There isn't a whole lot to discuss regarding the race itself from this past weekend at Sonoma. Kyle Busch won the race in surprisingly dominant fashion, with David Gilliland coming in second and Jeff Gordon third.
Instead, the big news seemed to come from off the track. So we'll hit that instead.
Five and Done?
Apparently, Casey Mears won't be returning to Hendrick Motorsports after all. Earlier this season, Hendrick said Mears was secure in the No. 5 Chevrolet, and that he would finish out his contract, which expires in 2009. But Mears, who won the 2007 Coca-Cola 600, has struggled all season, lounging about in 24th in points while his three teammates are solidly in the top 10.
So even with his fifth-place finish on Sunday, Mears appears out of Hendrick (cue everyone who said Mears should've gotten the boot last year, not Kyle Busch). And there are rumors that Richard Childress is high on Mears, ready to put him in the No. 33 General Mills car next season.
But the bulk of the intrigue comes in who could replace him.
ESPN.com's Marty Smith said numerous sources told him Mark Martin will leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc. after the season, in effect giving the No. 8 car to Aric Almirola, to join Hendrick Motorsports. Speculation runs from Martin running part-time and mentoring Nationwide Series driver Brad Keselowski to Martin running full-time for one last shot at the Sprint Cup.
I tend to think the former is more likely -- Martin has shown no desire to be a full-time driver since leaving Roush-Fenway Racing -- but can you imagine how exciting the latter would be? A driver of that caliber in a Hendrick car ... Martin would be a contender from day one, and is there anyone without a Cup title who deserves one?
Martin, one of the series' most respected drivers, has finished second in the standings four times and never won the title, so one more shot with one of the sport's best teams would be a perfect storybook ending to one of the best NASCAR careers ever.
But would Martin go through that again? Or would he help Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick by developing Keselowski? Either way, it's an interesting proposition -- though I still think the big Silly Season domino is Tony Stewart; where he goes will dictate where a lot of others -- namely guys like Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. -- end up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke on Friday about how much he doesn't care for the road course at Infineon Raceway, a place where he's never finished higher than 11th (he finished 12th on Sunday). Junior spoke about how technical the course is, and how hard that is for him to maneuver.
"Oh, I'm gonna screw up ," he told the media on Friday. "Trust me, I'll screw up ... Impossible to pass. Where do you pass? A couple of brake zones, but that's about it. You just wait on people to screw up.
"I think I can get through Watkins Glen (the other road course on the Sprint Cup schedule) okay, but I just don't run well here. Never liked coming here. Don't like the track, it's not a fun track to compete on. It's fun to go around and goof off and raise a little bit of hell. I don't like being in competition on it."
But here's a reason we may be overlooking: Sonoma is where Junior almost lost his life in July 2004 [video here]. During practice for an American Le Mans Series race, Junior lost control of his car and smacked the wall. The fuel cell burst, creating a massive fire, and Junior suffered burns that affected him in the next month of the Cup Series (he couldn't even finish the following week's race at New Hampshire, where Martin Truex Jr. had to relieve him).
Though Junior was pulled out of the car safely, a few more seconds and he would've joined his late father in the great Victory Lane in the sky. Junior even admitted later the only reason he survived that crash was because he felt his father helping pull him out of the car. I usually don't believe in that sort of thing, but given some of the unexplainable circumstances Junior has endured in his career, I won't deny it.
Drivers will never admit fear, or that a particular wreck haunts them, but any time a wreck becomes life-threatening, that has to stick with a guy.
In fact, I'd be more worried about a guy if a wreck like that didn't bother him.