The Frontstretch: Nikki's Big Six : Texas Edition by Nikki Krone -- Sunday April 15, 2007

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Nikki's Big Six : Texas Edition

Nikki Krone · Sunday April 15, 2007

 

Editor’s Note : Becca Gladden is off this week; FS Senior Writer Nikki Krone filled in. Look for Becca to be back this week with live coverage from Phoenix Raceway!

Each week, Frontstretch Senior Staff Writer Becca Gladden (this week, Nikki Krone) looks at the weekend's Nextel Cup race from a reporter's point of view, covering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the race, the drivers, the TV coverage, even the commercials. Check back every Monday for this fun and thought-provoking commentary.

Who…gets my shout-out of the race?

Chip Ganassi Racing. With Juan Pablo Montoya's eighth place finish (his second Top 10 of the season) and David Stremme's tenth place finish (the first of his career), the two drivers now sit 12th and 13th in points after Texas. When Chip Ganassi introduced his 2007 lineup of Reed Sorenson, Stremme and Montoya, many were questioning the choice Stremme to return for a second season behind the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge. He not only had a MISERABLE rookie season in Cup, but he’d failed to win a Busch Series race during a multi-year career in that series. And while Juan Pablo Montoya had been extremely successful in every style of racing he had tried in the past, many also questioned Ganassi's decision to put him straight into a Cup car with little to no stock car experience. I was one of those who felt Ganassi was headed for yet another disappointing season. However, with the successful starts of these two teams, maybe Ganassi knows what he's doing after all.

What…happened to Kasey Kahne?

Last year, Kahne led all drivers in race wins with six, while also earning six poles, 19 Top 10s, 12 Top 5s, and finishing eighth in the points. So far this year, he's barely a blip on the radar. Having only earned one top 10 so far this season (7th at Daytona), Kahne has five finishes of 20th or worse, including his 20th place finish on Sunday. The only real bright spots for the team in these first seven events have been a pole at Vegas and second place starts at California and Bristol. With last year's performance, Kahne made it look like he would be a definite Championship contender in ’07. But as he sits 580 points back from the leader in 33rd, it's starting to look like he won’t even contend for the Chase.

When…will someone convince Mark Martin to run the rest of the season?

Even after missing two races, Mark Martin is still technically in contention for the championship, sitting 11th in points. He's competed in just five races this season, but he's earned five top 10s, four top fives, and three podium finishes. He has more than shown that he still has what it takes, and he's already gotten two extra weeks off, so can't someone convince him to finish the entire season and earn that elusive championship? Come on, Mark, you know you want to!

Where…in the world did Kyle Busch go after his wreck?

After running into the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 253 (when Earnhardt Jr. slowed for the spinning, smoking No. 20) Kyle Busch threw in the towel and told his team the car was done. While the No. 5 team worked feverishly to get the car back in the race, refusing to call it quits when there were still points to be gained, their driver decided to just leave. After all the repairs, the No. 5 became a car without a driver…and, as luck would have it, Earnhardt Jr. was a driver without a car. A call and favor between friends led Earnhardt, Jr. to get into the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet - the same car that pretty much took him out of contention for the win (he was running second at the time of the crash). So, while Busch pouted and left his team in panic, Earnhardt Jr. pulled the classy maneuver of helping out a rival. He drove the car to the race’s conclusion and even helped Kyle Busch pick up three more points - points that could end up being the difference between being in or out of the Chase. I wonder if Busch will remember that down the line?

Why…can't the closing laps of every race be as exciting, and as clean?

With the laps winding down, I imagine most of us figured Jeff Gordon could probably begin preparing his Victory Lane speech. Kenseth looked like he might be able to give him a run for his money, but Gordon needed a win, and there was a good chance he'd do what he had to in order to get it.

But about as quick as we could play out the entire scenario in our head, there was Kenseth's No. 17 Ford looking for the lead and eventually making the pass on the No. 24 Chevrolet. Behind that, a hard charging Jeff Burton, who had fallen back a bit after the final restart, was picking up spots and making up ground on both drivers.

With 20 to go, Burton was fifth. Six laps later, he was passing Jeff Gordon for second and gaining fast on Kenseth. With ten to go, Burton was all over Kenseth, but one lap later, he was back, five car lengths behind the No. 17. It looked like Kenseth might have another weekend sweep.

But wait…six laps to go…Burton's looking….but Kenseth pulls away.

Two laps later…he's looking again…and Kenseth shuts the door.

Turn 3, three laps to go, Burton and Kenseth, SIDE-BY-SIDE!! Advantage - Kenseth.

Final lap, Kenseth leads, but here comes Burton. Kenseth on the outside. Burton on the inside. Burton takes the lead.

Jeff Burton wins the race!

No beating and banging on each other, but arguably one of the most exciting, nail-biting endings of the season so far. They should all be that way.

How…cool is it to see Jeff Burton running back up front again after such a long drought?

Jeff Burton is arguably one of the most likable, respected, educated, and classy drivers in NASCAR, so it’s great to see him running well and winning again. Ten years ago, Burton won the first NEXTEL Cup race the Texas Motor Speedway, and on Sunday, he became the first driver to win twice at the speedway. If anyone deserves that honor, it's Burton. He now sits second in points, just eight behind Jeff Gordon.

When I first really started watching NASCAR, Burton was one of the cars to beat, but in the final years of his Roush Racing career, the slump was hard to watch. His first full year with RCR was also disappointing, but you could already begin seeing the changes that a driver of Burton's caliber was bringing to the team. When Burton won last year at Dover for the first time in five years, you just knew it was going to be the first of many wins for him in that ride. It's very early in the season, but Jeff Burton is already showing he's going to be a strong contender for the championship. And there is no driver more worthy of that honor than Burton.

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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
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©2000 - 2008 Nikki Krone and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Robert Eastman
04/16/2007 10:02 AM
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How’s this for a fantasy? Dale Jr’s favor for Hendricks is a prelude to next season. Dale Jr. takes the BUD sponsorship from DEI over to his own JR Motorsports
and Hendricks supplies engines and technical support, like Ginn has. There’s a lot of interesting possibilities in Dale Jr’s future! (Will Mr. Super Rich, John Menard come along to back anything that Jr. wants to do?) Many times the stories and speculations can be more interesting than the racing.

 

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