Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michigan Thoughts

If Kyle Busch doesn't win the Sprint Cup championship this season, Carl Edwards will.

Edwards served notice Sunday with his fifth win of the season in the 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Raceway. If the Chase for the Cup were to start this weekend at Bristol, Edwards would have 40 bonus points (he lost the 10 from Las Vegas as part of his penalty) to Busch's 80. Getting more bonus points was important, but even more important was keeping those 10 away from Busch -- who finished second.

Edwards has shined mainly on the 1.5 and 2-mile ovals -- and five Chase tracks are 1.5 miles in length. The series also returns to Fontana in two weeks for a 500-miler at Auto Club Speedway -- where Edwards picked up his first win of the season in February.

A month ago, there were four legitimate contenders for the title: Busch, Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. After Michigan, though, I think it's down to Busch and Edwards. Junior isn't strong enough at the end of races lately to make any noise, and Johnson seems to stumble the moment his team finds any momentum (more on that later).

Simply put, Edwards and Busch are the class of the Sprint Cup field this season, and if neither of them hoists the trophy at Homestead, I'll be very surprised.

From Champs to Chumps

It was a bad day for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who both suffered damage from contact with Tony Stewart on lap 93 on Sunday. Johnson had a flat tire and had to pit, which put him down a lap, while Gordon lost a right front tire and finished 42nd.

Johnson isn't out of the woods yet -- he was down 68 points with five races to go last season and won four straight races to clinch his second Cup title -- but he lost more ground to Busch and Edwards, his two main title rivals. Gordon, meanwhile, dropped to 10th in points, where he is in the thick of the Chase bubble.

Could Gordon miss the Chase again? Could he also go winless for the first time since his rookie year in 1993? As absurd as it might sound, if he has another race like the one in Michigan, he very well could.

Reliable Ragan

Last year, David Ragan tore up more race cars than Paul Menard and Robby Gordon. At least, it seemed that way.

This year, Ragan is on the verge of the Chase, tied for 13th with Clint Bowyer after finishing third at Michigan. The 22-year-old has yet to win a race, but the way he's run this year -- only two finishes worse than 40th -- don't be surprised in that changes.

Also don't be surprised if Ragan winds up in the Chase, given all the troubles that seems to have befallen much of the bottom half of the top 12.

Will Ragan amount to much if he makes the Chase? I doubt it; then again, people said the same thing about Bowyer last year. He finished third in the standings after picking up his first career win.

Silly Season Notes

-Ryan Newman has been officially announced as the second driver for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. He'll drive the No. 4 car with sponsorship to be determined.

This just in: no one is surprised.

-If Casey Mears does wind up driving for Richard Childress next year, expect it to be in the Jack Daniels machine. General Mills, which will sponsor RCR's fourth car, doesn't want a former Kellogg's man piloting its car.

By the way, cereal and whiskey? RCR's kinda hitting both extremes of the demographic, aren't they?

-Joe Gibbs Racing is expected to announce on Aug. 25 that Joey Logano will take over the No. 20 car for Tony Stewart. While I still contend he isn't ready for a full-time Cup ride yet (the boy's only made eight Nationwide Series starts), the fact is -- who else is out there?

I'll understand if you're drawing a blank.

Speaking of JGR ...

Look for the team's two Nationwide cars -- the No. 18 and No. 20 -- to get hit hard this week after NASCAR discovered magnets under the accelerator pedals during chassis dyno. While the infraction wasn't a case of cheating during a race, it basically amounts to obstruction of justice. Whoever put those magnets there purposefully gave NASCAR false information.

With the magnets where they were, the accelerator pedals wouldn't go all the way to the floor, giving NASCAR inspectors false horsepower readings during the chassis dyno. After NASCAR took horsepower away from Toyota -- the manufacturer has won 15 of 25 races this season, 14 of which came from JGR -- this could amount to a huge deal.

Tony Stewart finished third in the No. 20, while Joey Logano finished seventh in the No. 18.

The entire JGR Nationwide operation will be hit hard, and both Joe and J.D. Gibbs promised that whoever was responsible would be dealt with accordingly. Can you can unemployment line?

Again, even though this isn't an instance of on-track cheating, the implications are massive. The team gave NASCAR false information on purpose, and that leaves me to wonder whether they actually took away the horsepower NASCAR mandated.

For the team's sake, I hope they did.

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