It’s way too early to say “I told you so.” There’s still eight races and that Jimmie Johnson guy in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. On the other hand, fans of Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch have every reason to feel good about the drivers. Wow- those two mentioned in the same breath? Talk about a NASCAR odd couple. It’s a magic pairing for Joe Gibbs, and could have easily been a trio if not for some cataclysmically awful events for Denny Hamlin- who should easily return to winning form next year.
Not only did Kenseth pick up his series leading seventh win of 2013, he and his teammate also made history by finishing 1-2 for the same organization to open the Chase. You can’t win the Chase in September, but you can sure lose it; these two are doing exactly what every contending driver wants to do to open the 10 race homestretch.
We won’t join the crowd ready to write everybody else off not driving the 20, 18 or 48. Greg Biffle darn near pulled off a Kevin Harvick and did a six driver hurdle to end up fifth in the standings after his third place finish. It’s hard to say why, but sometimes its too easy to allow the Biff to fly under the radar; this in spite of the fact he is a driver who can get hot, and may be well poised to muscle his way into serious contention.
Speaking of Harvick, Happy’s 20th place finish didn’t do him any favors. He slips to sixth behind Biffle and Carl Edwards, who had one of the quieter top ten days a driver can ever have. It kind of makes you think Mr. Ed is happy to leave Loudon with a ninth place run.
The Twilight Zone moment of the day has to go to Kasey Kahne. Some suspect Triple-K got his bell rung harder than first thought, given the way he handled his post-wreck interview with Jerry Punch. It’s not saying Kahne was a jerk, it’s not suggesting the pit road reporter’s questioning was off-base. Either Kahne was incredibly (an rightfully) frustrated and wanted out of Dodge in the quickest way possible, or he was very out of it. Again- that’s understandable. I’m sure that hit was harder than it looked.
Jeff Gordon was another contender having a rough; it all came down to one lousy pit stop. He slid through his pit box by a razor thin margin- and the resulting slow stop made the difference between running up front and finishing 15th. That’s a tough way to lose. Gordon was kicking himself after the race.
The tough luck continues for Martin Truex Jr. The Northeasterner with a personal connection to the track led 98 laps, but he lamented his car tightened up late in the race and he faded to a 10th place finish.
Truex Jr. was one of four non-Chasers to make the top ten. Jamie McMurray recovered from early trouble to take fifth. Brian Vickers, who won the July race, settled for seventh. Jeff Burton quietly finished eighth.
While its still early, it looks from here like anybody south of sixth in the standings is in trouble. Pole sitter Ryan Newman faded away quickly to wind up 16th. Kurt Busch’s radio rant reminds me why I don’t care for him much; this is just one fan’s take, it was poetic justice to see him in 13th. Clint Bowyer made a moment of noise but wound up 17th. Joey Logano- who came in to New Hampshire on the bubble- remains on the south side of 10th in the season’s standings after coming in 14th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a solid sixth place run. Unfortunately, he needs wins if he’s going to have a prayer, and well, let’s be honest, wins for the 88 have been in short supply.
Regardless of where anyone stands in the rankings, you win championships by winning races. Matt Kenseth has done just that. Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have ensured their spot in the conversation with back-to-back strong finishes. A lot can still happen, but the most unlikely pairing of teammates have served notice that they’re in winning form. So much for Hendrick Motorsports “stinking up the show.” The black helicopter types may want to re-think that line of logic.