NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Montoya’s Miracle Comeback?, Gutsy Hamlin & More

What’s the deal with John Wes Townley?

As reported by Frontstretch this week, John Wes Townley was not released by Richard Childress Racing but instead put in “time out” for the near future after a poor start to 2010. The move itself is somewhat of a surprise, as sponsor Zaxby’s came over to RCR with Townley as a package deal. It’s the sole reason he landed with an organization far superior to his talent.

Sadly, Townley’s struggles behind the wheel come as a surprise to no one. His five runs this year included, Townley has started 34 Nationwide races with his total number of top 10s being… zero. Over that span, his total number of DNQs is 10. That’s equivalent to a minor league pitcher posting more walks than strikeouts, and if any athlete were to struggle that much in any stick-and-ball sport, he’d be cut. It should be so agonizingly simple; but in a sport based on sponsorship dollars, Townley keeps landing on his feet… this season with a better ride than last. Paul Menard has been in a similar situation on the Cup side, but at least it appears this season it’s “clicked.” While Townley will likely finish the season with Childress, I don’t expect it to “click” any time soon.

Applaud Justin Allgaier for his patience

One of, if not the most impressive driver in the Nationwide Series this season is Penske phenom Justin Allgaier. But while he has set the series on fire with five top 10s in six starts, at 24 years of age Allgaier admitted to Mike Mulhern that he has no plans to move to the Cup Series at the moment. In explaining himself, the youngster explained he doesn’t want to ruin his relationship with sponsor Verizon, who took a chance on him, in the process of furthering a blossoming career. When I spoke to him in Daytona in February, he echoed those same statements.

This is a kid who obviously has dreamt of being a Cup Series driver for some time, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he wanted to rush to the promised land – especially being close enough to taste it. But right now, Penske’s Cup program is not ready for a fourth team; in fact, its second and third ones aren’t even consistently competitive yet. It’s the right move to be patient and wait.

Sometimes, you get only one shot at Cup, and it would be a shame if Allgaier went to a team where he couldn’t compete for top 10s. He’s got the talent and the charisma to contend one day, though, so expect that patience to pay off. It will only be a matter of time before this young gun joins the upper ranks.

Hamlin winning over fans

For much of last season, Denny Hamlin was often seen in a similar light as teammate Kyle Busch, albeit to a lesser degree, in terms of popularity. But in what has been one of the more intriguing storylines of this brief season, Hamlin competing with a torn ACL, and now a surgically-repaired ACL, is winning the Virginian fans each and every week.

As if his win at Martinsville – on the day of his scheduled surgery – wasn’t enough, running the full distance at Phoenix on a dreadful night was equally, if not more impressive. With body damage and battery problems, it was a horrible Saturday night for Hamlin to begin with… and an excruciatingly painful, recently-repaired knee only made it worse. But he stayed in the car, gutting through the pain despite a subpar 30th-place effort. Casey Mears was ready to step in all the way, but he didn’t – and that says a lot about the young and now apparently resilient driver.

Was Phoenix the jump start Montoya needed?

Juan Pablo Montoya was the darling of the 2009 Chase, but the preseason title contender this season posted three finishes of 30th or worse in his first six starts despite starting in the top 10 five times. This week, he put it all together, starting seventh and finishing fifth to jump him four spots to 21st in the standings. While it remains to be seen if his luck has changed, Montoya finished seventh in the spring Texas race last season and is approaching a series of ovals where he should be competitive. Expect him to start making his charge and eat away at the deficit between he and the Chase cutoff, ultimately making the playoffs after the first 26 races.

Despite being the favorite, Johnson fails to win last two races

To me, one of the more shocking observations over the past month is the fact that Jimmie Johnson has not won since Bristol… a whopping three races ago. I know, I know…he can’t win them all. Johnson and Chad Knaus haven’t even shown their full hand yet, but Johnson got off to an uncharacteristically hot start to 2010 and absolutely owns Martinsville and Phoenix. So while he finished ninth and third, respectively, at the two tracks it was a shock to me not to see him in victory lane. He was surprisingly not in contention at Martinsville, but that hangover didn’t last long. Not only was he strong in Phoenix and probably a green-white-checkered away from a win, fresh tires at the finish still anchored a tremendous charge from seventh to third in two laps. Still, with three early season wins and 30 bonus points to date going into the Chase (along with a worst finish of 12th since axle problems in Daytona), Johnson remains the favorite not only for the title, but for wins each and every week. By the way, he has at least one top-two finish at Texas in each of the past three seasons.

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