Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot / Not in NASCAR: All-Star Race / Charlotte Edition

In honor of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s win last weekend in Iowa—and in protest of a rather dull All-Star Race—I’ve decided to focus on the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series drivers in this week’s Hot/Not. Underdogs are always a better story anyway, right?

So let’s take a look at the drivers making some noise in the lower tier series, those who are hiding in the shadows, and those who just might need to disappear.

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Dover – Charlotte Edition

Despite the multitude of events that happened over the weekend — from the huge crash at the end of the Nationwide Series race to Matt Kenseth’s tire strategy call to win his second race of 2011 — the one thing everyone is talking about most is NASCAR on FOX’s split-screen commercials towards the end of Sunday’s FedEx 400. It was definitely an interesting moment, but will it have any effect on the outcome of this season? Not a chance. Amazing how one off-track incident, one that may not even be repeated overshadowed everything else…

At least this column will stay focused on what makes you tune in every weekend to begin with: the racing. After the latest NASCAR tripleheader, plenty of drivers had some strong (or sour) runs that could define the rest of their Spring, establishing momentum or seeing it all fizzle out in the face of the Monster Mile. So let’s take a look at which ones made their mark in the latest edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not:

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Darlington-Dover Edition

It’s not every weekend you see an underdog head to Victory Lane — unless it’s 2011. While this season’s NASCAR Nationwide Series continues to be the same ol’ same ol’, filled with Sprint Cup drivers dominating the headlines (and Darlington was no different), the Cup Series itself has seen winless streaks broken and underdogs finding their moment in the spotlight.

Flaring tempers are also nothing new this year, though it’s taken a lot longer for the “Boys, have at it” mantra that began last season to rile drivers up. Friday night, we finally saw the fire lit as Nationwide Series championship contender Aric Almirola was none too happy with Cup regulars Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin, steaming after an incident involving the three of them ruined Almirola’s night.

Who’s Hot / Not in NASCAR: Richmond-Darlington Edition

Hot tempers, beating and banging, and language that could make a sailor blush … and that was just Kurt Busch!

While Busch was using vulgar analogies to describe his racecar and Martin Truex Jr. was firing his pit crew, Kyle Busch was up front dominating and clinching the victory for the third straight spring race at Richmond International Raceway. Meanwhile, Ryan Newman was threatening Juan Pablo Montoya within an inch of … the NASCAR hauler, and Jeff Gordon was again reminding NASCAR which tracks need to install S.A.F.E.R barriers. Sounds like just another short track race to me.

Who’s Hot / Not in NASCAR: Talladega-Nashville Edition

So the Cup guys were off last weekend, which means significantly fewer Sprint Cup Series regulars appeared in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races in Nashville, right?

WRONG! Please. You didn’t really think the Cup guys would skip out on a weekend of racing and leave NASCAR fans and writers alike without something to bitch about, did you? Come on!

The Sprint Cup regulars did dominate the weekend, with Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards winning the Truck and Nationwide Series races, respectively. Admittedly, it was sort of disappointing since I (incorrectly) assumed at least a few of them would take the weekend off. Actually, it seemed like there were more than ever!

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Talladega-Off Week Edition

Eight races into the season, the Sprint Cup Series takes a breather for just the second time as we’re all able to sit back, relax, and evaluate what’s happened to date. For some drivers, though, they wish we were racing this Sunday simply to continue the momentum after a fantastic finish at Talladega left their teams – and their Chase chances – sitting in high gear. Who were those guys, and can they keep that positive mojo rolling through a two-week period where racing will be the last thing on their minds? And how about the other side, teams ready for a month’s vacation after a season that hasn’t gone their way? Find out who’s at the forefront of those two extremes right now in the latest edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not.

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Texas-Talladega Edition

So, did everyone enjoy Sunday off? Last weekend, Texas Motor Speedway held their first night race weekend with the NASCAR Nationwide Series race running on Friday night and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race following on Saturday night the next day. While this wasn’t the first time TMS had a race ending under the lights, it was the first official night race at the track and all the competitors enjoyed Sunday afternoon away from the racetrack.

I had a family member in town, so it was nice to be able to spend some time catching up. What did you do on Sunday without a race?

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Martinsville-Texas Edition

“SO close!” was the cry echoed by Junior Nation after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. saw the chance at victory slip from his grasp this weekend at Martinsville—but he still beat Kyle Busch, so that’s something right?

Earnhardt took the lead from Busch with 20 laps to go and held it until Kevin Harvick moved by him with just four laps remaining. Earnhardt barely beat Busch to the start/finish line for second place, with the two drivers finishing side-by-side and Earnhardt edging out Busch for the runner up spot. Both drivers were obviously disappointed, though Harvick was less than sympathetic after stealing the victory for the second week in a row.

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Fontana-Martinsville Edition

Fontana? Boring? Say it ain’t so!

Alright, so Sunday’s race was about as exciting as watching dandelions grow until about 50 laps to go. However, Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race was a bit more competitive since Kyle Busch wasn’t near as dominant as he was in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event (when was the last time you heard THAT?!), and Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick were slicing and dicing for the lead for a majority of the race. Plus, who didn’t love seeing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. running with and _beating_ the Cup Series regulars?

Eventually, Busch won the Nationwide Series race thanks to a brilliant two tire call by crew chief Jason Ratcliff on the final pitstop. Busch looked to be well on his way to his second weekend sweep in a row after leading 151 of 200 laps in the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, but a late race caution brought Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson right to his back bumper and he would finish third. Meanwhile, Harvick used a last lap shove down the backstretch to show five-time champion Johnson how it’s done. Harvick won his first race at his home track, while Johnson had to settle for second.

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Bristol-Fontana Edition

If Bristol held a racing weekly series, Kyle Busch would probably be the five-time champion rather than Jimmie Johnson. Busch has won five straight races at Bristol Motor Speedway across all three of NASCAR’s national series, leaving countless Busch haters pounding their head against the wall repeatedly and flushing their M&M’s down the toilet.

No question, Busch is obviously the “hottest” driver in the sport right now. But with so much written about him, let’s go ahead and take a look at a few of the drivers who have flown under the radar a little bit in 2011.

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