In the past, the extra 100 miles that make the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR’s longest event has proved to add an extra dimension to an already grueling race. This year was no different, as it wasn’t how you started but how you finished that made the difference. It seemed that every driver who ran up front ran into problems — and in the end, Kasey Kahne survived for the victory only after Tony Stewart succumbed to tire problems three laps from the finish.
Kahne moves into the top 12 in points this week with his first win in 52 starts, and appears to be picking up momentum after winning the All-Star race last week. But will his breakthrough win be enough to put him in this week’s “HOT” list? Check out the latest edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup below to find out.
Kyle Busch: Things are going so good for Kyle Busch that everything went wrong this weekend, and NASCAR’s villain still finished in the top three. Busch was one of the stronger cars again Sunday night, but fell to the back after having battery problems during the second half of the race. Still, as expected Busch sliced his way back through the field, eventually climbing back to finish third by the checkered flag. He now has six consecutive top 10s and four consecutive top threes in the Cup Series.
Jeff Burton: Burton doesn’t get the same media attention as other “HOT” drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards have gotten, but he has been the most consistent frontrunning car this year nonetheless. Burton still has yet to finish worse than 13th, and has been in the top two in points for seven straight races, the sole wheelman capable of keeping pace with Busch in the points. How’d Burton fare this week? Another quiet sixth-place finish at Lowe’s.
Kahne: You may ask why Kahne’s not on the “HOT” list after winning last week’s All-Star Race and this week’s Coca-Cola 600; but the truth is, it’s still not been the best of years for the Gillett Evernham driver. This week’s win did snap a 52-race winless streak and was Kahne’s first top five of the year, moving him into Chase contention despite being 14th in points after Darlington. But while Kahne started the year off strong — with four top-10 finishes in his first five races — he’s had just one top 10 in his last five starts prior to Lowe’s.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon hasn’t met expectations through the first third of the season, and is just now starting to have more consistent solid finishes. After dropping to 14th in points following a 19th-place finish at Talladega, Gordon has since recorded three straight top 10s and two straight top fives to work his way back up the ladder. His fourth-place run this weekend has now moved him to 10th in points.
Matt Kenseth: After a stretch of three races between Phoenix and Richmond when Kenseth’s best finish was 38th, the 2003 Cup Series champ dropped to a stunning 22nd in points. In his last two races, however, Kenseth has turned things around with a sixth at Darlington and a seventh at Charlotte, and is now 16th, 190 points out of 12th.
David Reutimann: It’s been another tough season for Michael Waltrip Racing, but Reutimann has easily been the most successful MWR driver since replacing Dale Jarrett in the No. 44 UPS Toyota. It may not sound like much, but Reutimann’s worst finish in his last five races is a respectable 22nd. This week, Reutimann recorded his first top 10 of the season with a 10th at Charlotte.
Michael McDowell: The man who replaced Reutimann in the No. 00 MWR Toyota has struggled in his transition to the Cup series. McDowell’s best run in his first seven starts is 26th, and he has finished on the lead lap just once.
JJ Yeley: Yeley is one of the drivers on the outside of the Top 35 bubble, and it doesn’t appear as if he’s going to break back in. 154 points out of the bubble slot with the No. 96 car, Yeley has yet to finish better than 25th this season — and has only finished on the lead lap once.