Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. watch is over, the focus over the last 10 races of the year will be on the 12 drivers making a run for the Nextel Cup championship. With his second straight victory, Jimmie Johnson put the competition on notice that they will have to take on the No. 48 team in order to take the trophy that they earned last season. But with six of the Chase drivers finishing in the top 10 at Richmond, many others are proving to be up to the challenge of trying to take down the top seed. So, who left Richmond riding high and ready for battle, and which drivers walked away wishing they had a little more time to prepare? Read this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Chase for the Championship to find out.
Jimmie Johnson left the pits in the lead during the final caution period and was never headed.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon has won here twice, and has top-10 finishes in 17 of 29 starts… but his track record lately at RIR is worrisome. His fourth-place finish in the spring arrested a streak of four straight finishes of 30th or worse, including a disastrous performance in 2005 that locked him out of NASCAR’s “playoff.” Some would argue since Gordon is solidly in the Chase, he has little incentive to finish on top this weekend; however, that also gives him the option to go for the win, something he hasn’t hesitated to do over the past month or so.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon won the inaugural race at Fontana in 1997, and has won two additional Cup races here. He finished second at the track this spring, and has top-five finishes in half of his 14 Cup starts.
After the bullring that was Bristol, the series heads out to the west coast for another race on the wide open California Speedway. Your fantasy team could be taxed, as the race to the Chase winds down to its inevitable conclusion. No question about it, the pressure’s on. Drivers on the bubble will be running conservatively but intelligently, while the drivers on the outside looking in will simply be going for broke. Then, there’s that strange category of drivers already locked in – they’ll be going for the win to try and garner those extra bonus points for the Chase. As the racing community heads straight for the desert heat, can Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards continue their own current hot streaks? Will Kevin Harvick be able to finish solidly enough to ensure a place in the Chase? This week’s edition of Picks ‘n’ Pans offers our insights into which drivers offer the best and worst for your fantasy team this weekend.
For some, the racing at Bristol Saturday night was the best it has been in years. For others, it was a Bristol race in name only, with no fireworks and little excitement. But no matter which side of the fence you are on, there were plenty of winners and losers coming out of the annual madhouse that is Thunder Valley in late summer. Carl Edwards added another 10 bonus points to his Chase count, and should get extra points for sticking the backflip on Bristol’s high banks after his second win of the season. On the flip side, Denny Hamlin’s fried engine left him with just his second career DNF. In between, what could have been a big night for a points shakeup amongst the Chasers instead never materialized, with no driver falling out of, or moving into, the playoffs.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon has won five Cup races at Bristol, but only one of those wins was in the August Night Race. Still, with 18 top-10 finishes in 29 starts here, Gordon figures to be a factor Saturday night.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon has two wins at Michigan, with the most recent triumph coming in 2001. Overall, he has 20 top-10 finishes in 29 Cup starts in the Irish Hills, with an average finish of 10th… not too shabby.
The series heads to Michigan this weekend for the second of the series’ two visits on the year – and hopefully, your fantasy team is scorching like the late summer heat. Just four races remain until the end of the regular season, and just like the excitement surrounding the Chase, the battle in many leagues is at a fever pitch. Are you in Kurt Busch’s shoes, holding on to a tenuous lead while others battle to knock you down from a spot in the money? Or are you like Dale Earnhardt Jr., a driver in need of some solid finishes – and more importantly, luck – to work your way back into contention?
Jeff Gordon – Gordon is one of the better NASCAR road racers. While he has four wins at the Glen, oddly enough he hasn’t had a top-10 finish here in five races – he’s finished outside the top 20 in three of those events. But don’t be fooled; Gordon also has five wins at Sonoma, and could easily break out of his road-race slump here.
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, Kurt Busch, or one of Kurt Busch’s fans (yes – he actually does have some), then you probably found Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono a real snoozefest. Busch started from second position, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., but didn’t stay there long; he made a mockery out of the race, leading 175 laps en route to his first win of the year and a spot inside the top 12 in points. Unlike recent weeks, there weren’t any potential Chasers that ran into major trouble on Sunday; the 14 main contenders all finished in the top 17 positions, making the race for the Chase more competitive than ever with just five races remaining.
It’s been an interesting summer for a race fan. The world tilted on its axis when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and practically jumped out of orbit and headed for the Sun when he announced he was going to Hendrick Motorsports; a decision that for many fans was akin to Luke Skywalker saying, “Sure, Darth-I mean Dad, I’ll join the dark side. The good guys aren’t really much fun.” In some respects the point standings look like they did 10 years ago, with Jeff Gordon running away with the lead. The cast of characters in the rest of the top 10 has changed significantly-only Jeff Burton was even in the Nextel Cup Series then.