Lowe’s Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile oval that has a reputation for going fast and wrecking hard; Saturday night’s race proved no exception to that rule. As such, it’s time to take a look at how a myriad of non-Chasers performed under the lights in NASCAR’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C. Let’s take a look at Who’s Hot, and Who’s Not, non-Chase style…
0.579 – Jeff Gordon’s margin of victory over Clint Bowyer in the Bank of America 500.
The halfway point of the Chase at Lowe’s brought with it a reality check to several men no longer in the hunt for a championship. For drivers like Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick, their one-time title dreams turned into nightmares filled with enough broken parts and pieces to start a junkyard. On the contrary, for others it was a case of too little, too late, as strong runs by Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch didn’t even make a dent in deficiencies that seem far too steep to overcome.
It’s been a difficult second half of the season for Dave Blaney and the No. 22 team; they’re busy jockeying for the 35th and final “locked in” spot in car owner points with the No. 21 team and their driver combo of Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader. But last week, Blaney had his best finish of the year, surviving a hairy Talladega race to finish third and build momentum he carried over to the following week at Lowe’s. Finishing sixth, his second consecutive top 10 and his third consecutive top 15 gave the No. 22 some distance from a handful of cars chasing him. Now, for the first time in this stretch of the season, Blaney finally has breathing room, moving into 34th in the standings, 39 points ahead of 35th and a crucial 148 ahead of 36th.
1. Lucky at Lowe’s – Jeff Gordon is a great racecar driver, but even the best sometimes need a bit of luck, as Gordon acknowledged in his post-race comments from Victory Lane: “I can’t tell you how many times we tried to give this one away. I was having trouble with the [fuel] pickup on the banking. Even on the last [restart], the tires spun so bad, Clint Bowyer could have gone right by me.” Gordon pulled out the win despite two cautions and a red flag in the last 16 laps of the race, a green-white-checkered finish, an almost-empty gas tank, and a group of talented hard chargers right behind him, including Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards.
The year was 2002. It was my 27th birthday. My father was receiving the Mayor’s Award of Excellence for community service. Darrell Waltrip was there too, accepting the award for excellence in sports. Each recipient stood and spoke and, while I was very proud of my father and felt him to be more than deserving, it was Darrell’s speech that spoke directly to me. “Find your passion,” he told us that night. Whether that be ballet or racing, teaching or writing, the path to being happy and successful is to zero in on what you do well and follow it.
During my lengthy tenure as a writer for Frontstretch, the editors have often reminded us (the writers) that no matter what our past experience is with NASCAR, we should always strive to appear as journalists first… fans second. While I have usually succeeded in following that directive, longtime readers know that, being the rebel that I am, I have never hidden the fact that Dale Jarrett is my favorite NASCAR driver. So tday, I have been given special permission to ignore that directive and wear my heart on my sleeve (of my fancy UPS jacket, of course!)
Q: In the first five Car of Tomorrow races, NASCAR jumped up and down, pointing to the “close finishes.” But the last six CoT races (excluding the Talladega plate race where we always see close finishes) have been anything BUT close at the checkers. Could it be that those hair-raising finishes were aided and abetted by the infamous “debris caution” in the last laps that NASCAR is so famous for? And have these less than stellar finishes occurred after Tony Stewart compared NASCAR to the WWE, manipulating the finishes with phony cautions?
If you know someone who thinks NASCAR is just a bunch of guys driving around in circles, I have a challenge for you. Get a printout of the actual qualifying results – you know, the ones based on lap times – from the October 7th Talladega race, and put them side-by-side with the actual starting lineup of the event. Then, try explaining to a person who’s already a little dubious about NASCAR why the two lists are so completely different.
There’s far more than the renovations at Charlotte themselves to be concerned about, as those things reach beyond your ownership control. Looking at a race that runs from twilight into dark, there is always concern over the changing track conditions and how teams will adjust to them over time. With the Chase pretty much down to a three-horse race, the rest of the driver pool is going to be in the same boat – just win, and get maximum exposure for your sponsor.