The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Not in NASCAR: Sonoma-Daytona Edition by Summer Bedgood -- Tuesday June 28, 2011

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Who's Hot / Not in NASCAR: Sonoma-Daytona Edition

Summer Bedgood · Tuesday June 28, 2011

 

So after much deliberation and watching last weekend’s NASCAR races I have come to a stunning conclusion: the sport needs more road course events.

I don’t know when road courses turned into the new short track, but following the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series races at Road America and Infineon Raceway, respectively, more drivers were feuding following a single weekend than the entire rest of 2011 combined.

Let’s recap. Following Road America, everyone and their mother was angry with Jacques Villeneuve, including these rather colorful tweets from Kevin Harvick: “That is why 27villeneuve should just quit driving NASCAR no sense..i hope maxpapis punches his dumbass in the mouth..” and “No respect here in NASCAR for @27villeneuve same reason they kicked his dumbass out of f1..”

Man, I wish Harvick would tell us how he really feels!

Additionally, Ron Fellows was angry with NASCAR for taking the win away and Justin Allgaier and Michael McDowell were disappointed in coming so close to victory only to fall short.

Meanwhile after the Cup Series race, Robby Gordon was threatening Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne totally dissed Juan Pablo Montoya, Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart both admitted to intentionally wrecking the other, and basically everyone from fifth on back were rubbing fenders in the last 10 laps of the race.

Yikes! Was this Sonoma or Bristol?!

Anyway, let’s get into the momentum numbers game that is “Hot/Not” and check out the drivers either with momentum on their side or in desperate need of some.

HOT

Kurt Busch – After months of colorful tirades over the team scanner regarding performance issues, pit stops, and something about monkeys and footballs, Busch and his team finally made it to Victory Lane last weekend in Sonoma, giving team owner Roger Penske two victories in the last four races.

In fact, Busch’s outbursts seem to have incited some action within the Penske Racing camp. More engineers were brought to the racetrack, teams communicated and shared information, and almost immediately Busch’s results started improving. In fact, Busch hasn’t finished worse than 11th in the last five races, even though between Fontana and Dover he was only able to break into the top 10 once.

Busch’s victory moved him up three spots in the standings to fourth in points, where he is now 34 points out of the lead, meaning that Busch is probably one happy driver right about now. However, I would still recommend keeping the kiddies away from his scanner on race day. Just in case.

Carl Edwards – For someone considering leaving his race team at the end of the season Edwards is sure kicking some tail. Edwards has held the points lead since the early April race at Texas Motor Speedway, even with rumors swirling around that he might be departing Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season.

So my question is, what exactly is Edwards looking for? The Toyotas haven’t been nearly as strong this season as they were last year, Ford is on a resurgence, and did I mention Edwards is leading the freaking standings?

How I would love to be a fly on the wall at some of these race shops. Or on Edwards’s shoulder. That might provide some clearer answers.

Honorable Mention: Reed Sorenson won his first Nationwide Series race since 2007 in a controversial finish between him and Ron Fellows. Though Fellows was scored as the leader as the field took the checkered flag under caution, NASCAR ruled that Fellows had not slowed to observe the caution and had passed Sorenson under yellow. Sorenson was given the victory.

WARM

Jeff Gordon – Could it be that Gordon might have finally found his mojo?

Jeff Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson stumbled along through the start of the season in spite of winning at Phoenix but have been warming up heading into the summer stretch.

When Gordon won the second race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this year, it seemed to do him absolutely no good. Gordon only finished inside the top 10 twice in the 10 races following the victory, keeping him outside of the top 10 in points for most of the year until he finally worked his way up to ninth last weekend in Sonoma.

Recently, though, it’s almost like a light switched on. Gordon has finished inside the top 5 in three of the last four races, including a victory at Pocono Raceway where he led 39 laps. With two wins this season, he’s more than likely a lock for the Chase, but based on his recent performance can he actually contend for the championship?

