Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Martin wins Southern 500

How appropriate was it that 60-year-old Darlington Raceway rewarded 50-year-old Mark Martin Saturday night, as he picked up his second win of the season in the Southern 500? Something just felt right about Martin's win -- and I don't just mean because it meant someone other than Kyle Busch took the checkered flag.

Even after his win at Phoenix, there were those who thought Martin couldn't hang with the young guys, that eventually his talent and energy and desire would run out. It's no surprise Martin silenced those critics the same week in which he announced he would be driving full-time for Hendrick Motorsports in 2010.

It was also a nice ending to a day that got off to a rocky start, when NASCAR announced the indefinite suspension of Jeremy Mayfield for a failed drug test (more on that in a later post).

Even with the new surface and the fact that tire wear wasn't an issue, Darlington Raceway was still an onrey old bitch Saturday night, as the newly-minted Southern 500 (presented by saw a record 16 cautions. The old adage reads "race the race track," and several drivers failed to heed that warning.

Two guys who did, though, were rookies Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Logano led laps before finishing ninth -- his second career Top-10 finish -- while Keselowski came in seventh to validate his Talladega win and make the interest in putting him in a Cup car next year skyrocket. Darlington isn't usually kind to younger drivers, which makes what Logano and Keselowski did even more impressive -- especially when one considers Keselowski is still racing part-time.

Martin's win catapulted him to 11th in the point standings, and it was his second win in the last four races. While Martin refuses to talk championship, claiming the breathless pursuit of a title was what led him to scale back to a part-time schedule in the first place, there's no denying that his enthusiasm and equipment just might lead him to that elusive Cup.

But of perhaps greater concern (aside from Junior's struggles -- I've already written about them) could be Kyle Busch. Sure, he has a series-high three wins so far this season, which means 30 bonus points once the Chase starts, but he only has one other Top-10 finish. If Busch is ever going to hoist a Cup trophy, he'll need to find a more consistent approach. If he doesn't, we'll see more years like 2008, where he won eight races, but wasn't a factor in the championship.

Jimmie Johnson finished second, after starting 42nd because of a wreck in qualifying and having a hell of a time during the race. Just more proof that you can never count out Chad Knaus and the rest of that No. 48 team. Tony Stewart finished third -- his fifth Top-5 finish in six races -- while teammate Ryan Newman finished fourth.

Stewart-Haas' resurgence has been surprising in how quickly it's happened, and it's only a matter of time before Stewart and Newman find their way to Victory Lane. Though it hasn't happened yet, I think Stewart's on the verge, and he might win the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- a race he would've won a year ago, if not for a flat tire with two laps left.

Stewart is only 29 points behind Gordon heading into this weekend's Sprint All-Star Race -- a non-points event. I'm not sure if I'd consider Stewart a title favorite just yet, but he might turn into one if he keeps posting finishes like he has of late.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Southern 500 presented by
1. Mark Martin*
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Tony Stewart*
4. Ryan Newman*
5. Jeff Gordon*
6. Martin Truex Jr.*
7. Brad Keselowski
8. Greg Biffle**
9. Joey Logano*
10. Matt Kenseth*
11. Kevin Harvick
12. Jeff Burton
13. Denny Hamlin
14. Elliott Sadler*
15. Paul Menard
16. Kurt Busch
17. A.J. Allmendinger
18. Bobby Labonte*
19. Reed Sorenson
20. Juan Pablo Montoya
21. Regan Smith
22. Jamie McCurray
23. Kasey Kahne*
24. David Stremme
25. Tony Raines
26. Scott Speed
27. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
28. Robby Gordon
29. David Reutimann
30. Sam Hornish Jr.
31. Brian Vickers
32. Carl Edwards
33. Marcos Ambrose
34. Kyle Busch*
35. Max Papis
36. Casey Mears
37. Clint Bowyer
38. David Ragan
39. Scott Riggs
40. Michael Waltrip
41. Dave Blaney
42. Sterling Marlin
43. David Gilliland

*led a lap (5 bonus points)
**led most laps (5 more bonus points)

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