Did You Notice? That under the old points system, the championship battle would be far from over? With three races left, Jimmie Johnson would lead Carl Edwards by just 98, with Kyle Busch hanging on by a thread at 203 points out. Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle would round out the top five, but neither would have a shot at the title. Should the 1-2 finish for Johnson and Edwards hold, it would be the second time in the last three years the old system would have “been better.” In 2006, Johnson won his first title over Matt Kenseth by 56 points in the Chase; but in the regular season, that margin would have been just four – the closest championship battle in NASCAR history.
Carl Edwards made good on the promise that he showed at the beginning of the spring Atlanta race by taking the win this past weekend. Overshadowed by that performance, however, was a banzai run by Jimmie Johnson from 11th to second in the last eight laps of the race. That strength solidified the points leader’s place at the top of the Power Rankings, where he swept all of the first-place votes again this week. Behind him, positions continue to swap like hotcakes as drivers scrape and claw for every spot they can get on the racetrack. Read this week’s rankings to see if our writers thought your driver has had that extra incentive to wheel it to the front with only three races left – or if he’s been slip-sliding his way right out of our Power Rankings.
This is my 50th column for Frontstretch, and with just three races to go in 2008 I’m fast approaching the end of my rookie year as a NASCAR columnist. I’m not sure the esteemed editors are quite ready to pull the Yellow Stripe off my back bumper (traditionally, the sign that denotes a first-year driver) but with the season to all intents and purposes done and dusted, and while we wait for the coronation of King Jimmie Kenneth Johnson for a third time, there isn’t much to get too excited about or indeed good topics to wax lyrical on. With that in mind, I’m going to take a look back at my third column, 10 Wishes for NASCAR Heading Into 2008 to see how many wishes the NASCAR Genie granted me. I’ll list the initial wish first, then discuss how it either broke down or went swimmingly in 2008.
ESPN’s Sprint Cup portion of its broadcast schedule for 2008 has seen its ups and downs. Unfortunately for the network, recurring mistakes have overshadowed some of its other more solid efforts. At Atlanta, however, ESPN minimized its obvious mistakes and broadcast a very consistent race. Besides the championship standings, the big story heading into the start of the event at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday was if Goodyear’s tires would allow the drivers to put on a better show than they did back in March. As the race unfolded, ESPN used several different tools to convey to its viewers the state of the racing tires and the effects on the racecars.
Carl Edwards returned to victory lane this weekend at Atlanta and is now one win behind Kyle Busch for the series lead, but Jimmie Johnson utilized late-race pit strategy for an impressive runner-up finish. The second-place run improves the No. 48 team’s stranglehold on the rest of the Chase field to 183 points, increasing the likelihood of what would be a third consecutive championship.
Johnson has garnered the most headlines since the Chase began seven races ago, but it’s one of his teammates who has quietly been one of the most consistent drivers right along with him. To see who that is and who else has been strong as of late, check out this week’s version of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Chase Edition.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all 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 sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The intermediate track-heavy run to the finish is underway this week, and the heavy reliance on downforce and the resultant “aero push” that comes from being in traffic will be prominent this weekend. Now that the race for the title is pretty much a three-man battle – with Carl Edwards barely within shouting distance – the majority of playoff contenders are going to be pushing for wins the rest of the year. The top 10 drivers in average finish at Atlanta are loaded with Chasers, which means that the potential for a non-Chase race winner is once again rather limited. There are some diamonds in the rough that aren’t too far back, though, so making the right midpack choices for your fantasy roster can pay off handsomely for gamers this weekend.
If you’re still doubting Jimmie Johnson’s championship future, well, let’s put it this way: our writers are convinced. Johnson pulled off the sweep this week in the Power Rankings, garnering all 10 first-place votes. But what about the big shifts behind him? Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart are just some of the Chasers who had major jumps up and down the ladder this week. Check our rankings to see if your driver kept the short track fenders on or finished without his hood in this week’s Power Rankings.
The television coverage of Chase race number six at Martinsville achieved approximately the same quality level as the other five Chase races. Unfortunately, the network team in front of and behind the camera has not made much progress in correcting ongoing mistakes and heeding to repeated suggestions. At the same time, the things throughout NASCAR on ABC/ESPN broadcasts that are done well continue to show impressively to viewers, giving the production some building blocks upon which to grow. However, the negatives always seem to be remembered more boldly than the positives as the season winds down.
It was the same track, same story for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, who extended their top-10 streak at Martinsville to 13 races with a win this weekend. Not only did Johnson extend his top-10 streak at the paperclip half-mile, but he also extended his top-10 streak overall to eight races on the season. With Jeff Burton struggling this weekend, Johnson is now the lone driver on this week’s HOT list. While Johnson is clearly the series’ hottest driver and appears to be headed toward a third consecutive championship, a handful of drivers make the WARM list this week. To see if your favorite makes the cut, or if they need nothing more than a solid run at Atlanta, check out the latest edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup, Chase Edition.