10. Under The Radar – Running amongst the leaders from the drop of the green, Jeff Burton, the veteran Richard Childress Racing racer, won the Bank of America 500 to score his second win of the season. A “splash-and-go” pit stop put Burton in the lead that he never relinquished, even after a dicey battle with points leader Jimmie Johnson. Burton has now moved into second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings and only 69 points out of first with five races remaining. Could it be that after all the hoopla, the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion might be a guy that virtually no one bet on, has not had a physical altercation with anyone this year, is universally respected by fans and peers, rarely criticizes other drivers…and is never jeered by race fans?
Joey Logano made a strong bid early, but Kyle Busch again dominated the Nationwide Series field, leading 137 laps to score a relatively easy win in Friday’s Dollar General 300 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Busch was briefly challenged in the race’s final laps by Jeff Burton, who, unlike the other leaders, opted for four tires on his final pit stop. Burton, however, was unable to make up enough ground on the high side to clear Busch’s No. 18.
The truthfulness of the legend of the Talladega Curse is lost to time and memories, but certainly there have been enough odd and tragic incidents at the track to give even a sober man pause. As the story is told, there were a bunch of folks none too happy about Big Bill France’s decision to build his racetrack on the property he had bought. Among them were local hunters who said it was the best fox hunting area in the world; but the legend actually pins the curse on a local Native American tribe who considered the acreage sacred ground. The tribe supposedly sent their medicine man to ask France not to build there, but he refused to relocate and instead began construction in the late 1960s. As a result, the angry medicine man then invoked a curse on the new speedway… and no doubt was fined $5,000 by NASCAR for cursing.
For the first half of the race, it looked as if the Nationwide Series may have a different storyline to follow, as Kevin Harvick led 88 of the first 93 laps and appeared to be poised to score his first career series win in his own equipment. However, a lengthy pit stop to change a defective battery took Harvick out of the running, and the race became another Joe Gibbs Racing romp after that. Denny Hamlin, driving the No. 18 predominantly occupied by Kyle Busch this season, looked just like his teammate behind the wheel, leading the last 43 laps (99 total) and handily winning the 300-mile race at Kansas. Hamlin’s triumph also allowed Toyota to capture the Nationwide manufacturers’ title well over a month prior to season’s end.
While Bobby Hamilton Jr.’s performance in the No. 25 this season has gone largely unnoticed on ESPN broadcasts and in larger publications, he has done a considerable amount with little this season. Hamilton is currently riding a streak of 12 consecutive top-20 finishes, a stretch of races that has included everything from the high banks of Daytona to the high banks of Bristol, the sweeping left turns of Michigan to the hard right handers of Watkins Glen. Yet, despite doing everything right in 2008 on and off the track, fans likely won’t see either Team Rensi’s No. 25 or its driver on the Nationwide Series circuit next season. Smithfield will discontinue its sponsorship after 2008, and unless the team can pull another last-minute deal out, the No. 25 car will likely be parked for 2009.
This weekend at Dover produced some great racing at the finish. But now, two of the next three tracks are at mile and a half cookie cutters. Was success at the Monster Mile a sign NASCAR should have a better variety of tracks in the playoffs, or are five 1.5-milers in 10 races a fair representation of what the entire circuit runs?
The popular saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies to many things in life — especially in racing. As we’ve seen the last few years, sometimes NASCAR tends to tinker with things that don’t need to be messed with, while ignoring problems that badly need to be solved. So, on the heels of a solid race at Dover, I got to thinking of those things that are still definitely in need of attention — while recognizing that a couple of others are doing all right by themselves after all…
For the 23rd time this season, a Sprint Cup driver proved that they had the awe-inspiring mettle to dominate NASCAR’s AAA series. For the eighth time this season, Kyle Busch proved to race fans that he is indeed deserving of a full-time ride in the Cup ranks, because he’s such a darned good Nationwide Series driver. And for the second time in the four races since Joe Gibbs Racing was “penalized” for its involvement in a cheating scandal at Michigan, its No. 18 team and their “substitute” crew chief dominated the field. Though several drivers had excellent race cars, Mike Bliss’ car took too long into a run, while Brad Keselowski had repeated issues on pit road that lost him valuable track position, allowing neither to challenge Busch, who led 157 laps.
After Bristol, we went to California where the team was dealt a severe blow. We thought that our crew chief, Kenneth Campbell, was on the mend (from an infection), that he was going to get better. The whole team, we all got out to California, and then around 9:00, I got a phone call from Jay Robinson telling me that Kenneth had passed away. It was devastating to all of us, but especially Jay. Jay and Kenneth got along real well–Kenneth had been with the team for six years. I got the call around 9:00, 9:40 local time, and I went over to the hotel. The team was in shock.
In a sure sign that life moves pretty fast and I’m getting older by the day, we’re down to just seven races to go before the crowning of the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. I feel like it was only yesterday that I wrote a “Nuts for Nationwide” column entitled “Four down, 31 to go.” And yet here we are at the very sharp end of the season with just a handful of races left on the schedule. This weekend, the drivers of the second series get a well-earned break and one final chance to juice up their engines for the stretch run. Both the top two drivers in the second series, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards, will instead concentrate on what you could term their “day jobs” at the Sprint Cup level with each man itching to make solid starts to their respective Chase campaigns. So with a momentary pause at the Nationwide level, let’s take a look at the top 10 drivers in the current standings.