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… gets my shout-out of the race?
High-fives all around this week to Kevin Harvick‘s pit crew, which deserves as much credit for Sunday’s victory as the driver himself. The No. 29 team delivered flawless sub-14-second stops throughout the race, making sure Harvick consistently got off pit road ahead of the pack. As a result, Harvick’s crew won the weekly pit-crew challenge in Phoenix, marking their third such victory of the season.
What… is up with Matt Kenseth‘s sour attitude lately?
Last year at this point in the season, Kenseth was seventh in the standings, 228 points behind first, with absolutely no chance to win the championship. Heading to Homestead, he’s second in points, just 63 behind Jimmie Johnson, and has a legitimate chance to win his second title in four seasons despite a recent slump. Now, Kenseth has a tendency to be self-deprecating, but he seems particularly pessimistic lately considering the reasonable position he’s in. After his 13th-place run this weekend in Phoenix, Kenseth was asked if he was feeling hopeful heading to Homestead:
“No, not really,” he said. “None of our cars have run. This [Phoenix] car – we ran third with it in the spring – so for some reason, none of our stuff is running and I don’t know why. I don’t know what we’re doing wrong, but we’re doing something wrong. I’m not too optimistic about [the championship]. Obviously, anything can happen. We’re still within striking distance if (Johnson has) a mechanical problem or some type of problem like that, but certainly, I don’t think we can beat them on performance.”
When… was the last time a Chase title contender led the points heading to Homestead but didn’t win the title?
Never. In the two previous Chase seasons, the driver leading the points after 35 races went on to win the title. In 2004, Kurt Busch was ahead of Johnson by 18 points, and in 2005, Tony Stewart was ahead of Johnson by 52 points (see a pattern there?). As many in the media have pointed out, this year’s title really is Johnson’s to lose.
Where… does Johnson have to finish at Homestead to be assured of the title?
Here are three possible scenarios: Johnson can finish 12th or better with no laps led; 13th or better leading at least one lap; or 15th or better leading the most laps to be guaranteed the championship. Hypothetically, if Johnson and Kenseth were tied in points at the end of the Homestead race, the tie-breaker would go to Johnson due to six runner-up finishes for the No. 48 team this year.
Why… did Stewart wreck Jamie McMurray in Phoenix?
No one seems to have a good explanation for that, especially not Tony…
“It’s a weird deal for sure. I saw him dart across at the last second and then I thought I was just following him. The next thing I know, I had him picked up. It stinks because Jamie was having a good run. That’s the best run he’s had all year.”
Not much has been said about this in the press — I guess when you’re Stewart, no one really cares whether you have a reasonable excuse for turning someone, except maybe the victims themselves.
How… will the big crew chief shakeup at Roush Racing affect the teams there next year?
No doubt, Jack Roush was disappointed that only two of his drivers made the Chase this year after all five of them did so last year. But was such a comprehensive reorganization really necessary? Particularly puzzling was the breakup of Greg Biffle and Doug Richert, who had a wonderful season in 2005 and are 13th in standings this year. I’ve heard that Roush believes crew chief match-ups are only good for around three years before they start to get stale, but Stewart/Zipadelli, Johnson/Knaus and Kenseth/Reiser would probably beg to differ.