So, once again the Sprint Cup Series race came down to fuel mileage, Kyle Busch won the Nationwide Series race, and the Truck Series race was the best of the weekend?
Yep. Seems like just another day at the office for NASCAR Nation.
However, Busch would be too obvious of a choice for a “hot” driver, as would his fellow NASCAR winners this weekend, Ryan Newman and Matt Crafton. Congratulations to all three of them, but we’re going to take a look at some of the less obvious choices in this edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not.
*Joey Logano* – Could Logano finally be becoming the driver everyone thought he would be?
Probably not, but I will gladly give credit where credit is due. Logano has been in the top 10 in four of the last five races, including a third place run at Daytona and a fourth last weekend in Loudon.
Could changes be coming for “Sliced Bread” at Joe Gibbs Racing in the near future? Rumors have been circulating for weeks now that Roush Fenway Racing’s star driver Carl Edwards could be headed over to JGR in 2012, potentially with Logano’s current sponsor Home Depot on board. Though no one seems to be talking—least of all, Edwards—the speculation seems to be getting louder and louder.
Where would that leave Logano? Outta luck? In a fourth car? Back in the Nationwide Series?
It’s hard to say, but it’s possible–though unlikely–that Logano might be able to save his own hide if he continues to put down numbers like he has the last few weeks. Though one can’t help but wonder if his performance at Kentucky Speedway (14th)—a track that has been very kind to Logano in the Nationwide Series—was in fact a missed opportunity.
*Jimmie Johnson* – All right, putting Johnson in here after claiming to go with the less obvious choices may seem counterintuitive, but I promise I have a point, so stay with me.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup is winding ever closer, with only seven races left before the field is set. Johnson has only one victory this year, and aside from that hasn’t made much noise. Which is right where he needs to be. Past history shows that this is around the time Johnson starts heating up, with 20 of his 35 wins in the past five years coming _after_ the 19th race of the season.
And guess what race No. 20 is? The Brickyard 400, a race which Johnson has taken the checkered flag not once, not twice, but thrice in the past five seasons
With Johnson already holding 12 top 10 finishes to his credit through 19 races this season, it looks like he’s perfectly set up to make a sixth run at a Cup Series title.
*Honorable Mention:* *David Mayhew* finished third in only his third Camping World Truck Series start this season, matching his career best finish when he finished third at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this season.
*Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* – It has been a few weeks since Stenhouse held the Nationwide points lead, but he’s still racing with and occasionally beating the Sprint Cup Series regulars on a regular basis. Last weekend in New Hampshire, he was the highest finishing Nationwide Series regular, the sixth time he has held that honor all season.
Now with the Edwards news circling around, it is looking more and more like there will be an open seat at RFR in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012. The only difference is, I figured the open seat would come from David Ragan’s Cup team, not Edwards’s.
Regardless, if Stenhouse keeps this up, he’s definitely going to create some opportunities for himself whether Jack Roush decides to move him up a series or not.
*Kenny Wallace* – Wallace and RAB Racing have done a great job holding their own against the Sprint Cup Series teams in Nationwide Series equipment, finishing in the top 10 eight times in 19 races this season and sitting at a respectable 7th in the standings.
The fan favorite SPEED commentator is constantly trying to separate himself from TV personality to racecar driver, but most people will recognize him faster from his role on NASCAR RaceDay than his time spent in the No. 09 Toyota’s cockpit. However, if he continues to put down numbers like these, sooner or later people will begin to recognize him more as “racecar driver Kenny Wallace” than “that goofy guy on NASCAR RaceDay with the funny laugh.”
*Honorable Mention:* *Michael Annett* has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six races, which is a long way removed from February when he was arrested for DUI in Mooresville, N.C.
*A.J. Allmendinger* – Downsizing Richard Petty Motorsports to two teams hasn’t done much in terms of performance for Allmendinger. His average finish through 19 races this season is a disappointing 17th. Without a sudden win, drastic change in performance, and a helluva lot of luck, he is going to miss the Chase.
