Jimmie Johnson ran down Denny Hamlin with 15 laps to go. He then moved the No. 11 car aside, with both cars getting sideways and smoking the tires before Johnson pulled ahead to take the lead. There’s nothing so wrong with the new NASCAR racing the sport’s oldest racetrack can’t fix it. Cars and drivers running side by side and nose to tail? Can I get a hallelujah, brothers and sisters?
Nobody can accuse Jimmie Johnson of being too boring or too perfect anymore. The man dubbed “Mr. Martinsville” by teammate Jeff Gordon drove deep into turn 1 with 16 laps to go and body-slammed Denny Hamlin for the lead and eventual win Sunday. The pass was not perfect, a little daring, and showed a side we haven’t seen much of from the three-time defending champion – hunger.
At the top level of NASCAR, there are so many factors to consider every week. There are sponsors to please, fans to appease, and an owner to answer to. Your job is to try to win races and ultimately the championship. And that’s not just at the top. Don’t think for a second that that is any less Robby Gordon’s goal than it is Jeff Gordon’s, because no matter how lacking the equipment might be, racers race to win, to get the best finish within their power, to bring home the highest points position they can claw their way into. Racing should never stop being fun, and as Ken Schrader said, when it stops being fun, it’s time to retire. But that doesn’t mean that fun can be the top priority anymore.
We can talk about how Travis Kvapil’s situation reflects an ongoing problem NASCAR has – the difficulty of teams finding sponsorship in tough economic times. There is certainly truth to that. Drivers less worthy than Kvapil are on the track in Sprint Cup races every week, because they’re more marketable, better looking, or have an easier name to spell, and so sponsors gravitate to them. Yes, that’s troubling, but as long as companies fund racecars, you’re going to have this.
Did You Notice? Kyle Busch seems to be distancing himself from comparisons to the Intimidator these days? His whole tirade in the Nationwide Series Saturday reminded me of a race in the fall of 2000 at Talladega, the site of Dale Earnhardt’s last career win. That was one of the most ridiculous finishes to a race I’ve ever seen, one where Earnhardt came from 18th to first in just four laps in order to take the checkered flag. Busch has no problem being a team player… when things go his way.
The fastest half-mile in the world at Bristol battered many of Cup’s top contenders and spit them out. Bad luck struck more than one competitor, most notably Greg Biffle, causing mechanical problems which dropped him out of the top 15 in our Power Rankings. So, which one of the three men above continues to remain on top of our rankings: Busch, Gordon or Johnson? Read on to find out, and see if your driver rode the new high groove to move up in the standings – or spun out off someone’s back bumper to move down in this week’s Power Rankings post-Bristol.
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.
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.
This has been the opinion shared by an ever-expanding majority of fans, too, who seem to want to pin the reason for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggles solely on the relationship between he and his cousin.
Q: Hey Matt. My friend and I were talking after the race and I noticed on the internet that Ryan Newman was awarded the WIX Filters Lap Leader of the Race [at Atlanta]. We talked about it, and I did some looking and couldn’t figure out why. We were both always of the understanding that the driver that leads the most laps should win it. What’s the story?