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(Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not In NASCAR: No Beating Around the Busch Edition

The way Kyle Busch has been going this season, it’s not really hard to believe that he pulled of his second triple header career win week at Bristol. While it can be a bit frustrating and less interesting when he is dominating the Truck and XFINITY series races he enters, the question from here on out in the Cup Series will be if anyone can beat him for title. There are a few who may be able to eclipse him for a moment, but Busch’s star power may be just too bright to block out for long.

HOT

You may or may not like Kyle Busch, but if you are any kind of auto racing fan at all you certainly have to respect him. His talent was on display in all three events. Here’s the thing about Busch: He’s good and he knows it. He’s got that little edge that every time he gets behind the wheel of a racing machine that he thinks he’s the one to beat. And when comes to competing at the highest levels of any sport, that’s the kind of attitude you need for success. Some drivers, or athletes, may show it outwardly less than others, but anyone with a desire to be great at what they do has to think that way. While it’s certainly paying fans’ right to boo Busch as they see fit, just remember your favorite driver likely has some of the same moxie. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be in the sport.

NOT

The winless Chase Elliott is still in fine shape to make the playoffs on points, but a series of OK, but not great, finishes has moved him within arm’s length of the playoff fence. Elliott is still 11 points ahead of Jamie McMurray, who holds the last points only position to make the playoffs. However, if there is a new winner in one of the next two races (read: the encumbered Joey Logano, for instance), and if Elliott happens to come up with a stinker of a finish (read: 30th or worse), he could end up being on the outside playoff picture after Richmond. Now, it’s also quite possible that Elliott could win his first Cup race in one of the next two events. But given that his best finish in the last six races has been an eighth, he’s not knockin’ on that victory door lately.

HOT

A driver who saw that victory door two weeks ago and then was banging on that door on Saturday night at Bristol was rookie Erik Jones. While he is out of the playoff points picture, he has been third at Michigan and then second at Bristol in the last two races. The young Jones also sat on the pole this week at Bristol. It seems that as could have been expected, Jones is picking up things on his second time around at these tracks. He’s proving to be a fast learner in more ways than one. Jones does have nine top-10 finishes this season. While rookies don’t traditionally fare well at Darlington, he could emerge as one of the favorites at Richmond, the final race of the regular season and shake up the playoff picture.

NOT

It’s true that Austin Dillon did win a race this year and that puts him in the playoffs. However, the facts show that Dillon is not having as good of a season as he did last year. Dillon has just two other top-10 finishes this season, to go along with the victory. Last year he had 13 top 10s. While a win at the right time can cover many sins come playoff time, it’s hard to look at the No. 3 team and say it has a legitimate shot to win the title. In fact, it’s even difficult to look at the team and think it will make it past the first round of the playoffs.

HOT

We had to know that Joe Gibbs Racing drivers would start contending and winning races at some point this season. And that’s been the case since after the July Daytona race. Starting with the race at Kentucky, the worst race the team has had is putting two drivers in the top seven. This week at Bristol, including the race winner, the team had three of the top four finishers. You know you have a team that is going good when another driver says you are going slower on purpose. Usually any type of inappropriate accusations have to do with why a team is going so fast. The playoffs await for Busch, Denny Hamlin and most likely Matt Kenseth. It’s hard to believe at least two of those drivers won’t play a major role in the championship battle.

NOT

NASCAR uses PJ1 Trackbite, the so-called “sticky stuff” in order to make more grooves for better racing. But if it wears off after the first quarter of a race, and if it keeps natural rubber from the tires being put down on the track that would create another groove for later in the race, then what’s the point of trying it? It’s just a symbol of one of the reasons why NASCAR has some competition issues to deal with. Part of it is the cars themselves, and another part of it is the tracks. Luckily, the next place on the schedule in two weeks is Darlington, a facility that has proven over the years that it is a great track, no matter what the rules package is. Let’s hope NASCAR doesn’t try and use the sticky stuff there.

Prediction

Even though the next race is Darlington in two weeks, it’s hard not to pick a veteran here. And it’s even harder to not pick either Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. So, with Busch on a roll right now, I’m going with him to win at the Lady in Black. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Dale Earnhardt Jr., because it will be his last race as a full-time Cup driver at the track and you’ve got pick an Earnhardt in that situation.

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About Jeff Wolfe

Jeff Wolfe
Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.

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