The Frontstretch: Who's Hot / Who's Not In Nextel Cup...Or Should I Say The Busch And Craftsman Truck Series? by Thomas Bowles -- Monday May 21, 2007

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Trying to figure out Who's Hot and Who's Not after the All-Star Race is like trying to figure out who's going to win the World Series after Spring Training for baseball - it's hard to draw conclusions from performances that don't count in the actual standings. As such, regular writer Cami Starr is off this week, and while she's relishing her vacation we're doing something a little different to fulfill your need for Hot, Warm, Cool, and Cold in the stats world where cars go round in circles.

Here's how we're doing it: with one of the major stories of 2007 continuing to be the way in which Cup drivers have double-dipped into the Busch Series and elsewhere, here at FS we thought it'd be interesting to take a quick look at how those drivers have helped - or hurt - their careers by moonlighting in the minor leagues. Want to know who's making the most money in the Busch Series and who's cleaning out their minor league locker with poor performances? Read on to find out which Cup drivers should - and shouldn't - be playing around in other series with this week's version of Who's Hot and Who's Not.

Hot

Carl Edwards – Kevin Harvick's 824-point championship margin in the Busch Series last year was simply incapable of being topped for years to come…wasn't it? Well, the man who finished second that fateful season seems prepped and ready to shatter that mark before the trophy even collects any dust. Already 433 points ahead of Harvick heading to Lowe's Motor Speedway this weekend, Edwards will clearly see that margin increase substantially when Harvick continues to skip races the second half of the season, giving him ample opportunity to break the record as no other drivers are even close to the second spot. Choosing to run a limited schedule, Harvick has stepped aside to let Edwards take control, with the No. 60 Ford finishing in the Top 10 in all but one of the 12 events held so far this season. What's the finish for Edwards in the one race he fell behind? 13th. Now that's impressive; too bad he hasn't quite been able to carry that success over to Nextel Cup, where Cousin Carl sits 10th in the standings on the heels of just three Top 10 finishes.

David Reutimann – Michael Waltrip Racing may be the butt of everyone's jokes in Nextel Cup, but rest assured, Reutimann is no clown over in the Busch Series. Twelve starts in the No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine have led to one Top 5 and three Top 10 finishes for the series rookie both here and in Nextel Cup; in fact, he nearly won Nashville after leading 35 laps, forced to settle for second in a battle that tipped Edwards' way. Still, Toyota has to have confidence after what has been a string of very solid runs within their Busch Series camp; Reutimann's consistency has clearly been the big surprise with the development of their program.

Warm

Mike Bliss – Things may not be going so smoothly for Bliss' ride in Nextel Cup, but while the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge has struggled to make races, Bliss is still taking home solid performances every week in the Busch Series. Driving the No. 22 Family Dollar/Supercuts Dodge for Armando Fitz, Bliss has made the most of his six starts in the car, coming home with two Top 10 and five Top 20 finishes for a team that was thought might not survive after the departure of co-owner Terry Bradshaw following the 2006 season. Not only that, but Bliss has done well with a nearly full-time stint in the Truck Series at the same time - bouncing around a bit, he recently hooked up with former owner Dave Fuge to score a 6th place finish in Charlotte Friday night. It's a strong statement from a man that still believes he can get it done in Nextel Cup - with the right team and the right circumstances.

Matt Kenseth – Always a Busch Series contender in every race he enters, Kenseth has made the most of his limited starts this season, winning twice and registering six Top 10 finishes to carve a 5th place notch in Busch points. If not for two wrecks, Kenseth would actually have finished 12th or better for each of his nine Busch Series starts this year; now that's deserving of some free Arby's fries.

Cool

Mark Martin – It's hard to believe the man lighting Nextel Cup on fire is on the "cool" list, but Martin's two Craftsman Truck Series starts haven't yielded the results expected from a man who nearly won every Truck race he entered last year. In two starts, Martin has seen himself spun out of the lead - a dubious position from which he never recovered - and finishing a less than spectacular 4th at Charlotte in a race where he failed to lead a lap.

Ken Schrader – In a year that was supposed to mark Schrader's transition from Nextel Cup into full-time Craftsman Truck Series racing, it's been a series of devastating blows for him instead. First, friend and car owner Bobby Hamilton passed away, leaving Schrader to drive the No. 18 Dodge through the grief throughout the season. Then, just last week Schrader was unceremoniously replaced by Bill Elliott for the Coke 600 in Nextel Cup. Unfortunately, extra motivation has yet to lead to additional success; Schrader wrecked at Daytona and has never recovered, failing to register a Top 10 finish in five starts with the team. With his future Cup prospects looking bleak over at his Wood Brothers Cup ride, this could be the sole race Schrader has control of his future destiny on - so he'd better turn things up a notch sooner rather than later.

Cold

David Gilliland – Having gotten the win that showered him with national attention in a Busch Series car, there were high hopes for Gilliland as he stepped into the No. 25 Team Rensi Ford in the Busch Series. But just like in Nextel Cup, the season for the young rookie has been riddled by disappointment with a credit report that falls far short of expectations. In all ten of his twelve starts this season, he's failed to register a single Top 10 finish while teammate Bobby Hamilton, Jr. remains as close to the top of the Busch Series standings as any independent Busch team is going to get.

J.J. Yeley – It was a bit of a surprise when Yeley announced he was leaving the greener pastures of Joe Gibbs Racing on the Busch side to do some racing with James Finch instead. Driving the No. 1 Miccosukee Gaming Chevrolet, big things were expected from this combo, as Finch expanded to a two-car operation with Mike Wallace this year and expected to compete for a championship. Instead, they're competing for the biggest disappointment in the Busch Series; their year started off on the wrong foot by failing to qualify at Daytona with Yeley, and things haven't been quite right since. In eleven starts with the team, Yeley's best run has been just 12th at Richmond.

Think we left out a driver worthy of mention? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below, as this edition of Who's Hot / Who's Not has officially taken the checkered flag.

Looking for how your favorite driver has performed during the first third of the season? Be sure to come back tomorrow and check out Matt McLaughlin’s Driver Report Cards for Nextel Cup, the first of a four-part series that can be seen only on Frontstretch.com.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
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Voices from the Cheap Seats: Advertising for Dummies
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Off Week-Richmond Edition
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Karen
05/22/2007 05:38 AM
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Yes indeed, it sure has been a disappointment watching Yeley and Wallace in the Finch cars this year. I just don’t understand why they are sticking to those Wegner engines! They are so low on horsepower when they are working! With Miccosukee, it might be thier budget, but you would think Geico would be really frustrated.
They can’t compete with the big boys if they don’t have the power. I was a little surprised they didn’t use Gibbs Motors this year. They will remain cold as long as they are using those engines and the excitement each week will be crossing my fingers that they don’t go a lap down. Its sad.

 

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