The Texas Tea Party we all witnessed Sunday ended up tasting like fuel, as Kurt Busch claimed his second season victory in the Dickies 500. While the race had its dull moments (er… stretches), the finish surprisingly was more exciting than last week’s 500-mile parade in Talladega, with Kyle Busch running out of fuel with two laps left to hand the victory to brother Kurt. Adding to the excitement was Jimmie Johnson’s lap 3 crash and subsequent 38th-place finish tightening the points (and likely making a Phoenix title clinch out of the question.)
The wreck also takes Johnson out of the HOT category for the first time in a long while. Read on to see if your favorite driver made the HOT, WARM or COLD lists this week:
HOT: Kurt Busch – Truthfully, considering the history of the HOT category the past few weeks, Busch should be on the WARM list, since he finished poorly the last two weeks. On the other hand, Busch had the fastest car in Texas, besides his brother Kyle, who would have won the race if not for a lack of fuel in the closing laps. Seeing the No. 2 team still push hard despite soon losing crew chief Pat Tryson and being essentially eliminated from the title is exciting to watch and will pay dividends in 2010.
HOT: Greg Biffle – After placing sluggishly in the middle Chase races, Biffle has back-to-back top 10s, finishing fourth at Talladega and eighth at Texas. Like Busch (and everyone else, really) the title may be out of reach, but Biffle and the No. 16 team are running well in the races they will remember most in the offseason and are up to seventh in points.
HOT: Mark Martin – Besides the damage-causing aberrations not of his doing at both Lowe’s and Talladega, Martin has had an incredibly competitive Chase. His and the No. 5 team’s biggest mistake Sunday was not totally capitalizing on teammate Johnson’s misfortunes, failing to lead a lap and finishing fourth in a race where a win could have put some big-time pressure on the No. 48. Now 73 points behind Johnson in the standings, Martin could certainly still win the Sprint Cup, but more likely has come tantalizingly close, but not close enough, to be tortured for the umpteenth time in his career.
WARM: Kyle Busch – If a driver has a dominant a race as Kyle Busch did Sunday (where he led 232 laps of 334), then he deserves a nod. With new crew chief Dave Rogers on board the No. 18 pit box, Busch drove a bullet for the entire race before failing to stretch his fuel mileage and pitting with just a couple of laps to go to finish 11th. While that may be a strike in Rogers’s book, Busch seemed satisfied with his head wrench on his radio and gave insight into the problems between himself and Steve Addington – sometimes a change can do you good. Expect Busch near the front of both of the coming races to end the season.
WARM: Matt Kenseth – Kenseth had one of the quietest good runs of the day in the Dickies 500, staying just inside the top 10 for much of the race before gaining some spots as drivers lost fuel and placing third. Kenseth, like teammate Biffle, has turned it up a notch over the last few weeks, a sign Roush Fenway will be much more competitive next season.
WARM: Jeff Burton – Comeback-ability is always a points scorer in this column, and the No. 31 team did just that Sunday. Burton ran mid-pack for much of the race before surfacing in the top 10 during the last green flag run, eventually ending up ninth. Combined with his fifth at Talladega, Burton now has consecutive top 10s for the first time since the spring Talladega and Richmond races. That shows what kind of year 2009 has been for the team, but also that the Caterpillar car is finally turning the corner.
COLD: Jeff Gordon – The No. 24 team receives the “Eli Manning Choke While Your Mouth is Full of Tasty, Expensive Wine Award” of at least Texas, and maybe 2009, by running as poorly as they did in light of Johnson’s early misfortunes. While Gordon sat on the pole and fell back through the field faster than the Nationwide Series start-and-park MSRP cars, the No. 48 team gained more coverage by getting a ruined race car repaired and back on the track in near-record time. Although Gordon’s 13th-place result still helped him gain some ground on Johnson (he’s 112 points out of the lead), it was very poor for the team that won the race back in the spring. This poor showing, combined with their bad luck at Talladega, makes them more than a long shot for the title.
