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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … Who Has Something to Prove, Underdogs Overachieving and Quick Hits

Did You Notice? … A running theme among all the drivers succeeding this season? You’ve got Brian Vickers, in a part-time ride running eighth in his first 2013 start with Michael Waltrip Racing. There’s AJ Allmendinger, making spot starts for James Finch flirting with the top 10 every time out. On the luck rollercoaster sits Matt Kenseth, more emotional than perhaps ever before in surging to the front at Las Vegas. Even the point leader, Brad Keselowski, who spent the offseason feeling disrespected by critics, has roared out of the box with four top-5 finishes in the first four races.

These men, from the underdogs to the ones with upper-tier organizations, may not have the same equipment, but… they feel like they have something to prove. Why is that important? The way NASCAR’s Chase is set up, for some of these guys making the postseason isn’t as hard as you would think. Take Jimmie Johnson as an example. They’ve got a win already, which protects them inside the top 20. Even with a bad luck race (Bristol), the No. 48 team remains 36 points to the “good” of the top 10 in points – and we’re only four races into the season. I’m not saying they’re going to “coast;” but if they wanted to, an average of about 10th to 15th for the next 22 weeks would be more than enough to get them to where the points really count.

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Despite winning the 2012 Cup title, Brad Keselowski tops a list of drivers running like they have something to prove in 2013.

Keselowski could be in that position, too where settling for second, fourth, seventh in upcoming races would be more than acceptable. But the reigning champ has a burning desire not to rest on his laurels. He’s built career goals on the Rodney Dangerfield motto, “I don’t get no respect.” While other drivers with championship equipment might take it easy into the postseason, he’s one guy, rest assured, who would lead the standings by 100 come Richmond in September just to prove a point.

Of course, in the midst of these feel-good seasons, there have been complaints about boring racing. But as Bristol showed, and even Las Vegas the week before, that the right combination for more competitive racing is there. Kasey Kahne, Tuesday made it clear he feels the only track where Goodyear truly missed the boat was Phoenix; several other drivers feel the same way.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before I take off…

– As I mentioned Monday, Joey Logano’s feud with Denny Hamlin, going forward, may hinge on his own teammate. Remember how Mr. Keselowski feels about the No. 11 bunch? Let’s not forget, just a few short years ago he was willing to spin Hamlin out, among other insults in a rivalry that’s had a long, sordid history. It’s clear the reigning champ, in position to pick his partner in crime, views Logano like a little brother. You think a guy who started the season putting everyone from NASCAR, to racetracks, to competitors in their place through a wide-ranging USA Today interview is going to advise Logano to publicly apologize? I don’t think so.

– The stars of G.I. Joe: Retaliation are waving the green flag at Fontana this Sunday? Really? Remember when celebrities like Tom Cruise actually cared about when NASCAR came to town? We’ve gone from the equivalent of lodging at the Hilton to being lucky to grab a room at the Motel 6.

– Two underdogs not being mentioned enough who are overachieving in 2013 are AJ Allmendinger and Casey Mears. While everyone has excelled driving James Finch’s No. 51 merry-go-round, the ‘Dinger is the only one to do so without a full-time ride. Unlike with, say Kurt Busch, there will be no future media blemishes on the resume of one of the circuit’s most outgoing drivers. That means, with the right sponsor, ‘Dinger can put last summer’s drug debacle behind him. With Penske about to pull him back into IndyCar full-time, NASCAR would behoove themselves to give Phoenix a little kick in the pants to make sure this guy sticks around.

Then, there’s Mears, emerging as a stronger force with Germain Racing now that their sponsorship deal with GEICO spans 36 races. 22nd in points, Mears has been top 15 in both short track events and stayed in contention for a strong Daytona finish before getting wrecked. It wouldn’t surprise me, considering Bobby Labonte’s age, Kurt Busch’s tendency to overdrive and the Wood Brothers’ limitations this team competes for the title “best single-car organization” before the year is out.

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