Good morning race fans and happy Tuesday! We are that much closer to the next race! After Sunday’s thriller at Martinsville, I am sure that it has left everyone excited/nervous about Talladega this weekend. Obviously, we have Jimmie Johnson doing his usual thing in the Chase, and while many expected Denny Hamlin to give Johnson a run for his money this year, I don’t think anyone actually thought he would be six points out of the lead this late in the game. Then, we have guys such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch who are all but out of the championship hunt. Will we see them start preparing for next year, or will they go all out in the final four races, influencing the championship outcome while they do it? The last short track event has left many fuming, but let’s see who’s really on fire in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not.
Kevin Harvick – I hope I am not jinxing Harvick like I did with Jeff Gordon after I declared him Johnson’s biggest title threat two weeks ago. Either way, it was a great weekend for Harvick. His truck driver Ron Hornaday picked up his first Martinsville win, while Harvick’s Nationwide car driven by Mike Bliss nearly pulled off the Saturday sweep. And Harvick the driver had a pretty good day as well; he led 97 laps en route to his first top five ever at Martinsville, gaining 15 points on Johnson as we head to Talladega, where he happens to be the most recent winner. What about that pit crew swap? It seemed to work great as the No. 29 team had excellent stops all race. With just four races left, though, Harvick will either need to start winning or hope for some bad luck with Johnson and Hamlin.
Mark Martin – Martin nearly pulled off a Harry Gant on Sunday, rallying from a mid-race crash to almost pick up his first victory of 2010 at age 51. Although he wasn’t able to pick up the win, the second-place finish was Martin’s best this year just a couple of weeks after having the fastest car at Fontana. Through the first 13 races of 2010, Martin had five top-five finishes. It took 19 races for him to get another, but after his lap 227 crash even a top 20 appeared unlikely. As can be the case in short track races, the damage actually made his car perform better, and Martin was running the fastest laps in the final portion of the event. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought he had just won the Daytona 500 from his interview.
Honorable Mention: Tabasco sauce, random I know, but I have some sitting by my desk; David Ragan‘s seat; Gordon’s sponsor status for next year; Todd Bodine’s championship chances; and NASCAR being featured in CBS’s Undercover Boss
Brad Keselowski – Heading into the past weekend, two things looked likely for Keselowski; he will be the 2010 Nationwide champion and he might possibly run the entire Cup schedule without a top-10 finish. Turns out there’s nothing to worry about on both counts. With his win at Gateway, Keselowski only has to start the final three races to earn the Nationwide trophy he’s coveted for most of his career. He also solved that top-10 dilemma by scoring a 10th-place finish at Martinsville, his first with Team Penske. It isn’t the Cup season Brad wanted by any means, but his race on Sunday is a step in the right direction for next year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Guess who’s back? Just kidding, but Sunday’s performance was exactly what Earnhardt needed. He led more laps than in all previous races this year combined, and his seventh-place result keeps him solidly in the top 20 in points. If any driver should be excited about going to Talladega this weekend, it should be Earnhardt, who has nothing to lose and everything to gain at the superspeedway he once dominated.
Honorable Mention: Tornado season; another Kurt Busch feud; teammates fighting; start and parks not parking so soon at Martinsville; Jeremy Clements
Gateway International Raceway – Depending on how you look at it, this track could be on fire. The way I see it, however, is that Gateway put on two great shows this year to go out with a bang. It is for this reason I don’t think the track should be totally upset, but it has to sting to have arguably the two best finishes of the year, then not even host a race for the upcoming season. Even if the track were to come back, a little banking added to it would be nice. Do that and we have ourselves another Darlington.
Clint Bowyer – What a crazy Chase this one has been for Bowyer. He has the win at Loudon and a second at Fontana, but his best finish after that is a 15th at Kansas. Oh yeah, he also got some penalty after that win in New Hampshire that has put him last in the Chase standings. I have heard how some people said that if NASCAR didn’t penalize Bowyer, that he would still be in top five in points. Well, that was before Martinsville and now, even without the penalty, he would be sitting ninth in the standings. Not much has been going right for Bowyer lately; Richard Childress confirmed that by swapping pit crews with teammate and title contender Harvick.
Richard Petty Motorsports – What is to say that hasn’t already been said? Kasey Kahne has already moved on, which may be a good thing. This is an organization that we all expected to be racing at least two cars next year, possibly three, but now it looks like it would a surprise to see RPM come back at all in 2011. I am a fan of a 43-car field as well as the No. 43 car on the track, and I would be devastated if neither one is a sight on the track for next year.
Greg Biffle – Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Biffle was supposed to be the underdog everyone had to look out for? He may be the only Ford winner this year, but wins don’t mean much if you can’t be consistent. Despite his win at Kansas, Biffle sits 11th in points and would be last among the Chasers if NASCAR didn’t help out by taking points away from Bowyer.