Rain just laps from the finish at Loudon was a blessing for a number of teams, who were able to use pit strategy to finish much higher than where they’d run all day. But for as many teams as the rain helped, it hurt plenty of others. Tony Stewart had arguably the best car all day – leading a race high 132 laps – but fell to 13th place, while a number of hot streaks came to an end – including Carl Edwards‘s string of seven consecutive races with a top-10 finish.
But one streak that will continue on to Daytona this weekend is Jeff Burton‘s impressive 17-race, top 15 performance. Burton is among those in this week’s “HOT” column; read below to see who else joins him in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup after New Hampshire.
Stewart: If it weren’t for bad luck, Stewart wouldn’t have any luck at all lately. This is the stretch of the season where the former champion traditionally starts to hit his stride, but good finishes that could have been better have held the No. 20 team back just a little. Two weeks ago, he was forced to recover from a late-race spin to finish 10th; this week, it was rain and pit strategy that relegated the race’s lap leader to finish 13th.
Stewart did seem emotionally drained in his post-race interview, and many will argue it’s partially due to him exploring his options for next season. But those who think this will be a repeat of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s misfortunes upon deciding to leave the No. 8 last season may need to think again…
Burton: The top-15 streak tally is up to 17 races. With consistency on his side, Burton may be a great sleeper pick to win the championship come Chase time.
Casey Mears: He may be on his way out at Hendrick Motorsports, but with a fifth-place finish last week at Sonoma and a seventh-place finish on pit strategy by crew chief Alan Gustafson this week, Mears has a higher average finish over the past two weeks than his superstar teammates.
Elliott Sadler: It’s been a disappointing season for Sadler, who has DNF’d in four races this year and has failed to finish on the lead lap in another four. But the No. 19 team is starting to rack up some solid finishes. The beneficiary of some luck with pit strategy this weekend, Sadler finished fifth – his third top 10 in six races. In comparison, he had just one top 10 all season driving for the team in 2007.
Jimmie Johnson: Four top 10s in his last five races have moved Johnson from ninth in the points to his current standing of fifth. He and teammate Jeff Gordon are beginning to post consistently solid finishes, putting both firmly in Chase contention.
Gordon: Speaking of Gordon, the No. 24 team finished 11th this weekend and has finished in the top 15 in seven out of his last eight races.
Edwards: Edwards struggled to make his way through the field after a 17th-place starting spot, and eventually finished in the same position as which he began. That performance put an end to what was the series’ longest top-10 streak (seven races).
Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya spinning Kyle Busch under caution may have earned him a few more fans, but a 2-lap penalty earned the Colombian a 32nd-place finish. The former Formula 1 winner finished sixth at Sonoma two weeks ago, as expected – but finished 38th in his two prior races.
Dario Franchitti: It’s been a tough past month for last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner. A 38th-place finish this weekend was another poor outing, but still his best finish since returning from an injury last month.
AJ Allmendinger: An oil line issue resulted in a 43rd-place finish this weekend for Allmendinger. The No. 84 was much stronger than where it finished, but it’s the second run outside the Top 35 for a team that scored two consecutive top 20s earlier this month.