Once again, the Busch family has staked their claim to victory lane, reducing the act of winning a Sprint Cup race to a simple activity where the brothers take turns, like the game of Memory. At Las Vegas, Kyle Busch claimed the victory. Two weeks ago at Atlanta, older brother Kurt Busch dominated on his way to victory. This week, it was Kyle’s turn again. Kyle Busch started 19th and immediately started coming up through the field. Busch first took the lead on lap 69 from Jimmie Johnson, and from that point on, Kyle was in near complete control.
For a driver who has never had Bristol figured out in the past, Jimmie Johnson looked like he hit on something this time around. Johnson led 88 laps and looked comfortable with the Bristol confines even though a late-race pit miscue cost him a chance at the win. To Johnson and the No. 48 team, it must have felt like one anyway.
Already, we’re seeing some trends develop only a month deep into the seemingly endless Tragical Mystery Tour that is this year’s Cup schedule. And the following information is offered due to one irrefutable fact – there was no Cup race last Sunday, and there’s damn little to write about right now as a deadline looms.
Did You Notice? The only thing Lowe’s Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith would commit to last week – alluding to changes for this year’s All-Star Race – is that the distance would stay exactly the same (100 laps). To me, that’s already a bad “change” to make, no matter how you break that distance down… you’re putting the cars out on the track way too long for an event that’s advertised as “action-packed” from the minute they drop the green flag.
Heading into Atlanta this past Sunday, David Reutimann, Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip were the apple of everyone’s eye – faces and names we haven’t seen atop the standings in a while. Or ever. Well, a quick check of the points this week reveals the harsh reality of racing, as Reutimann is now desperately clinging onto 12th in points with Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton closing fast. Waltrip stumbled again at Atlanta, while Labonte had one of those days you’d rather just forget; he spun out all by himself, and then his Roush-Yates power plant digested itself on lap 103, dropping him all the way to 23rd in the points standings. Nature’s way can be cruel.
As the 2009 season wears on, some of the teams that have had early success are finding themselves in a point standings freefall. As they disappear from view, the composition of the top 12 is starting to take form, with annual contenders slowly creeping towards and into that coveted threshold. The season may be early and the beginning of the Chase months away, but these men are proving they will be threats nearly every week. At the other end of the points are heavily-funded teams that find themselves one bad race away from beginning Martinsville, the first race that uses 2009 owner points, without the comfort of being locked in via the Top-35 rule. For them, the upcoming week off will be filled with little sleep and lots of worry, their very futures hanging in the balance on the high-banks of Bristol in two weeks.
I’m not sure if Mark Martin haters even exist, but if they did, not even they would have thought Martin would sit 34th in driver points after four races. The popular pick for the 2009 championship is now in danger of falling out of the Top 35 in owner points after Sunday’s tire failure… but don’t expect that worst-case scenario to happen.
Occasionally throughout history, there’s an exception to the rule of thumb; back in 2005, Jack Roush pulled the miraculous feat of getting all five of his cars to make the Chase, and Richard Childress Racing went three for three in 2007 and ‘08. But far more often, multi-car teams find themselves split in two amidst a package of bad luck, poor performance and an inability for team chemistry to spread throughout an entire organization. One, two, maybe three cars hold up the mantle for a car owner who mixes happiness with angst at another team turning into mush before his eyes. That vision pretty much describes Rick Hendrick’s life as a car owner year in, year out. Never able to get all four cars into the 12-team Chase since it began in 2004, one of NASCAR’s greatest success stories has always been towing along at least one car in his stable that ultimately fails to make the grade.
21, as many of you will know, is a lucky number in Las Vegas. So, here are exactly that many questions, observations, and thoughts – in no particular order – on the season so far as the series leaves Sin City to head back east.
With three races in the books already in 2009, the battle for the Top 35 locked-in spots is heating up, as there are only two races remaining to secure one of those Top-35 guaranteed starting positions. And when you looked at the starting lineup for the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Speedway, you saw the names Todd Bodine, Brad Keselowski and Max Papis as new names on the grid. This means several full-time teams didn’t make the field this past weekend, thus digging themselves a deep hole. To see which cars and drivers took a big hit in the standings this past weekend, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown…