*Jimmie Johnson will finish the “regular season” with more wins than Denny Hamlin*
With less than ten races to go until the Chase, it’s time for drivers to position themselves for the ten-race playoff that will ultimately determine the 2010 champion. For guys like Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. the next two months is about trying to make the exclusive cutoff. It’s all about top 10s; it’s all about top 5s… it’s all about avoiding trouble. But for those guys effectively locked into the playoff, it’s all about wins and those all-important bonus points.
Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin are now all knotted up at five wins apiece after Johnson’s win this weekend in New Hampshire, and while they sit second and fourth in the points, respectively, under the current Chase format they’re locked up in a head-to-head battle for the point lead next time the series comes to Loudon.
While Hamlin is having a career season and has positioned himself as the David to Johnson’s goliath, Johnson is also surprisingly off to a hot start. It’s easy to forget given the No. 48’s dominance over the past four years, but this is traditionally a team of closers, not starters. Six of Johnson’s seven wins in 2008 came after the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona – and again in 2009, five of his seven wins came after Summer Speedweeks.
Already coming off back-to-back victories, three of the five tracks Johnson has won at in 2010 come back around on the schedule – Loudon and Fontana are in the Chase – and if he and Knaus have hit stride already, what the two are capable of with the championship on the line could be something special… again.
*A.J. Allmendinger will remain at RPM in 2011*
Allmendinger announced this week that he would have an answer in the next month about whether he would remain at Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011. In the midst of a career year in which Dinger sits 21st in points as the team’s “B” driver, all signs point to him staying as the potential “A” guy next season. Kasey Kahne is expected to leave during the offseason as he prepares to join Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, and Allmendinger should get a long look in that role. He’s progressively improved each season and completed over 97 percent of the laps last year.
If Allmendinger is auditioning for the top job at RPM, he’s done a damn impressive job lately with top-15 finishes in his last six starts – tracks ranging from Lowe’s to Infineon. Despite some great runs for Kahne, Allmendinger sits just one point behind his teammate while in the team’s “B” equipment, mainly due to his consistency.
Let’s face it, Allmendinger won’t get a better ride on the market… and the opportunity to be the top guy on any team is too good to pass up.
*The infamous Daytona pothole will return this weekend*
As the Cup Series returns to Florida this weekend, fans will undoubtedly be constantly reminded of the tragic and embarrassing pothole that forced multiple red flags in this year’s Daytona 500. But could the past become the present this weekend – especially after a week where rains are expected throughout much of Central Florida? A source informed me back in April as I learned of the eventual paving before next year’s Great American Race that there were indeed concerns about getting this year’s summer events in without further damage to the track.
Because of this, fans, track officials and NASCAR will collectively hold their breaths for three days this week. Any signs of the pothole’s return – or the start of a new pothole – will be an irreparable black eye for the sport and the track. But you have to believe that Daytona International Speedway has done enough research to think the track can hold on for at least two more bouts of restrictor plate racing. If not, something would have been done by now. NASCAR can’t afford to have the public humiliation of what would be an even bigger mistake than the one in February…
We’ll just have to wait and see, but my take is come Sunday morning, the race, not a hole, will be the big story.