*Did You Notice?…* This week’s 2010 Chase driver on life support happens to be Jeff Burton? While Denny Hamlin remains in crisis, Talladega returns the focus to the driver of the No. 31, whose fiery wreck last fall with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has precipitated the current slump that’s perhaps his most serious since first signing with RCR in 2004. The veteran remains without a top-10 finish in his last 11 races while sitting 25th in points, 57 out of a postseason spot and lacking the type of victory cache someone like Hamlin can use to earn a wild card position. That leaves his team with their proverbial backs against the wall, no room for error while reflecting on what’s put them in this spot.
*Did You Notice?…* Everyone and their mother referring to Kevin Harvick as “the best closer in NASCAR?”
It’s a broad-based statement, the only stats to back it up his “Hail Mary” late-race comebacks the last two weeks. Those runs were impressive, Harvick passing Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., respectively to win the races despite leading a combined total of seven laps. But has he really been the best late-race bloomer in NASCAR 2011?
The answer will surprise you. The sport’s loop data keeps a statistic marked “closers,” keeping track of how many positions each driver gains in the last 10 percent of each race. Sounds like the category Harvick should be dominating, right?
*Did You Notice?* … There’s no clear-cut dominant driver so far in Sprint Cup? We’ve got five races, five different winners and fourteen men capable of taking the championship lead out of Martinsville – more than double what we had at this time a year ago. Certainly, drivers like Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson have flexed some muscle but the battle at the top of the points is clearly still taking shape. After all, remember where Denny Hamlin stood at this time last year; without a top-10 finish, he looked as likely to challenge for the championship as the guy blocking your view at the movie theater two rows in front (bad experience).
_Editor’s Note: While Tom Bowles continues his hiatus from “Did You Notice?,” the fill-in carousel by some of your favorite Frontstretch staff members continue. This week, enjoy some analysis by NASCAR guru and truant slacker Doug Turnbull._
The 2011 season, at first seemed to embody a different vibe than years past. Trevor Bayne’s win in the Daytona 500, followed by Jeff Gordon’s long-awaited victory at Phoenix… with a few crashes mixed in for both… all set a dramatic tone as the Sprint Cup Series set out for Las Vegas. But in Sin City, reality set in for many of the sport’s “B” and “C” teams as long green flag runs left many cars multiple laps down and many fans longing for more of the action that they saw in the first two races.
After Kyle Busch took the Bristol crown for about the nineteenth straight time (actually fifth straight in NASCAR competition and second straight in Sprint Cup) with Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson in tow, the reality that the usual contenders are rising to the top became even more real. It’s just one of several, familiar trends that are starting to develop in the Sprint Cup Series; here’s a look at a few as 2011 hits full swing…
Greetings, NASCAR fans! Yours truly has been enjoying his indefinite sabbatical from NASCAR writing while I pursue other, uh, pursuits. But those of you who enjoy the “Foto Funnies”:https://frontstretch.com/fotofunnies/33032/ (and thank you) know that I have not been completely able to extract myself from the Frontstretch Staff; it’s like getting out of one of those Record and Tape Club deals. (Yes, I’m older than you.)
But this month, ol’ Bowlesy needed my help, and I was more than happy to oblige. So here’s a look at some small observations from the 2011 season to date:
*Did You Notice?* … That in the midst of simplifying the point system, NASCAR’s three championship leaders in the three major series didn’t win the first race of the year? Let’s review:
*Cup points leader* – Carl Edwards, 42 (second place in the Daytona 500)
*Nationwide* – Landon Cassill, 41 (third place in the Drive4COPD 300)
*Trucks* – Clay Rogers, 42 (third place in the NextEra Energy Resources 250)
Here’s the best part of all that; both Edwards and Cassill reached the top of the charts without leading a single lap of the race. And this system is supposed to promote winning? Huh?
*Did You Notice?* … That there hasn’t been much out there previewing the Duels? Yes, with only 48 cars there’s not the same type of drama as in past years – only five will miss the field – but it’s still a battle to make NASCAR’s most prestigious race. Add in the big purse and the crapshoot of a repaved track where the full 43-car field could stay in contention and yes, qualifying still means something. So let’s take a look at the storylines from each Duel:
*Did You Notice?* … There’s a reason why people think that entering this season, Denny Hamlin’s experiencing a 2011 hangover? It’s because for the last five years, everyone who nearly toppled five-time champ Jimmie Johnson wound up forgetting to drink a little water before hitting the sack.
Here’s a quick list of how the last five years have gone:
*Did You Notice?* … Hendrick Motorsports isn’t afraid to make bold moves? Just two days after winning a fifth consecutive championship, the organization pulled the trigger on the biggest shakeup we’ve seen from them this decade. No less than three crew chiefs are changing roles, with the only operation untouched being Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and a No. 48 shop that will remain virtually intact for 2011.
Let’s go over the changes briefly so everyone knows exactly what happened:
*Old Hendrick Shops*
*24* paired with *48*, *5* paired with *88*
*New Hendrick Shops*
*24* paired with *5*, *48* paired with *88*
Did You Notice? Besides the Chase, there’s plenty of other NASCAR associations coming to an end this weekend. Before we take a look at that championship, here’s a look at the other important storylines and likely divorces headed your way: The final race for Kurt Busch and Miller Lite. Five years into a Roger Penske …