I may be in the minority here (my heritage notwithstanding), but for many reasons, to me this season has been one of the worst in recent memory for NASCAR. Perhaps ever.
I have always been an unabashed advocate of the Chase to the Nextel Cup Championship format since it began back in 2004. There’s a number of reasons for that. I believed at the time – as I do now – that when the pros and cons are objectively considered, tracking the 10-race playoff is considerably more entertaining (yes, auto racing is entertainment) than watching Jeff Gordon go through the motions for the last 15 races of the season, waiting to pick up his Nextel Cup Championship hardware already engraved.
10. “Look at that! Kyle’s glasses are all steamed over. Ya think he’s upset about something?” – Anonymous Hamlin Crew Member
1) Tony Stewart (Four First-Place Votes) (Last Week: #1) – Home Depot wants us to smell the Smoke. Bet they won’t put THAT slogan in Tony’s armpits!
When looking at the schedule of the 10 races in the Chase, most people would have pointed to Talladega as the track where both wrecks and bad luck could turn the tide in the championship. But in Dover on Sunday, it was the Monster Mile played tough as the new Talladega asphalt, taking a swing at some of the biggest names in the sport – and making contact. By the end of the day, 13 caution flags had waved, and four Chasers found themselves finishing 20th or lower. As is always the case when some people find misfortune, others reap the benefits.
Tension proved its existence at Dover, as a Kyle Petty – Denny Hamlin crash resulted in an off-track altercation, a special run by Roush Fenway Racing’s “forgotten man” nearly resulted in a win, and an old legend of the sport, Mark Martin, came up with his best finish since Daytona. So, as the series moves on to the Midwest for this weekend, which drivers are best suited to make the most noise on the Kansas prairies? Read on to find out who in this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not, outside the Chase. One note before we begin, unlike our regular edition, we only highlight six drivers in this edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not, which means to make the list, you need to really be on fire (or ice cold, for that matter).
1/2 – The fraction of an inch that NASCAR allows cars to be below the minimum height requirement following a race. Dodge Dealers 400 winner Carl Edwards’ No. 99 Office Depot Ford was lower than that, failing post-race technical inspection. Any fines and/or point penalties are expected to be announced by NASCAR Tuesday afternoon.
1. Car of Too-Massive? – Dover was considered an extremely narrow racetrack when the “old” car was in use. Is the Car of Tomorrow – four inches wider than the old car – just too big and boxy to run on a tight track like this? The race, which Dale Earnhardt Jr. described as “bizarre and weird,” had 13 cautions (only three for debris) and two extended red flag clean-up periods. What say you, race fans?
If you don’t think those drivers fighting to get – or remain – inside the Top 35 in car owner points are feeling any pressure with eight races remaining… think again. Kyle Petty’s obvious frustration towards Denny Hamlin following a lap 204 crash was without a doubt the expression of a disappointed driver trying hard to hold his spot in the field… not only for now, but ultimately for the first five races of 2008. The accident that ended Petty’s day drops the No. 45 team to just one point away from the 35th and final guaranteed starting position, leaving them more vulnerable than they’ve been in quite sometime.
Juan Pablo Montoya tied this career-best starting position by placing his Donnie Wingo-prepared Dodge on the outside of the front row for the third time this season (the other two second-place starts were at Indianapolis and the August Bristol race). Matching the start with an equally impressive finish did not look likely for much of the day, however. The No. 42 Avenger quickly dropped out of the top 10 as Montoya and Wingo fought a loose condition throughout much of the race. But after running around 15th for virtually the entire event – surviving a brush with Jamie McMurray in the process – the team was able to make a late surge after avoiding a 12-car wreck on lap 385. As the checkered flag flew, Montoya had moved up to 10th, earning his fifth top-10 finish of the year. It was also the 12th top finishing rookie award for Montoya in 2007, tying him with Ragan in that category.