If he can keep up this string of strong runs, then I just might have to say yes. But there is still a long way to go.

Jimmie Johnson – I know most would probably like to deny that Johnson even exists, and he’s been so quiet the last few weeks it hasn’t been very hard to forget about him.

Don’t get me wrong, Johnson is still running strong enough to maintain a Chase spot and finishing inside the top 10, but he’s not up front and winning races.

Which is exactly what he’s done for the last five years. There is always this point in the season where everyone scratches their head and says, “Gee, those guys aren’t running like they normally do. Maybe we have a shot!”

Yeah, right. Come Chase time, Johnson, Knaus, and the entire No. 48 gang will be right where you expect them to be: Up front and contending for a championship. Come on, guys, you aren’t going to let them fool you for a sixth year in a row, are you?!

Honorable Mention: AMA crossover Ricky Carmichael finished ninth in his road course racing debut in the Nationwide Series race at Road America. Impressive enough considering all the chaos around him and the fact that the last time he went left and right on a race course was on two wheels.

COOL

Brad Keselowski – Inconsistent. For every one strong run Keselowski he has, he seems to have two mediocre results.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at these numbers.

Following his third place run at Darlington, Keselowski finished 13th at Dover then 19th at Charlotte. The following week, he won at Kansas then finished 23rd in Pocono and 25th in Michigan.

Last weekend in Sonoma he finished 10th. Do not put Keselowski on your fantasy team for Daytona (unless our resident Fantasy Insider tells you to of course!).

However, if Keselowski can consistently finish in the top 10 and start running more at teammate Kurt Busch’s level, we may see Dodge start to play more of a role in this title hunt. Remember, Keselowski has a win this season, which, if he can get inside the top 20, may (key word) be enough to get him into the Chase. And how much fun would it be to see Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick talking trash to each other on Twitter before and after each race? You know they would!

Michael Annett – Annett probably received more attention for his DWI at the beginning of the season than he has in his entire previous career. Annett claimed he was ready to turn his life around and begin his way down a better path, possibly providing an example to others.

He may have avoided any bad publicity since then, but he certainly hasn’t done himself much good on the results side. Last week’s seventh place run at Road America was only his second top 10 in 16 races this year, his second race with crew chief Ricky Viers who replaced Jason Overstreet in Michigan.

To his credit, though, Annett has been at or around 10th in points for most of the season and, while that’s not championship or even race winning material, it could certainly be worse.

Honorable Mention: Nationwide Series rookie Timmy Hill finished 11th in Road America, his best career finish at any racetrack.

COLD

David Gilliland – Gilliland’s 12th place result in Infineon was a good finish in a rather dull season (and career, but let’s stick with the present).

Gilliland only has three finishes in the top 20 this season and three DNFs, meaning that for the most part the team can finish races but apparently can’t finish races well.

However, last week at Infineon Gilliland showed a competitive side, running in the top 5 for certain portions of the race and for the most part staying out of trouble. It probably doesn’t mean much for the rest of the season, but maybe they can contend for something at Daytona as well. It would really help them in their bid to remain in the top 35 in owner points.

Jamie McMurray – From dream season to practically invisible, McMurray has very little to brag about this year, a season removed from a season that saw him win three of NASCAR’s most historic and prestigious events.

McMurray’s lone top 10s of the season were in Martinsville (7th) and Darlington (9th) and aside from that he’s been lucky to break the top 20 (seven times). In fact, no one really seemed to notice McMurray since teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was busy tearing up equipment throughout the entire race.

But hey, I noticed and I’m sharing it with you, dear reader, which means you noticed too! So now how long before McMurray does something worth noticing?

Honorable Mention: Robby Gordon finished 18th, but not without some help from Joey Logano. Gordon has vowed revenge on the young driver “Childress style”. Make sure to take off your watch, Robby!

Contact Summer Dreyer

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