NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not: Talladega-Darlington Edition

The storyline for the last two weeks has been top level drivers having sub-par seasons finally breaking through and making statements. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski haven’t spent a whole lot of time on the hot or not side of this column because they have each had relatively quiet years, that is before Richmond.

With finishes of first and second in the last two races, Busch has sprung himself into the top 10 and Keselowski is only three points out of 10th, but with two wins is almost assured a spot in The Chase either way. Both drivers have had their share of inconsistency in 2012, but they are as good as anyone when they are on. These wins may have been just what they needed to make a run in the middle part of the season.

Now, without further delay, here is who is hot and who is not after Talladega.

*Hot*

*Kyle Busch* was one slick move by Keselowski away from winning two in a row. Busch waited around patiently all day before giving Keselowski a push that even the likes of Matt Kenseth couldn’t compete with. Busch’s run was reminiscent of when Ricky Bobby would suddenly shift into the next gear and go 20 miles per hour faster in _Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby._

The only problem was when Ricky Bobby’s shake-and-bake partner Cal Naughton, Jr. (that’s Keselowski) outsmarted him in Turns 3 and 4 and broke the draft. Even with a loss, Busch finished first and second in the last two races and has catapulted himself to ninth in the standings. The upcoming schedule doesn’t look bad for Rowdy either. He has won at Darlington, Charlotte and Dover in recent years.

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After his win at Richmond and runner-up finish at Talladega, Kyle Busch is on fire.

*Matt Kenseth* was the class of the field for the second consecutive restrictor plate race. Plate racing used to be a weakness for the Roush Fenway driver, much like Bristol was at one time. However, Kenseth has shown few weaknesses in 2012 and has proved that he should be taken seriously as a championship contender. We know he’ll be strong at Talladega in The Chase, and if he figures out Martinsville, the rest of the field is really in trouble.

*Warm*

There are two ways to view *Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s* ninth-place showing at Talladega. It was Junior’s series-leading eighth top 10 of the season and another solid showing from the No. 88 team. However, he was never the factor fans and analysts expected him to be despite leading ten laps in the first half. Talladega was tabbed as his best chance to break the streak and visit Victory Lane. Instead, he finished outside the top 5 for the 13th time in the last 15 races at the superspeedway. If that was his best chance to win, Earnhardt, Jr. fans are going to be waiting a long time for a victory.

*Brad Keselowski* has been feast or famine in 2012. Either his car is falling apart or he is in the top 10. If you take out the three races he has had mechanical problems (Daytona, Las Vegas, Texas), his worst two finishes are 18th at Auto Club and 11th at Kansas. Keselowski is in the top 10 every week, and if he can have a stretch without mechanical problems, people are going to find out just how consistent he really is.

*Cool*

*Martin Truex, Jr’s* inevitable fade down the Sprint Cup standings is underway. The only question is how long will it last? Truex looked terrible at Richmond and was running toward the back at Talladega when he was caught up in the big wreck. He finished 25th and 28th, respectively, in those races. Truex, Jr. has slid to sixth in the standings and can’t afford two more poor showings. He is only 32 points ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards.

*Kurt Busch* may have had the paint scheme, but it was Kyle Busch who looked more like Ricky Bobby in the final laps at Talladega. Kurt put himself in position to win, but was spun by eventual race winner Keselowski and ended up with a torn up race car. Some of it has been performance, but Kurt Busch has had his share of bad luck in 2012 and Talladega tops the list. If he had a shot to win somewhere and maybe sneak into The Chase as a wild card, it was Talladega that was his best shot. Instead, he ended up 20th in the race and 25th in the standings. The Chase looks like a long-shot for Busch at this point.

*Cold*

The driver that took over for Kurt Busch at Penske Racing, *AJ Allmendinger*, isn’t doing much better this season (they each have one top-10 finish). For the second consecutive week, Allmendinger ran in the top-10 for most of the day and was in position to contend toward the end of the event. He wound up 16th at Richmond and after getting tangled up with Denny Hamlin, 15th at Talladega.

Allmendinger’s frustration has to be mounting knowing his teammate, Keselowski, has more wins (2) than he has top-10s (1).

*Jeff Gordon* said his season was “almost comical” after getting caught up in an accident not of his doing on Sunday. One thing is for sure, his fans aren’t laughing. The four-time champion hasn’t cracked the top-20 since Texas and is 23rd in the standings. To put that in perspective, Gordon is only 14 points in front of Mark Martin, who has run three less races and is behind Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, who have combined for one top-10.

Forget cracking the top-10, it’s going to have to be win to get into the Chase for the No. 24 team, and considering how far back they are in points, they may have to win twice.

“Contact Brett Poirier”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/33361/

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