For the first time in 2012, the man who started on the pole was able to seal the deal and take the car to victory lane. Joey Logano ended the day right where he started. His car was fast during the early going; then as pit strategy and many miles began to change things, the No. 20 faded just a bit as Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated much of the middle of the event. But when it counted, Logano was able to stay out on a late caution while Earnhardt and others were forced to pit for fuel. Martin looked like he might have a shot, taking the lead on the final restart, but Logano, with a faster car, was able to loosen Martin up just enough to slip by and that was all she wrote as the No. 20 opened a commanding lead en route to the checkers.
If there was a prize for tenacity, Kurt Busch would have been in Victory Lane to receive it. Busch, running for one of the most underfunded teams in the elite field, bounced off the wall early and finished near the back of the early segments. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Even with a damaged car, Busch raced like it was for the win, running three-wide and never backing down from anyone’s challenge. And Busch’s perseverance paid off: he finished seventh in the final 20-lap segment and eighth overall. A week after showing the worst of Kurt Busch, Busch showed the best in Charlotte.
In an uncharacteristically poor year which saw Jeff Burton and company flounder outside the top 20 in points for the majority of the season, there are only a handful of races that can be considered when choosing a season high point.
Talk about a gamble. When the caution flew with 41 to go, Chad Knaus left leader Johnson on the racetrack… while almost every car on the lead lap pitted. Four tires had proven to be the key to gaining and keeping track position, so the call was a roll of the dice at best… and in the end, it cost Johnson the win by a car length. Did the poor pit work by the No. 48 crew for much of the year cause a lack of trust that they could keep Johnson in the lead if they pitted? Whatever the reasoning is, it’s the second time in two weeks that Knaus’s decisions have cost Johnson, coming on the heels of a decision to keep Johnson at the back of the field at Talladega. That choice, which some have forgotten in light of his comments on the radio ultimately cost the No. 48 team any chance they had at a sixth straight title.
Kevin Harvick caught a late caution, creeped in front of Jeff Gordon on pit road, then held off an assault by Cheez-It Crackers (err, Carl Edwards) to win one of the most bizarre short track races in recent memory.
Now the schedule shifts to another tough track on drivers and equipment: Dover. Chances are we won’t see an upset like last week.
Ryan Newman threatened Juan Pablo Montoya within an inch of the NASCAR hauler and Jeff Gordon reminded NASCAR which tracks need to install SAFER barriers.
What do Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart all have in common? They also have fewer top-five finishes in 2011 than Paul Menard.
With an off weekend approaching for the NASXAR Sprint Cup Series, it gives us a chance to reflect on the young season.