending champion. Still, Johnson appears to slowly be returning to form in his No. 48, with five Top 10s in his last seven races. His 5th place points position is also one spot away from his highest of the year.

COOL

Jeff Burton: With 17 consecutive Top 15 finishes to start the year, Burton was the Cup series’ model of consistency for the first half of the season. But suddenly, the No. 31 has dropped off a bit, with back-to-back finishes of 37th and 19th. It’s now been five races since Burton has finished in the Top 10.

Casey Mears: After news spread that Mears would be out of the No. 5 at the end of the season, the fourth Hendrick driver suddenly pulled off back-to-back Top 10s for the first time this season. Unfortunately for Mears, the good runs stopped there. Finishes of 34th and 33rd the past two weeks leave him 24th in points while each of his teammates sit comfortably in the Top 12.

COLD

Denny Hamlin: The biggest drop amongst the current 12 Chasers after Chicago belonged to Hamlin. With a 40th place finish, the No. 11 dropped five spots to 12th in points with a host of drivers nipping at his heels. Three finishes outside of the Top 25 in his last four races do not bode well for Hamlin’s Chase hopes.

Michael McDowell: Just one Top 25 in 14 starts is not exactly what Michael Waltrip Racing was looking for.

Bill Elliott: He may not be driving the best equipment in the series, but an average start and finish lower than 30th in nine races warrants a spot on the COLD list.

Contact Mike Lovecchio

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