It’s been a while since there’s been a scary accident in any of NASCAR’s three premier series; so, needless to say, Michael McDowell‘s qualifying crash raised a few eyebrows when it comes to safety in the sport. It’s a wreck he could have easily not walked away from; but luckily, the improvements have left more than a few people impressed with the sport’s new car, along with McDowell both fully intact and counting his blessings. This week, the “HOTTEST” people on this list are the individuals who developed the particular safety equipment that just may have saved McDowell’s life; none of us can thank you enough.
On the other end of the spectrum, McDowell is one that’s stuck to the “COLD” list, with his second rough outing in as many weeks at Texas. But as bad of a week as the rookie has had, trust me; Kyle Petty‘s was worse.
To see who else is on the list this week, check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup.
NASCAR: Say what you want about the sanctioning body, but there is no doubting that the increased effort in safety over the past seven years may have saved another life this weekend. McDowell’s qualifying crash was one of the most vicious incidents in recent memory, yet the rookie walked away and competed Sunday afternoon without so much as a scratch. I can think of at least a handful of other crashes since 2001 that may have had a completely different outcome, had it not been for the development of the SAFER barriers and head-and-neck restraining devices mandated within the sport today. Racing is a dangerous business no matter what, but NASCAR has done an excellent job of making it a lot safer for everyone who slides behind the wheel.
Jeff Burton: The series points leader has shown no signs of slowing down over the past month or so. This week at Texas, Burton had what seemed like a relatively quiet day; but in actuality, it was the consistently strong top-10 performance that we’ve become accustomed of seeing out of the veteran. The No. 31 didn’t lead, but moved from 35th to sixth for his fifth consecutive top-six finish; he’s now leading the standings by 59 over teammate Kevin Harvick.
Carl Edwards: Three wins in seven races isn’t too shabby; neither is the fact that Edwards was well on his way to another win at Atlanta before blowing an engine earlier this year. The king of the 1.5-mile racetracks so far this season, Edwards survived a 100-point penalty to get back into the top 12; the way he’s running now, the No. 99 should be a threat for the championship if it’s able to secure a playoff spot come September.
Jimmie Johnson: After three straight races with a best finish of 13th, Johnson finished fourth last week at Martinsville and second this week at Texas. Although Johnson was not happy with how the cars handled aerodynamically, he has to be happy about the direction the No. 48 team is heading after a slow start to 2008.
Denny Hamlin: One of the hottest drivers over the last three races, Hamlin notched his second top five of the season this weekend with a fifth-place finish – despite being involved in a wreck with Clint Bowyer coming to the line. With four top 10s in his last five races, he has moved from 20th in points to seventh.
Tony Stewart: The entire Joe Gibbs Racing camp was strong again at Texas, as they have been all year long, with Stewart’s seventh-place finish being the lowest finishing of the three cars. The Las Vegas incident aside, Stewart’s worst finish is 14th; this weekend’s top 10 was his fifth in seven races.
Harvick: You know you’re having a good year when a two-race combination of a 12th and an 11th-place finish is considered struggling. Harvick hung around the top 20 midway through the race, but after getting the “Lucky Dog,” he made his way through the field where he eventually finished 11th, one lap down. His two races without a top 10 come after a four-race stretch with a worst finish of eighth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: There were high hopes out of Junior Nation when Earnhardt got the pole at a track where he has had a lot of success; but it was a disappointing day for the No. 88, as handling issues dropped them to 12th in the final rundown at Texas. It was Junior’s worst finish since the second race of the year at California, and only his second non-top 10 of the season to date.
McDowell: First, he upset Burton in his debut; and now, McDowell is the talk of the auto-racing community after his vicious qualifying accident. Two weeks ago, he was a relative unknown among race fans; but this week, McDowell is known by YouTubers all over the world. As poor as his start to his Cup career has been (26th and 33rd), you have to at least be pleased with how well the kid has handled himself.
Petty: Talk about rough. The 47-year-old Petty was replaced this week by Chad McCumbee – a rookie driver who couldn’t even make the field – and he’s not happy about it. Petty VP of Competition Robbie Loomis says it was Petty’s decision, Petty says it wasn’t; and now, he says he’s open to driving for another organization, even though he’s part-owner of the team. Stay tuned.
JJ Yeley: Sitting 33rd in points, you would assume Yeley has had a few DNFs this season. He hasn’t. In fact, his crash midway through the race was his first of the year; but he has a season best finish of 25th to put his program within striking distance of losing their place in the Top 35.