The boys up front are wearing out each others rear spoilers! If you ask me, this is really shaping up to be an interesting race to the chase. From this perspective, it’s wide open among anywhere from four to six drivers. Yeah, yeah you have to consider Jimmie Johnson a bigtime contender to take a fifth straight “cup” home, but he’s got as much competition as he’s ever had. It will keep him honest, that’s for sure. No sandbagging here…..
THE BIG TEN
10. Tony Stewart- (back from the racing dead)- With a little luck and and planning, Stewart does a Lazarus imitation at Pocono. He’s not great at Michigan, but some more clever fuel strategy would do him well at MIS. He presently sits in a tough pack of competitors, but get the nod this week because yours truly believes in him.
8. (tie) Mark Martin- (holding the fort)- It was tempting to offer this spot to Tony Stewart and give Ryan Newman tenth; however Martin’s body of work for the season has to be considered. Whatever malady his Hendrick teammates have had must be catching. The good news for Martin and his fans is Ol’ “Go Grandaddy” has five career MIS wins and 29 top tens in 48 Cup appearances. This time last year, Martin coasted across the finish line, while his closest competition had gas pains….literally.
8. (tie) Jeff Gordon- (down three spots from fifth)- That was a nasty hit at Pocono in more ways than one. Not only did Gordon get a view of Kasey Kahne he’d rather not have, he finished 32nd, and he drops three spots in the official season’s points. The good news for Big Daddy is he has two MIS wins for his career, plus 22 top 10s in 34 starts. That can do wonders for sagging fortunes, as I’m sure he’s sick of hearing how long it’s been since he won.
7. Matt Kenseth- (down one from sixth)- It’s amazing what keeping your car off the walls will do for you. Kenseth has managed to survive on respectable runs and sheer smarts. Like his RFR teammates, Kenseth hasn’t had many winning rides this season. The difference here again is Kenseth’s ability to get the most out of what he has. Historically- with 2 wins and an finishing average of 9.6- Michigan has been a good track for Matty. Historically, his team has been much better than it is this year.
6. Jeff Burton- (re-entering the top ten)- No driver has gotten more out of a seventh place race finish than Ol’ J.B. in these standings. I suppose if you take into consideration that his 25th place run at Charlotte was due to circumstances beyond his control, you can argue that Burton has found a nice level of consistency of late. If you throw out the Coca-Cola 600, he’s had nothing but top tens since Talladega.
5. Jimmie Johnson- (up two spots from seventh)- If what Jimmie was going through was a slump, it’s safe to say it’s over with his fifth place finish Sunday. Remember that only Denny Hamlin leads Jimmie in wins, and it’s only Hamlin that matches the defending “four-peater” in top fives with six. Now those three DNF’s? That’s another story.
4. Kurt Busch- (down two spots from second)- Dropping Kurt two spots may seem pretty harsh on a guy who took home a very respectable sixth place ribbon from Pocono, but you have to admit that guys ahead of him have earned their spots. Besides, fourth in these rankings ain’t bad considering the company. The way this observer sees it, Harvick leads Busch just by a nose, and the other two are just a car length out front.
3. Kevin Harvick- (holding at numero tres)- It may be true that Delana wears the firesuit in the Harvick clan, but it’s Happy that holds the wheel, and it’s one bad wheel at that. Some additional wins would sure come in handy, but like his old buddy Tony Stewart, Harvick has an affinity for the summer tracks. Oh, but remember, it’s not summer yet. Michigan is far from the “House of Harvick” with no wins and six top tens in 18 career starts.
2. Denny Hamlin- (up from fourth)- If not for Kyle’s consistency, Hamlin would be numero uno here. If not for consistency, it’s possible Harvick would be looking up at the “11” in the standings. Considering the question of consistency, it will be interesting to see how Hamlin handles Michigan, ordinarily a stronghold for Roush. For the 2010 wins leader’s part, he finished third and tenth at MIS in ‘09.
1. Kyle Busch- (maintaining serve)- Pocono is one place where Kyle can finish second and feel like a winner. His runner-up finish behind teammate Hamlin was just his second top five at Long Pond in 11 career starts. Like him or not, give him credit for this: even when he doesn’t possess the winning piece he’s not smashing it to pieces. That’s how you put together a championship run. That’s how you get to the top of these driver rankings.
FALLING OFF THE PACE
A 14th place finish at Pocono is by no means terrible, but it did Ryan Newman’s hopes no favors. He’s got stiff competition, but he’s not far off the pace…Poor Jamie McMurray. It’s another case of one step forward and two steps back.
READY TO STRIKE
I’d be a lot more excited about Clint Bowyer if his results were closer to what his teammates were getting. Like Newman, Carl Edwards and Stewart, he’s very competitive, but nowhere near the front-runners…Just like Jamie Mac, Juan Pablo Montoya has great weeks followed by horrible ones. To make matters worse, they’re not often his fault. He can make it, but there’s a boatload of ground to make up. Montoya has to be more than a points racer…Martin Truex, Jr.’s hopes took a hard hit, a bummer after nice showings in Charlotte.
A.J. Allmendinger angered more than a few fans and drivers at Pocono, but still gets a call for his top ten run…can Carl Edwards re-discover his mojo at Michigan? You know he ended a long dry spell with a 2007 victory that got one his crew a nice and much-needed shave…until his little lovefest with Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano was running top five Sunday. You know, if his dad had stayed out of his skirmish, and he had avoided the “firesuit” remark about Delana, Logano might have made his case a little more convincing. I confess a part of me still cracked a lopsided grin at the remark…love to Sam Hornish, Jr. for leading laps and almost cracking the top ten.
PHOTO CREDITS- Pocono racing by Todd Warshaw/ Getty Images. The JGR guys and Clint Bowyer by Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images for NASCAR.