Happy Anniversary to “Junebug 88″- who became my wife 14 years ago today!
The way things are headed right now, the chase picture may look a lot different from what we’ve seen the last couple of years. It’s safe to say there have been some pleasant surprises, and in some cases, it’s downright shocking to see who’s barely holding on.
The Top 10
#10- Kyle Busch (ranked 10th last week)- The whispers get louder and louder concerning whether or not all the extracurricular driving is hurting his Cup performance- where arguably, it matters most. To give you an idea, Rowdy is 9th in the points- 8 behind Mark Martin, and he’s just 53 points ahead of 13th place David Reutimann. In his 5 most recent races- Busch has finished (in reverse order) 13th, 23rd, 22nd, 6th and 34th. I’ll bet he’s looking forward to regaining some momentum at Sonoma. Busch swept the road courses last year and a lot of guys around him tend not to fare well on those tracks. If the chase started today, on the basis of wins- he’s be a co- #1 seed with Martin.
#9- Matt Kenseth (ranked 9th last week)- One could make the argument that Busch should rank higher, but Kenseth’s average finish of 12.0 ranks him better than the Busch Brothers. Kenseth also has 8 top 10s to Kyle’s 5. Let’s just say it’s Kenseth by a nose.
#8- Ryan Newman (ranked 4th last week)- While Newman is the hotter driver (Michigan excepted), Kurt Busch got the nod with his win. Like I say, it’s a pretty tight race in the back of the front pack. Believe it or not, Newman has 2 top 5s and 5 top 10s at Sonoma, so this could be a good bounce back week for him.
#7- Kurt Busch (ranked 7th last week)- A key word that comes to mind for the elder Busch brother this season is “resilient.” After a disastrous week at Pocono, Busch comes back with an 8th place finish at Michigan. To show you how tight it is right now, Kurt, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Newman and Kenseth are all tied with 8 top 10s. Very competitive and that’s the way we like it. It might make those late summer races a little more interesting, don’t you think?
#6- Greg Biffle (ranked 6th last week)- At times Biffle’s luck has been as bad as Denny Hamlin’s. However- that 5th place finish has to be a bit comforting considering that running out of gas where he did can result in a finish much worse. Over his last 5 races, he has an average finish of 9.4- 4th behind Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman.
#5- Carl Edwards (ranked 5th last week)- With 4 straight top 10s, and 3 top 5s in his last 5 races, it’s safe to say Cousin Carl is in a groove once again. If Newman or Kurt Busch either one bobble, suddenly Edwards is in an excellent position to capitalize. Unfortunately, like most of his Roush teammates, he’s not the first guy you think of when you think of road course excellence.
#4- Mark Martin (ranked 8th last week)- The 50-year-old is on the verge of re-writing the record books and perhaps re-shaping the way people think about drivers of a certain age. He’s now tied for the Cup lead with Kyle Busch for wins and now “The Kid” is 58 points ahead of 12th place Jeff Burton. Though it was back when “Hector was a pup”, Martin does have a win at Sonoma (1997). Still- with all the early struggles he’s had, Martin needs to keep the good thing going.
#3- Jimmie Johnson (third last week)- The thing that has to be the hardest to accept is a 22nd place finish when you were the best car in the field at Michigan. Johnson and crew chief knew they had nothing to lose by gambling and they still sit 3rd in spite of the disappointing finish. If the defending champion has an Achille’s heel- it’s Sonoma. Johnson has 2 top 10s in 7 races here with a career best finish of 5th.
#2- Jeff Gordon (2nd last week)- Another lap or two and GORDON would have been the Michigan winner. The 4-time champion is keeping Tony Stewart honest by staying on Smoke’s heels. Just 57 points separate the two old rivals and adding to the intrigue is BOTH are road course studs. Gordon has the edge at Sonoma over Stewart in terms of wins 5-2.
#1- Tony Stewart (1st last week)- “It’s good to be king.” Imagine finishing 7th in a race and it’s the worst you’ve been in 3 weeks. Smoke simply hasn’t wavered so far, and given what we’ve told you about Sonoma, I don’t think this is going to be a bad week for the 2002 and 2005 Cup champion.
READY TO STRIKE
Remember who won at Sonoma in 2007? Juan Pablo Montoya must salivate at the idea of this track showing up where it is on the schedule. JPM is 43 points out of 12th…Denny Hamlin got the finish he needed by taking 3rd in Michigan. He’s got a lot of traffic around him right now as he sits 10th in the standings…David Reutimann came back to Earth with a 19th place run at MIS. Just when you think that maybe he’s getting over the top, a week last last week happens…Jeff Burton,as consistent as he historically is, has had some real ups and downs. A 26th place finish at MIS I’m sure is not what he had in mind. He’s 12th now and the lone RCR guy in the top 12.
Clint Bowyer came back to life by finishing 10th Sunday. At the rate things are going, there exists a possibility that no RCR car will be in the chase…Brian Vickers finished 9th at MIS. That has to be a little disappointing after his pole run on Friday…Kasey Kahne’s open wheel background will be a plus this Sunday. He’s just never really gained anything that truly resembles momentum.