The Sprint Cup Series has just enjoyed its next to the last open weekend before heading to Indy for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Indy begins a tough five-race stretch that will go a long way in determining what twelve teams advance to the Chase round of 10 races with a chance to win the title.
Let’s use the open weekend to critique a few drivers and teams on the year they have put together so far. Some have been strong from the start while others are still searching for the consistency that the series demands if you want to be successful.
Stewart-Haas Racing has put together the kind of year that most everyone thought was impossible with a first year team. Part owner and driver Tony Stewart sits on top of the point standings at this time while his teammate Ryan Newman sits in seventh. Tony has won the all-star race as well as two points races t o firmly establish his team as one of the teams to beat over the last ten races of the season.
Richard Childress Racing is just one season removed from putting Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton in the Chase, but what a difference a year has made. RCR has added a fourth driver this season with Casey Mears, but none of the four are presently in the Top 12 in points. To make things worse, Kevin Harvick has said that he wants out of the last year of his contract and reportedly wants to move to Stewart-Haas and take his Shell sponsorship with him. Harvick has one year left with Childress while the Shell deal is up at the end of this season.
Hendrick Motorsports continues to do what it does best and that is competing for wins and championships. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson sit second and third in the standings at this time and are joined in the Top 12 with newcomer Mark Martin at No. 11. Those three drivers account for seven wins this season. Martin leads the way with four, followed by Johnson’s two and Gordon’s one trip to victory lane.
Hendrick does have to deal with the ongoing drama of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dismal season. A midseason crew chief change hasn’t brought any real life to Jr.’s year and it could be that the sport’s most popular driver should take a look in the mirror to see where changes really need to be made.
Kurt Busch is a former series champion and it looks like this season he is ready to compete for his second title. The Penske driver finished 18th last season but now sits in fourth with a win already this season. His six Top 5’s and 10 Top 10 finishes shows he has the consistency to compete for the title in a short 10-race stretch.
Kyle Busch may be considered a threat to win any race in any series when a green flag waves, but the truth is that he is now in a heck of battle just to stay inside the Top 12 with only seven races left before the Chase field is set. He has three wins on the season and a several near misses but his consistency of late has caused his slide down in the standings. He sits in tenth going into Indy but a look at the points reveals that he is just 14 points from falling out of the Chase field.
Roush-Fenway Racing is Ford’s flagship operation in the series but only two of its five teams are in the Chase field at this point of the season. Matt Kenseth got off to a fast start with two early wins including the Daytona 500, but since then the win total for the entire operation has not changed. Carl Edwards, who had nine wins in 2008, leads the Roush drivers in sixth place with Kenseth barely holding on in the 12th spot with a slim 10-point lead over teammate Greg Biffle. Roush must also decide which of his five teams, including Jamie McMurray and David Ragan, will be shut down for next season, as the four-team limit becomes the rule in 2010.
Joey Logano became Sprint Cup’s youngest winner early this season and is showing why he may become the next big star in the sport. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver runs up front every time he is entered in the Nationwide Series, and that competitiveness is showing up more and more in the cup series. Gibbs has a knack of taking young drivers and grooming them in the sport and it could be that Logano will ensure Gibbs of more wins and championships down the road.
Event: Allstate 400
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile rectangle, 9 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: July 26, 2:15 p.m. TV: ESPN
Radio: IMS Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson