The long-awaited first Hendrick-Earnhardt victory finally came this week at Michigan, but it didn’t come without controversy. Winning on fuel mileage, the No. 88 team worked some pit strategy to make it to victory lane; however, Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers have criticized Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR for allowing the eventual winner to pass the pace car under caution.
Nevertheless, Junior’s win was still well-deserved and certainly earned. And Earnhardt wasn’t the only one who enjoyed success at the 2-mile oval; the Red Bull and Roush Fenway teams also had strong runs. Will this hot topic land all three teams on the HOT list this week? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup for the answer.
Earnhardt Jr.: Say what you want about how he won this weekend; Junior has deserved this win for a LONG time. In his 76-race winless drought, Earnhardt has come just short on several occasions and has been one of the stronger drivers this season, not falling out of the top five in points since Bristol. In his last five races, the No. 88 has been among the series’ best with four finishes in the top five.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne has had a Kyle Busch-esque run going this month with three top-two finishes and two wins in his last four points races. He also has a non-points win coming in the All-Star Race at Lowe’s in May.
Kenseth: A Chase afterthought a little over one month ago, Kenseth has turned on the heat as of late with five consecutive top-10 finishes. Suddenly, the former champion sits 14th in points and had a very good shot at winning this weekend at Michigan before finishing third.
Vickers: The entire Red Bull operation has improved as of late, and Vickers has done just what he needs to do to reel in some good finishes. This week, the No. 83 was in contention for the win and finished fourth, his second top-five finish in a row.
Jimmie Johnson: Don’t look now, but the No. 48 team is beginning to hit its stride. With a sixth-place finish this week, Johnson has now registered three straight top 10s to position himself fifth in points. It hasn’t been a season near as good as the start to his 2007 campaign, but it’s almost guaranteed that when the Chase begins, Johnson will be one of the teams to beat.
Carl Edwards: How’s this for a hot streak… 10 races; one win; four top fives; nine top 10s. Edwards has been consistently strong for over two months now, with his lone hiccup coming at a wild-card track (40th – Talladega).
David Ragan and Jamie McMurray: The fourth and fifth cars at Roush Fenway Racing are starting to gain some momentum. With an eighth-place finish this week at Michigan, Ragan has six top 20s in his last seven races and is just outside the Chase, while McMurray has four top 20s in his last five and three finishes of 11th or better over that span.
Jeff Burton: There’s only one reason Burton’s not on the “HOT” list this week, and that’s because he just registered his worst finish of the year – 15th. But while Busch has faded in and out, Burton has yet to finish outside of the top 15 this season and sits second in points.
AJ Allmendinger: After a dismal start to the season that resulted in a temporary break from the seat of the No. 84, Allmendinger has returned as a seemingly different driver. He’s now made seven straight races and finished in the top 20 in three of his last four, including a 19th this weekend from the 39th starting position.
Scott Riggs: Riggs is the latest driver to fall outside of the Top 35 in car owner points, forcing him to qualify for next week’s race at Sonoma, a track where he will have to qualify against a number of road-course experts. After a stretch of three straight top-20 finishes, the No. 66 has not finished in the top 20 in four races, including a 33rd this weekend.
Robby Gordon: As driver and owner, falling outside of the Top 35 in car owner points would be devastating for Gordon. But with three finishes of 33rd or worse in his last four races, the No. 7 slips to 31st in owner points – just 27 points ahead of the bubble.
Dario Franchitti: Since returning from an ankle injury, Franchitti has struggled with finishes of 41st and 43rd. An engine problem was responsible for his DNF this week at Michigan.