Good morning race fans, and happy Tuesday to all of you! Hopefully, everyone enjoyed another wild one at Talladega as we gear up for a crucial race at Texas Motor Speedway. It has now become an official three-man competition for the championship. After his second-place finish on Sunday, Kevin Harvick moved to 38 points out of the lead – meaning he controls his own destiny with just three races left. For Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, winning out gives them the Sprint Cup title in a battle that’s bound to go down to the wire. For every other driver, the rest of the season is all about ending on a high note, as for some it is even an audition for a ride for next year. Let’s look at who is turning up the wick and who is not in this week’s edition of Hot/Not.
Joey Logano – It looks like Sliced Bread has finally arrived. Despite not making the Chase this year, Logano has scored the fifth-most points of anyone during the playoffs. And with his fifth-place finish at Talladega, Logano now has three consecutive top-10 finishes – the first time in his career he has done that. He still has an outside shot at being the best of the rest and sits currently 17th in points, just 167 marks behind 13th-place Jamie McMurray. While it may be too little, too late for 2010, Logano is starting to show the potential we all expected him to have when he first came onto the Cup scene last year.
The Chase – Whether you hate the Chase or not, there is no way you can’t be interested in this year’s championship battle. It’s the closest points race we have seen in the format’s short history, and you also have three different teams being represented. Would it be better if the points didn’t need to be reset to have this excitement? Sure, but as fans, you have to stop living in the past and accept what we have now. At the moment, you have one exciting points battle on our hands because of the current system. That’s right – I just said good things about the Chase.
Honorable Mention: Two-car breakaways, lead changes, late-race controversy, Harvick’s 2010 restrictor=plate resume, AJ Allmendinger and Ron Hornaday able to walk away from their Talladega wrecks, Joe Nemechek’s first lap this past weekend.
Kyle Busch – I am going to completely ignore the fact that Busch finished 25th on Sunday. A pattern in recent years for Busch has been that his performance fades in the Chase, as he has only one points finish better than 10th in his young Sprint Cup career. With three races left in 2010, Busch sits fifth in the standings and has been competitive in every Chase race, though the final results don’t show it. Busch also gets bonus points for that amazing finish in the Truck event. As far as the yellow line controversy goes, there shouldn’t be any. He wasn’t forced below the yellow line; he was punted below it.
Honorable Mention: Splitter-less races, Jeff Gordon’s chances for a winless season, holiday season, Election Day
Tony Stewart – Interesting fact: Stewart has had at least 10 top fives in every season he has competed in the Cup Series – something that Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Gordon and even Johnson haven’t done. As it stands right now, Stewart has nine top fives this year and has only three more races to get that 10th top five for 2010. Things were looking great after his win at Fontana, as he put himself right back into the title picture after a sluggish start to the Chase. However, in just the three weeks since, Smoke has gone from title contender to barely hanging on to a top-10 points position, slumping to finishes of 21st, 24th and 31st.
McMurray – Alright, McMurray isn’t exactly in a slump of his own. After all, he won at Charlotte just two weeks ago. However, the “Jamie McMurray should make the Chase because he won two races in the regular season” bandwagon needs to stop. A lot of people point to McMurray and his season as the perfect example of why multiple race winners should automatically qualify for the Chase. I believe McMurray’s season is the perfect example of why he should NOT be in the Chase. Wins are great, but if you can’t stay consistent, then you can’t be taken seriously as a championship contender. Take a look at McMurray this year, for example. While he has had a dream season, he hasn’t had more than two consecutive top 10s all year.
Honorable Mention: 43-car fields (looking more and more likely we won’t have them for next year)
Kasey Kahne – The last nine races have been rough, to say the least, for Kahne with just one top-10 finish. At least he has moved on from Richard Petty Motorsports, but will his new, temporary home at Red Bull Racing be any better? Maybe it’s just me, but beer and yogurt seem to match better than Kahne and Red Bull. It’s only for a year, but I have a feeling it will be a long one for the future Hendrick Motorsports driver. Kahne is only two races into his Red Bull tenure, but it’s obvious with runs of 14th and 26th he has jumped from one struggling organization to another. As talented as he is, one man isn’t going to turn an organization around, especially in the final few races of a season.
Marcos Ambrose – The man who is supposed to replace Kahne in the No. 9 car hasn’t been doing well as of late, either. After surprising many in 2009 with a solid season, the entire 2010 campaign has been a bit of a letdown for Ambrose. Going from bad to worse, after an awful regular season the last seven have marked the worst stretch for the Tasmanian, as since finishing fifth at Richmond in September, his best result is a 16th while averaging a 28.7 place finish. Add that with the uncertainty that his team for next year will even race, and Ambrose isn’t in an enviable position right now.
Honorable Mention: Randy Moss (hard to believe he still has a truck team), Robby Gordon’s personal vehicle, Whitney Motorsports