Tire problems provided an interesting twist to this week’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, allowing a number of teams to utilize pit strategy to capture unexpectedly strong finishes. One of those teams, the No. 84 of AJ Allmendinger, came home 10th, giving him his first top 10 and the best two-race stretch of his career.
Up front, the suspense was far less dramatic. Jimmie Johnson was the strongest car and took home his second win of the season – becoming just the second man to win a stock car race at Indy from the pole. But behind the No. 48, who else had good runs? And with Chase bids on the line, who fell victim to tire problems out of their control? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup to find out how things are shaping up with just six races left until the playoffs.
Johnson: It’s safe to say Johnson is now a lock to make this year’s Chase. With his second win of the season coming this weekend at the Brickyard, Johnson put a crucial 10-point dent into Kyle Busch’s 70 point-and-counting win bonus when the approaching playoffs begin. Coming off a second-place finish two weeks ago at Chicagoland, the win at Indianapolis makes it seem the No. 48 may finally be hitting its stride. Could it be back-to-back-to-back titles after all for this team? A Busch vs. Johnson championship battle sure would be exciting.
Busch: Sure, he finished 15th this week, but three wins in his last five races? That still seems pretty hot to me – especially considering Kyle dominated the Nationwide Series race at ORP, leading 197 of 200 laps en route to his 15th victory within NASCAR’s top-three divisions in 2008. It will be interesting to see if Lil’ Busch can chalk up another win or two on the Cup side before the Chase begins.
Jeff Gordon: While his teammate Johnson is reeling off top-three finishes, Gordon has consistently posted top 12s, with three in his last four races. He may not have a win yet this season, but when it gets down to crunch time, expect the Rainbow Warrior to step up to the challenge in the playoffs.
Kasey Kahne: With a seventh-place finish this week, Kahne moved up two spots to ninth in points. In the thick of a tight battle to make the top 12, the fifth-year driver has done what he needed to do as of late, posting three straight top 15s to counteract two consecutive finishes of 30th or worse. The bigger question is whether that inconsistency will return, as the Dog Days of August turn the pressure for Kahne up another couple of notches.
Greg Biffle: Finishing dead last in the Coke Zero 400, Biffle sat 11th in points and even flirted with the possibility of falling out of the top 12. While he’s still among several drivers battling for those final Chase spots, a fourth-place run at Chicagoland and eighth this week have skirted that possibility for now – he’s up to seventh in points, 100 ahead of former Busch Series rival Kevin Harvick in 13th.
Allmendinger: Major props have to go out to Allmendinger for his impressive second half turnaround. Replaced after failing to make a start in the first handful of races, he has made 12 consecutive starts since returning to his car. And as the sophomore has settled back into his role, the former Champ Car driver finally appears fully adjusted to stock car racing’s top level. With a 10th-place finish this week and a 13th last race, Allmendinger has now posted the best two-race stretch of his career. With strong runs starting to trickle in, Team Red Bull’s No. 84 has closed to just 63 points outside of the Top 35.
David Ragan: Ragan remains on the “WARM” list this week, as he continues to impress with three consecutive top 15s. He probably won’t make the Chase, but just the fact the Roush Fenway driver has a possibility to says a lot for the sophomore driver’s progression this season.
Juan Pablo Montoya: A second-place finish at Indy last year is Montoya’s best NASCAR oval finish, and a similar strong run this year was expected. But the No. 42 was never an elite car this weekend, and finished 39th after crashing out. With the DNF, Montoya now has finished outside of the top 30 in three of his last four races, clearly regressing in his second season driving a Chip Ganassi Dodge.