The battle for the final Chase spot is now down to two
With a clutch effort Saturday night, Clint Bowyer holds a relatively comfortable 100-point lead over 13th place Jamie McMurray and 101 points over Mark Martin. What we saw at the bullring in Tennessee is what I expect to see over the final two races of the “regular season” performance-wise between the final three competitors. Martin was nowhere to be seen again this weekend, finishing 23rd and losing another spot in the standings. It wasn’t long ago the No. 5 team sat in the Chase, but disappointing efforts continue to pile up and it would be near impossible to turn the program around in just two races. McMurray on the other hand has been widely inconsistent all season, but is hitting his stride perhaps at the perfect time with four top-six finishes in the last six races. While he struggled at both Atlanta and Richmond in each spring event this season, the two tracks are in Earnhardt Ganassi’s wheelhouse and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya had top 10s in both races.
The final two races will be approached completely differently by Bowyer. Atlanta is not one of his better tracks with just four top 10s in nine starts and an average finish a hair above 16th. The goal for Bowyer and the No. 33 team is to just be conservative, try and finish in the top 15 and head to Richmond – a track he’s won at in the past – in a one on one battle with McMurray. Whatever the outcome, however, it’s safe to say the final spot will come down to these two drivers.
Your comeback driver for 2011 is Brian Vickers
Even if Brian Vickers doesn’t win a race next season – hell, even if he goes the year without a top five – he’ll still be the comeback driver of the year. When word first leaked that Vickers was suffering from blood clots earlier this season, fans and media were scratching their heads wondering how a driver can develop blood clots and how it could sideline him for the season. We got our answer this week and the revelation was scary. As reported by ESPN, Vickers not only had multiple clots, but also a hole between the right and left atrium of his heart and suffered from May-Thurner syndrome, a rare condition that could lead to stroke. He had heart surgery on July 12 and a stent was placed in a vein in his left leg. The struggles Vickers has had to go through since the announcement are stunning, but he now says he’s in the best shape of his life and will compete in 2011. The first time he is introduced at Daytona next season, every single fan should give him a standing ovation. It’s one that would certainly be well deserved.
Red Bull will field three cars next season
Speaking of Team Red Bull, Vickers’s return, Scott Speed and the addition of Kasey Kahne in 2011 has left three drivers under contract for next season. The team has two options: run two cars or put Kahne in the No. 82 and let Speed out of his contract. IF Speed and Red Bull can come to an agreement it makes much more sense for Kahne to take over the No. 82 for one season and a driver TBD in 2012 (Martin?). There’s no sense from a competition standpoint starting a third team when your second isn’t even mildly competitive and you’re A team has been in flux all year. Kahne would give Red Bull its first proven driver a full year in the No. 82 and could help work out some of the kinks that may be keeping the team from consistent top 10s and top 15s. Then when the seat opens up in 2012 you have a number of options, including Martin, who would become a free agent if he chooses not to retire once Kahne takes over the No. 5. The seat would be much more desirable if Kahne can prove that Red Bull’s “B” team has potential.
Brad Keselowski is becoming more and more popular by the week
Perhaps the quote of the year came Saturday night when Brad Keselowski during his personal driver introduction at Bristol said, “I’m Brad Keselowski driver of the Penske Racing Dodge…. Kyle Busch is an a**.” It drew one of the loudest ovations for a driver introduction for a driver not named Earnhardt and shows how much fans love an outspoken driver. Keselowski has had quite a few run-ins with the sport’s highest-profile drivers, but has developed a popular reputation of a driver that will never give in, no matter who is pushing him around. The images of him in the fence at Atlanta, getting hit like a pinball at Gateway and now helplessly getting turned for the win at Bristol have put him in the national spotlight as a driver who has been more often the victim than the villain. Whether or not this is true isn’t the case, if every time a casual fan turns on ESPN Keselowski is in the wall or winning races he’s bound to draw a few fans. He has everything Busch has: talent, passion and a refuse to lose attitude, but while Busch taunts fans and irritates everyone without a No. 18 hat, that’s not Keselowski’s attitude and he’s got a great mentor in Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will make sure he doesn’t go the way of Shrub. Just wait and see how Keselowski’s popularity soars when he pilots the Miller Lite car next year and runs more consistently up front. Like Earnhardt said Friday night, “He’s going to be here a while.”