Mike Lovecchio · Monday October 4, 2010
NASCAR should just give Jimmie Johnson the title now
After a disappointing 25th-place finish to open the Chase, fans and critics were quick to write off the driver and team that have won the past four Sprint Cup titles. But in just two weeks following a win at Dover and a second place Sunday at Kansas, Jimmie Johnson is suddenly widely regarded as the title favorite once again by just about everybody – including myself. With an eight-point lead over Denny Hamlin and a host of favorable tracks on the remaining schedule, it’s easy to see why Johnson has more than a legitimate shot at championship number five. But as we saw in New Hampshire just two weeks ago, anything can and will happen, plus don’t forget Talladega is still on the schedule – the equivalent of Russian Roulette, a wild card track where he’s run into problems in the past. There is no denying the postseason is the No. 48 team’s time of year – 29 top-2 finishes in 63 Chase races isn’t too shabby – but a lot can happen in seven races. A lot.
The number one threat to Johnson’s title hopes is Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin has had a solid Chase thus far with his 12th-place run Sunday being his worst of the three races, and it shows with his second position in points. Hamlin has been widely considered Johnson’s kryptonite this Chase and with Kyle Busch running into problems by way of David Reutimann, the No. 11 is the Gibbs car closest to Johnson and Co. But don’t be so quick to label Hamlin as the top challenger. As the points tighten, it’s the driver sitting third in points (Kevin Harvick) who leads the series in top-5 finishes and was the top dog during much of the regular season, and with Greg Biffle’s win Sunday, don’t be so quick to count out at least one of the Roush cars. The moral of the first two points in this column is simple: it’s too soon to guarantee much of anything – that is, except for the fact Clint Bowyer is out of it.
Greg Biffle has joined teammate Carl Edwards as a title threat
Roush Fenway has struggled to win races this season and, in fact, it’s only been Greg Biffle who’s found Victory Lane. But suddenly, with his second win of the season Sunday and teammate Carl Edwards’ subsequent sixth-place finish – his twelfth consecutive top-12 performance – the two have emerged as legitimate contenders for the championship. The intermediate tracks have long been Roush Fenway’s bread and butter and with both Edwards and Biffle within striking distance – 53 and 85 points back, respectively – along with that Chase win checked off, the focus can now shift to reeling in the No. 48. It wasn’t that long ago when Edwards was a championship contender, and consistency may put him up there again… so don’t count either of these two teams out.
David Reutimann’s retaliation on Kyle Busch ruined Busch’s title hopes
Kyle Busch had a top 10 going and the points lead in his sights before David Reutimann got into the left rear of the No. 18 on Lap 154 and ruined the handling of Busch’s Toyota. It was a retaliatory move that relegated Busch to a 21st-place finish, leaving the championship hopeful 80 markers back. Heated at the moment of contact, Busch wanted NASCAR to reprimand Reutimann, but when asked to comment on the incident after the race, toned down his frustration… a good sign for Busch fans. It’s not the time of year to get caught up in a driver feud, and a newer, more mature Busch understands that. “New Kyle” understands he could be the championship leader right now, sure, but 80 points can easily be made up over a span of seven races. Watch the No. 18 closely next weekend, though, as it’s clearly a make-or-break weekend for the him and the Joe Gibbs Racing organization; Busch may not be out of it yet, but he’ll need to forget about Sunday and post a good run to clearly put this incident behind him.
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