But hold up! There may be hope for Allmendinger yet!
Last week, fellow Ford Racing driver Greg Biffle lost a crew chief in Greg Erwin, who was replaced by Roush Fenway Racing with Matt Puccia. Oh no! Poor Erwin! Where will he go now?!
To the top of Allmendinger’s pit box, that’s where. RPM announced on Monday that Mike Shiplett was out as Allmendinger’s crew chief, and Erwin was in.
For once, I’m actually convinced this might work. I’m not saying Allmendinger will be a contender for the win every week, but I definitely expect to see an improvement with Erwin now calling the shots. In every full-time season Erwin was with the No. 16 team (he came on board after 12 races in 2007), Biffle never missed the Chase. In fact, in the three full seasons Erwin was the crew chief, the worst Biffle ever finished was 7th.
I really think this one will end up being Biffle’s loss, but on the bright side there will be no more confusion as to which “Greg” people are referring to!
*Jeff Burton* – Burton finally moved up from “cold” to “cool”, though it’s awful sad when that’s considered an improvement from a driver who has 21 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories. This year he’s been lucky to even get a top te–… Oh wait, no, he doesn’t have one of those yet either.
Burton spent a few laps inside of the top 5 last Sunday in New Hampshire, but never led any laps and wound up finishing 16th.
What’s actually saddest about the whole thing is Burton finished the highest of any of the Richard Childress Racing drivers; Clint Bowyer placed 17th, Kevin Harvick 21st, and Paul Menard 24th.
What the heck is going on over there? At the beginning of the season, even Menard was beating Burton every weekend and now he’s leading the charge. That’s not saying much, considering Burton’s average finish is 21st, but it’s definitely a surprising turn of events.
It’s unfortunate that RCR waited until the Chase was so close to blow it. Thankfully, they have a near surefire Chase spot in Harvick and he’ll get a wad of bonus points for his three wins after Richmond is over. If they continue to perform like this, though, those bonus points might as well be M&M’s.
*Honorable Mention:* *David Reutimann* only has one top 10 finish in the last seven races and only two all year. A 24th spot in points doesn’t help matters either.
*Dale Earnhardt Jr.* – So, it has come to this. In the last five races, Earnhardt has seemingly hit rock bottom, with his highest finish coming last weekend at Loudon with a 15th-place run. Attribute it to bad luck, lack of confidence, or poor communication. Whatever it is, they need to figure it out in a hurry, because Earnhardt has now slipped into the danger zone of the Chase, holding only a seven point lead over 11th-place Tony Stewart.
Without a win, Earnhardt’s chances may go up in smoke if they can’t get a handle on their performance. Wild card or not, I have a hard time believing that we won’t have _at least_ two drivers between 10th and 20th without a win, so don’t think that Earnhardt can hang onto the 11th spot and still be in the Chase. More than likely, he’ll have to rely on a win of his own.
*Clint Bowyer* – Like Earnhardt, I think some of this recent crappy performance from the No. 33 team can be attributed to bad luck, though last week at Loudon was just painful. Yes Bowyer was able to lead a few laps, but dropped like a rock after the initial restart that put him there and was never heard from again.
Unfortunately for Bowyer, this team _cannot_ afford any more races like this. The team has now fallen to 12th in the standings and is 28 points out of the top 10.
Last year, 28 points wouldn’t have been much. This year, it’s over half the field. 28 points is tantamount to 28 positions on the track, and that’s assuming the other driver doesn’t lead a lap. In addition to that deficit, Bowyer is also racing against drivers like Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and the aforementioned Dale Earnhardt Jr. to even have a shot at a Chase spot.
A lot can happen in seven races, but the No. 33 better get their stuff together.
*Honorable Mention:* *J.J.Yeley* has made 16 starts this season, but was actually running at the end of the race for the first time last Sunday. Yeley is driving for Front Row Motorsports the rest of the season, though it looks like most of those will be start-and-park efforts without additional funding.
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