Jeff Gordon’s large winless streak came to an end Sunday in Texas – where everything is big. But while Gordon had a giant weight lifted off his shoulders, other drivers felt huge swings in the points. Greg Biffle gained eight spots in the standings after his third-place Texas run, while Mark Martin’s sixth-place finish gained him nine positions. AJ Allmendinger’s ignition issues relegated him to a 34th-place finish and lost him five spots in the points, while Kevin Harvick and Michael Waltrip each lost four places after lousy runs. Inside the top 12, most drivers changed at least one spot, with Matt Kenseth leading the charge, climbing three spots to ninth after running fifth in Texas. Gordon also is seeing his points lead stretch, as you will find out in this week’s list of HOT, WARM and COLD drivers.
How fitting is it that Jeff Gordon’s 47-race winless streak comes to an end at a track where he’s been winless for his entire career? Gordon was strong for much of the race, but it was a combination of a good pit stop by the No. 24 bunch and yet another poor stop by the No. 99 team that led to the coveted clean air needed for Gordon to pull away for the victory. The win may have been a long time coming, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise with the way the No. 24 team has been running this season.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas; and in the case for most of the rookies and almost rookies, it was bad news that loomed large this past weekend. Brad Keselowski offered the lone bright spot as he once again shined in his Hendrick ride, finishing in the top 25 for the second consecutive race at the track. Marcos Ambrose may have also offered some good news if it weren’t for a faulty engine. I mentioned earlier this season that the No. 47 team may have an outside shot at the Chase, but they are quickly seeing those chances disappear as their engine department has not been able to keep pace with the rest of the team.
The 2009 Sprint Cup season rolls into April, and while nothing is carved in the sand, let alone stone, things are starting to become a little clearer for several teams. While some are living up to preseason expectations, others are struggling to live up to them. I’m going to take a closer look at the seasons of five of our preseason favorites – and see where they shake down six races into the year.
Well, it certainly was a disappointing weekend at Martinsville last Sunday. I thought we had our best chance so far to turn this season around when we were riding in the top 10. It just seems like Kyle Busch has it out for me this year, between the Las Vegas Nationwide race and now last week! I’m kidding actually, in reality we’re buddies. I don’t know what exactly happened, but honestly I think it was one of those deals where I think he was trying to be even too careful around me because we’re friends. In any case, he feels bad and I’m not worried about it. At the end of the day, I root for Kyle more than anyone and I’m sure he feels the same way about me.
Luckily, Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 went off without a hitch on the weather front, and there were some interesting tidbits that I took from the broadcast. First of all, I mentioned last week that I thought I had missed something, since I didn’t remember seeing or hearing a Digger cartoon during the pre-race show. Well, it wasn’t just me not paying attention. It appears that FOX has nixed the pre-race cartoon. Yes, some people might be a little bit disappointed to hear this… but it’s for the best. Race fans deserve a professional broadcast, and CGI gophers talking about random stuff that isn’t exactly related to anything going on in the series is not really professional. Earlier this season, I said that I believed that the gopher and the accompanying cartoons were hurting FOX’s, and, by extension, NASCAR’s credibility. As much as I’d like to claim at least partial credit for this action by FOX, I know that I’m not responsible. If I were alone in my outright criticism of FOX’s actions with Digger, then I might be willing to take more credit. As it stands, there was substantial public outcry online against FOX’s cartoons, and I’m not the only person that has written about Digger this season.
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.
The lack of rookie incidents in last week’s race at Bristol certainly surprised me, but the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 sure made up for it. In an event that was appropriately named for this year’s freshmen, all rookies and almost rookies not named Ambrose ran into some sort of issue on the track or with their equipment. Speed certainly had to be the most disappointed leaving the track on Sunday evening. In a very similar fashion to what happened during the Las Vegas Nationwide race earlier this season, Speed fell victim to Busch, who uncharacteristically lost control of his car in the corner. If you think about it, Busch probably does not make a mistake like that more than twice a year – and Speed was the “lucky” man to be a part of both. Seems like that guy has to shake some bad karma moving forward!
The last remnants of the 2008 season have finally been cast by the wayside, as NASCAR now uses this year’s owner points in determining who has a guaranteed starting spot and who has to qualify on time. But as the drivers now outside of the Top 35 readied themselves to give it all they had at Martinsville in order to qualify for the race on Friday – it rained. So, the field was set according to the owner standings, sending the last four cars back to their shops while the top 43 lined up Sunday afternoon. Of the ones that remained, which drivers were able to race their way up into the Top 35 for the first time under the 2009 points standings? Read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown to see who moved up and who dropped out.
A weekend in noisy Thunder Valley following a quiet week of rest last week provides a jarring wakeup call to drivers, crews, and fans alike. But while Sunday’s Bristol race itself did not spark the normal beating and banging fest people are used to seeing, it did help bring to light what this season’s short-track races may bring for some teams. While the Food City 500 proved its top finishers are going to be threats next week at Martinsville, at Richmond and the fall version of all three of these races, it also proved that others have some major strides to make if they want to contend on the type of track that makes up roughly 15% of the schedule. Here are the best and the worst of the litter as the Sprint Cup Series leaves Bristol and makes its way to Martinsville.