COLD: Reed Sorenson – How many races has Sorenson scraped or dinged the wall, gone to the garage, and then come back out to finish many laps down this season? The answer is far, far too many, as he’s now gone 33 straight races without a top-10 finish in the No. 43 Dodge. Sunday was another poor performance for Sorenson, who has had a rough one-year tenure with Richard Petty Motorsports and is technically still looking for a ride. Once considered a possible future Gordon when coming up through the Legends ranks, Sorenson likely will take a step back to the Nationwide Series to run for Braun Racing in hopes of attracting Cup interest in the future. But here’s the good news: this Georgian is only 23 and already has four full Cup seasons under his belt. He will get another shot.
COLD: John Andretti – Sunday’s race certainly could have been worse for Andretti and the struggling No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team (they finished 24th), but some comments by team owner Bob Jenkins ought to serve as a wakeup call for him. Jenkins said that he plans on fielding two full-time Sprint Cup teams next season and is open to looking at other drivers, though he has no problem remaining loyal to his current ones. Travis Kvapil’s name has been mentioned as a possibility for the No. 37 team, which started-and-parked with mainly Tony Raines behind the wheel this year. With names like David Stremme, Casey Mears, Sorenson and David Gilliland floating around the garage still, Andretti might want to turn the wick up just a bit to close out the year.
Here are some HOT and NOT issues of the week in racing:
HOT: The lack of mystery trash in the closing laps Sunday – As we speculated in the the Frontstretch Race Blog on Sunday, a late caution certainly would have ended any talks of fuel mileage. We felt certain that if someone did not wreck, NASCAR would find a piece of lint or maybe a beer can tab on the apron to throw a debris caution, bunch up the field, and put the kill on the fuel-stretching. Instead, NASCAR put to rest its WWE tendencies and let the race play out naturally. The finish may not have been as exciting (though not knowing which Busch was going to win was nail biting to me), but it played out naturally like it should have. Two thumbs up go to NASCAR – this time.
NOT: Chicken strips and RCR cola – A rumored partnership became reality this weekend, when Zaxby’s and driver John Wes Townley announced that they would be teaming up with Richard Childress Racing to run a full Nationwide season next year, though no car number was announced. RCR has had trouble keeping sponsors in-house the last few years, despite winning two Nationwide titles in the last three seasons. But while they may need a few bucks, adding Townley to the stable sounds like a pending disaster for one of the elite teams in the NNS. Townley has had a disastrous rookie campaign with RAB Racing, wrecking many times, failing to make several races and is far from deserving of a top ride like this one – especially since more qualified RCR drivers like Stephen Leicht and even Austin Dillon cannot race because the dollars are not there for them. Why does Townley have the bucks while those other quality drivers don’t? Because, just like Paul Menard in the Cup Series and fellow Nationwide driver Ken Butler III, his primary sponsor is a family business and will back him wherever he goes. Hopefully, the young driver will benefit from a good team this time and parlay his fortune into a good career.
The Cup Series’ second-to-last stop of the year will be at Phoenix International Raceway next Sunday afternoon, where Johnson will look to finish well enough to make the Homestead-Miami race a joke. Turn here next week to see which drivers and teams are hotter than the desert sun and which ones are cold as a desert night.
Listen to Doug on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury 120 racing show with host Captain Herb Emory next Saturday, from 12-1 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and online at wsbradio.com. Also listen to Doug and co-host David Chandler co-host The Lead Lap: North Georgia’s Racing Leader, Saturday from 10-11 a.m. on racefanradio.com and 1240 ESPN Radio in Gainesville, Ga. Doug, David and Doug’s brother Stephen will also call the action for the World Crown 300 late model race at the newly renovated Gresham Motorsports Park Sunday on AM 1490 WCHM in Clarksville, Ga. and online at 1490WCHM.com. Finally, you can hear Doug host the Bill Elliott Racing podcasts each week on BillElliott.com and ChaseElliott.com.