Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Hot Red

Is there anyone in the Sprint Cup Series right now hotter than Kasey Kahne? After his convincing win in the Pocono 500 on Sunday, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Kahne, who went winless in 2007 and before May appeared to be going through another struggle, has now won three of the last four Sprint Cup events, including back-to-back wins in the All-Star Challenge and Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. And if not for a wreck early at Dover last week, who knows how well Kahne would’ve run there?

Momentum has been a blessing for Kahne, who on Sunday led a race-high 69 laps. Momentum breeds confidence, something sorely lacking in Kahne’s No. 9 Budweiser team going back to last season. Kahne has nine career wins – and won a series-high six races in 2006 – so the talent was always there. Poor finishes and inconsistency meant the confidence and the luck weren’t.

But as points leader Kyle Busch hits a little bit of a rough stretch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to look for his first win in over two years, Kahne is the hottest driver in the circuit, now sitting ninth in points. If this run continues, Kahne will find himself solidly in the Chase for the Cup, with bonus points to boot.

Busch leads all drivers with 40 bonus points – thanks to series-high four wins – but Kahne now has 20. If this run continues, that number could jump another 10 or 20 before we hit July.

Historic Triple Wasted?

Kyle Busch made history this past weekend, competing in three different NASCAR races in three different states on three different nights. Lots of plane riding, lots of miles raced and lots of uncomfortable hours of sleep.

The end result? A second-place finish in the Craftsman Truck Series race on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway; a 20th-place effort in the Nationwide Series race in Nashville on Saturday; and a dead-last, 43rd-place finish in the Cup race at Pocono on Sunday.

Would Busch have finished 43rd in the Cup race even without running in the other two events? Maybe, maybe not, so I won’t sit here and argue running the other two races hurt his Sprint Cup effort. But after Busch lost a large chunk of his points lead (he now leads Jeff Burton, who finished fifth on Sunday, by a mere 21 points), one would imagine boss man J.D. Gibbs will ask Busch to tone down the frequent flyer miles.

Fans have to at least appreciate Busch’s desire to race, even if they don’t appreciate the way he goes about it. Listen to the TNT broadcast closely enough, and you can hear the fans collectively gasping in shock when Busch took responsibility for his wreck with Jamie McMurray.

Busch normally blames everyone else for an incident – even if it’s not that person’s fault. Right, Jason Leffler at Dover?

It was an interesting story to follow on a weekend where Big Brown failed in his attempt at horse racing’s Triple Crown, but ultimately, it’s not something I expect to see much of in the future. Had Busch finished in the top-10 at Pocono, his higher-ups at Joe Gibbs Racing might’ve tolerated another attempt in the coming weeks, but considering Busch needs to focus on his Cup ride, I don’t see this weekend’ results encouraging further stunts of this nature.

In the Navy

Congratulations to Brad Keselowski, who scored his first career NASCAR win in the Nationwide Series event at Nashville Superspeedway Saturday night. The win gives JR Motorsports its second-ever win – its first came in Last Vegas back in March, when Mark Martin visited Victory Lane.

While it’s unclear at the moment what Dale Earnhardt Jr. will do with this team in 2009 – rumors have had him turning JR Motorsports into a Sprint Cup operation – it is clear how talented a driver he has in the 23-year-old Keselowski. The Michigan native is fifth in the Nationwide point standings, the highest-ranking driver who doesn’t also compete in the Cup Series.

Can Keselowski seriously compete for the Nationwide Series title? It’s possible, given how fast and competitive he is every week. Though Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards will likely run the full schedule, Kyle Busch is undecided. That could help Keselowski’s chances significantly.

Regardless of who does or doesn’t run, though, I think Keselowski has a shot at the title. I won’t outright pick him to win it, but I do see at least two more wins in the young man’s future the rest of this season.

Brad Keselowski, one of the rising stars in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

To Pass or Not to Pass

SPEED Formula 1 analyst Peter Windsor said on Dave Despain’s show “Wind Tunnel” Sunday night that passing in auto racing is overrated, that to see something done so often diminishes its meaning and significance.

Windsor, a former F1 World Champion, likened passing to fishing; he said one does not fish to catch anything, but to wait for the bite. Waiting eight hours for a bite, Windsor says, and finally getting one is infinitely more thrilling than getting 55 bites in the same timeframe.

Which might be true for fishing, but that argument for racing is simply ludicrous. Racing without passing is nothing more than a high-speed parade, which the vast majority of F1 races are. Formula 1 is so technology-driven that cars are almost out of the drivers’ hands, and to see a pass on the track in F1 is to see something truly rare.

In NASCAR, as much as some fans complain of the lack of passing, such a thing isn’t so rare. Television will never capture every pass, every jockey for position, but to see a race in-person is to see the very thing Windsor apparently doesn’t want – lots of passing. The IndyCar Series also suffers from a serious case of passing, and the fans love it.

Sure, Formula 1 has 80 million fans worldwide – but in America, give us stock cars, machines a guy can muscle around a track around another car, even if you’re not better than the guy you’re passing.

We like NASCAR and the NFL. The world can have its F1 and soccer. And Windsor can have his high-speed parade.

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