Each week, Frontstretch Staff Writer Becca Gladden looks at the prior 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 Wednesday for Becca’s fun and thought-provoking commentary.
Who? Martin Truex Jr.
Well, he’s not in the Chase and he’s not likely to win Rookie of the Year, so Truex is lucky if the race announcers mention him at all. But he deserves a little recognition after finishing sixth on Sunday from a 33rd-place starting spot. It was not just his best finish of the season but of his Cup career, and also his first time as the top-finishing rookie.
What? Self-fulfilling prophecy.
Last week Tony Stewart said he was nervous driving around the Chase contenders because “if you make one little mistake around them and cause them to have a wreck… you’ve just ruined a guy’s chances of winning a championship.” Ironically, that’s exactly what happened 11 laps into Sunday’s race, when Stewart lost the handle and took out Kasey Kahne. Offered a contrite Stewart, “And of all people, it’s one of my good friends.”
When? 175 races ago.
That was the last time that Jeff Burton won a Cup race – Oct. 28, 2001, at Phoenix International Raceway. The Cingular team has had several strong runs early in recent races, but has been unable to close the deal until Sunday. The clean, side-by-side battle between Burton and Matt Kenseth was one of the better late-race battles in recent memory, and the lesson of Burton’s win is that persistence pays off.
Sure, Kansas is next on the schedule, but in the garage, teams are more concerned about the race after that at Talladega. Plate racing is a crapshoot anyway, but this is the first time back at the track since completion of a repaving project, adding another variable to the mix, especially for the Chasers. As Jimmie Johnson said, “I think we’re all going into Talladega with some question marks. One, what will the new surface be like? And two, how do you avoid getting in trouble?” The Talladega conundrum continues.
Why? Two third-place finishes.
Jeff Gordon is as excited as he’s been in a long time after posting back-to-back third-place finishes in the Chase. “I’m pumped,” exclaimed Gordon after Sunday’s race. “I can’t wait to go to Kansas. I feel like it’s one of our better tracks. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but to be second in this thing two races in, with two third-place finishes, what more can I say? That’s just proof of what kind of race team I’ve got, and in my mind the championship caliber that they’re proving right now.” Gordon is second in points, just six out of first – and in case you missed it, he has five top-five finishes in the past six races. Is the Drive for Five alive?
How? Questionable pit strategy.
That’s what Kenseth blamed for running out of fuel with two laps to go. “I just don’t understand what we did there at the end,” bemoaned Kenseth after the race. “We gambled for fuel, but there was really no reason to gamble, because we had the best car. Even if we would have lost two or three spots, we had the car to beat, so I don’t understand how we can run out of fuel on the last lap.” Kenseth could have easily left Loudon with the points lead, but instead slipped to third in the standings. Are we seeing a chink in the No. 17 team’s armor of consistency?