With the off week in full swing, it presented an opportunity for the Frontstretch experts to do something a little different. Instead of grading the Cup guys, we took a look at those drivers who often get shunned from the spotlight these days… the drivers exclusive to the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series desperate to make a name for themselves. These divisions are filled with established veterans and young guns mixed together to provide a cornucopia of driving talent. And since you never know when a Cup ride will become available… we thought it’s high time to figure out who’s proved himself most worthy of filling the spot as of late. Read on to see if your favorite non-Cup driver made the list in this special edition of the Power Rankings.
Something that both the Nationwide and Truck series do share is a two-driver breakaway in the points standings. However, while one of those battles is just heating up, the other threatens to cool down as soon as Kansas in two weeks considering one or both of the drivers involved may not run the full schedule. Which championship in which series am I talking about? Find out by checking out the HOT, WARM and COLD drivers of NASCAR’s second and third biggest series. Not surprisingly, the way things are these days, you will notice a familiar name or two from Sprint Cup on the list.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR and all of our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members and car owners themselves. This week, here’s a special Nationwide Series peek at what the drivers were thinking following the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Did You Notice? What keeps Kevin Harvick from being labeled a serious championship contender? It’s his lifetime performance on 1.5-mile ovals. Those tracks used to be easy pickins’ for Harvick – his first two Cup victories came at Atlanta and Chicagoland in 2001 – but over the last few seasons, his fortitude has faded at facilities which make up four of the 10 tracks in the Chase (and if you count the 2-miler at Fontana, it’s actually five). Not only has Harvick not won at any of these facilities since July of 2002 at Chicagoland, his team has struggled to remain even competitive on these tracks, period.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas; and in the case for most of the rookies and almost rookies, it was bad news that loomed large this past weekend. Brad Keselowski offered the lone bright spot as he once again shined in his Hendrick ride, finishing in the top 25 for the second consecutive race at the track. Marcos Ambrose may have also offered some good news if it weren’t for a faulty engine. I mentioned earlier this season that the No. 47 team may have an outside shot at the Chase, but they are quickly seeing those chances disappear as their engine department has not been able to keep pace with the rest of the team.
On paper, this one wasn’t even close. And for over 250 miles on Saturday, it wasn’t. In the end, though, Kyle Busch led 178 of the 200 laps run to score his third win of the 2009 season. But he came very close to losing it. Brad Keselowski, who started 42nd in a backup car after a qualifying wreck, sliced and diced through the field and with less than 20 laps to go was running down Busch’s No. 18. Once the caution flag flew on lap 189, the stage was set for Rowdy to be toppled. Turns out the drama was all for naught, though. Keselowski spun his tires on the final restart, allowing Busch to pull away from the field. The only driver who got close to Busch on the final run was Tony Stewart, who had an extra set of tires saved and moved from seventh to second in the final seven laps with fresh rubber.
The lack of rookie incidents in last week’s race at Bristol certainly surprised me, but the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 sure made up for it. In an event that was appropriately named for this year’s freshmen, all rookies and almost rookies not named Ambrose ran into some sort of issue on the track or with their equipment. Speed certainly had to be the most disappointed leaving the track on Sunday evening. In a very similar fashion to what happened during the Las Vegas Nationwide race earlier this season, Speed fell victim to Busch, who uncharacteristically lost control of his car in the corner. If you think about it, Busch probably does not make a mistake like that more than twice a year – and Speed was the “lucky” man to be a part of both. Seems like that guy has to shake some bad karma moving forward!
The label of future Sprint Cup champion is liberally dispensed — but rarely achieved. In the 60 years of NASCAR competition, only 28 drivers have attained the hallowed crown – and it’s a pretty excusive club. 12 drivers have won a solitary championship, while another eight have won two titles. Five men – Jimmie Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson and Lee Petty – have won three; Jeff Gordon owns four, while both the King and the Intimidator won a record seven apiece. I’m going to pick a number of current drivers and analyze their chances of winning a Sprint Cup championship at some point in the near (or far) future.
Just as my beloved Wake Forest Demon Deacons got reminded of this truth the hard way in getting routed by Cleveland State, the weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway gave Kyle Busch a refresher that racing is a team sport, as well. Because even though Busch drove like a “wild thing” all day long and led 156 laps, in the end his pit crew had a tire escape their pit box during the race’s final cycle of stops. The resulting penalty left Busch mired deep in traffic with less than 30 laps to go and unable to challenge for his second win of the year. Instead, it was the teamwork of Kevin Harvick Incorporated that shone through. Kevin Harvick, whose oft-berated No. 33 pit crew got him out first during the critical money stops, drove away from the field on the final restart after crew chief Ernie Cope opted not to add fuel to the car; in the end, his lead proved too much for Carl Edwards to overcome.
The Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas saw four of the five full-time Nationwide Series rookie candidate score top-10 finishes. That won’t happen this weekend, but don’t look for this rookie class to end up a blended mess like so many before it have at this treacherous short track. Brendan Gaughan, who’s currently fourth in series points, averaged a top-15 finish in five Truck Series starts at Bristol, including a runner-up performance in August of 2007. And Justin Allgaier is coming off of an ARCA campaign that saw him score top-five finishes in all seven of the series’ short-track events, including three wins.