Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Three Down, Seven to Go: Kansas Musings

Following Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway, I just have one question: how different would the Chase look if Carl Edwards didn't smack the fence in the final corner and managed to win the race?

I don't mean the standings themselves -- Edwards would still be atop the standings with Johnson a very close second -- but the outlook heading into the final seven races. It would have been a nice bit of momentum for Edwards, and it would've also been one more race Jimmie Johnson didn't win.

Everyone knows the Chase is Johnson's time of year. He's never finished worse than fourth in the playoff, and has won the last two Sprint Cup titles. His win on Sunday put Johnson atop the points going into Talladega, and Johnson has shown more often than not that once he's on top, it's almost impossible to knock him off.

Edwards and Greg Biffle -- who finished third on Sunday -- will still contend, and this championship has all the signs of coming down to the wire in Homestead. But Johnson has the momentum, and if he becomes the only man other than Cale Yarborough to win three consecutive Cup championships, we can probably point to Kansas as why.

That said, let's not hold Edwards' banzai move against him. He wanted to win that race badly, and not just because of the points, either. Edwards wanted to win in front of what is the closest thing he'll have to a home crowd. He wanted the checkered flag, which in an era of points racers, is a refreshing sight.

If only more guys in the Sprint Cup Series would show such a passion for winning. An already exciting series might be even more entertaining.

Down and Out -- And This Time, We Mean It

Remember last week, when I said counting out Kyle Busch, even after back-to-back horrible finishes was foolish, and that he still had a good shot of getting on a roll and winning the title?

Yeah, scratch that. He's done.

That 28th-place egg at Kansas leaves Busch 311 points out of the lead, in 12th place in the standings. More importantly, it shows that whatever the team had before the Chase started is gone.

For the third straight week, Busch's car had a mechanical issue, a fuel pickup malfunction that caused the engine to sputter. Even when the crew fixed that, the car didn't have the speed we've grown accustomed to seeing this season. While I find it hard to believe the No. 18 team has suddenly lost whatever it had earlier in the year, when it won eight races, the fact is other teams -- the No. 99, No. 48 and No. 16, specifically -- have caught up.

Busch might win another race or two in the final seven, but the best driver with the best crew and the best car for much of the season won't be hoisting the Sprint Cup Series trophy in Homestead. Some will love that, but others will point to this as the flaw of the Chase. But the fact is, even without the Chase, Busch would no longer be the points leader, and Edwards, Johnson and Biffle would still have all the momentum.

Seeing Red ... Bull

It was bad enough Red Bull Racing told A.J. Allmendinger he wouldn't be returning to the No. 84 car after the end of this season, but Tuesday's announcement he wouldn't be in that car anymore this year -- after a career-best ninth-place finish at Kansas -- seems disrespectful on so many levels.

Credit to Allmendinger for not phoning it in and driving like he meant it on Sunday -- that will go a long way in convincing another car owner to take a chance on him in the future. I realize Red Bull Racing wants to get Scott Speed to the Sprint Cup level as soon as possible, but at the expense of Allmendinger, who since being benched for Mike Skinner at the beginning of the season has qualified for every race and managed six top-15 finishes in the last nine races?

RBR never gave Allmendinger a shot -- adding an unproven open-wheel driver to a new team in the Sprint Cup Series will never lead to instant success, but Allmendinger was starting to get a handle on the whole stock car thing. Allmendinger deserves to be in the Cup Series full-time, and don't be surprised if in the next couple years he finds Victory Lane.

He just got a raw deal over at RBR. Not to take anything away from Speed, but Allmendinger deserves to be in that ride.

Taking His Sponsor and Going Home

According to the Associated Press on Tuesday, Paul Menard will leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc. at the end of the season to drive for Robert Yates Racing. Menard will bring his sponsor, the home improvement outlet carrying the family name, with him.

While that could spell good news for Yates, that possibly leaves DEI in a bit of a pickle. The team did manage to sign Martin Truex Jr. for next season, but he's the only driver on the team now with guaranteed sponsorship for next season. Sure, Aric Almirola will be in the No. 8, but rumors persist the Army won't be with him. And considering how Regan Smith has used a patchwork of sponsors this season, things look bleak.

It does provide an interesting option for Allmendinger (see above), but he's probably more likely to wind up at either Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 41 or at Petty Enterprises. If I had to guess right now, I'd say Allmendinger's heading for Ganassi.

Three drivers, four cars, one sponsor. Was this really what the late Dale Earnhardt had in mind when he founded this company? Probably not -- then again, he probably didn't envision his own son driving for Hendrick Motorsports, either.

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