Now that we’re halfway through the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the true contenders for the championship have emerged and we look to be set up for a three-man sprint to the finish between Jimmie Johnson (shocker!), Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick. Now, heading to some of their best racetracks, we can only hope the points battle remains close and exciting until the final lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Who is the favorite for the championship? … The obvious answer would be your four-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson. However, with the exception of Martinsville this weekend, Johnson’s best tracks are behind him. Though Johnson has enjoyed an enormous amount of success at Martinsville Speedway, winning six times and only ever finishing outside the top 10 once, Denny Hamlin is no slouch at the Virginia racetrack either. In fact, Johnson and Hamlin have combined to win the last eight races there. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick has some good racetracks coming up, including Talladega Superspeedway in which he is the most recent winner. If these three can keep each other in close proximity the rest of the season, it will be a fantastic battle for the 2010 Sprint Cup Series title.
Did Kasey Kahne quit on his team? … Or did his team quit on him? Kasey Kahne made an early exit from the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night following a wreck with Sam Hornish Jr. on lap 124. While his No. 9 Budweiser Ford returned to the racetrack, Kahne was not in the car. Replaced by J.J. Yeley, initial reports said that Kahne wasn’t feeling well and decided it was best not to continue on. However, speculation seems to say that not only was Kahne not feeling well health-wise, he was very much aggravated with the performance of his racecar. He admitted later to a meltdown of sorts in the car following the wreck after what he felt like were weeks of less-than-stellar performances. Thankfully for Kahne, there are only five races left in the season before him and crew chief Kenny Francis head to Red Bull Racing in 2011, then to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Homestead probably can’t come soon enough for Kahne.
Is Jimmie Johnson invincible? … Not only did Johnson come back from a lap 34 spin to finish third, he also avoided carnage that happened right in his area of the racetrack. In the first caution of the day, Ryan Newman spun just as he was attempting to pass Johnson on the high side. In the next caution, Kurt Busch spun his racecar after racing with Johnson just a lap or so earlier. Johnson would then take his own credit for the third caution, losing control of his car coming off of turn two. He didn’t hit anything and was able to continue on from there. Later, teammate Jeff Gordon would have an alternator issue that slowed him down dramatically and almost got run over in the process. He switched to a new battery just as Johnson was coming back around to lap him. It seems not only is Johnson incapable of hitting anything, he’s also bad luck for his other competitors!
How many Chase drivers will Jamie McMurray out-perform before the season is out? … McMurray’s win on Saturday now has McMurray with more wins this season than eight of the 12 drivers in the Chase. He has also earned more points than every Chase driver except for Johnson, Hamlin, and Harvick since the Chase began at Loudon. It’s a shame that the only thing that kept McMurray out of the Chase was inconsistency and bad luck.
Did that last caution cost Kyle Busch the victory? … To be honest, no. McMurray had already caught Busch before the caution for “debris” flew and bunched the field up for one last sprint to the finish. While it was definitely exciting to watch, no one really seems to think that piece of debris actually existed. Busch definitely didn’t think so, shouting basically every profanity known to man-kind on the scanner after McMurray passed him on the final restart. After the race he sarcastically assumed that the caution was because a mouse ran across the track. However, it doesn’t matter. Busch just got beat. McMurray was clearly faster than Busch before the caution came out, and he flat out beat him on the restart. Maybe the caution didn’t seem all the relevant, but McMurray was most likely going to win either way.
Bonus questions: What kind of beer was in that beer can that caused the fourth caution? … Will the new ethanol-based fuel make the competition “green” with envy? … Does Jeff Burton now know what it’s like to drive through a blizzard?
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author.