Whether it was that emotion or simple happenstance, the action that transpired on the track this past weekend was fantastic. And a worthy way to honor one of the best tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. With that in mind, let’s sort through this week’s winners and losers.
With his first win of 2010, and with the consistency that he has exhibited throughout the summer, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include Tony Stewart’s name on the list of possible championship contenders. He doesn’t necessarily deserve to be atop that list, but he certainly belongs on it somewhere.
In finishing second, the Emory Healthcare 500 is further proof that Carl Edwards has returned to the form he exhibited in 2008, when he won eight races and ended with him finishing second in points to Jimmie Johnson. Its worth noting, that in the last eight races, Edwards’ worst finish is a 12th Bristol, and his average finish overall in those same eight races is fifth.
One third-place finish doesn’t erase what we’ve seen from the 48 team the in last month-and-a-half. But what it does do, is reconfirm my belief that no matter how mortal they’ve looked – they’ve looked mighty mortal as of late – this team is still the favorite until someone shows they can topple them when it matters the most.
Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne all stubbed their toes and sealed their Chase fate. By finishing seventh, Clint Bowyer capitalized on the opportunity that presented itself and all but locked up the 12th and final postseason spot. Now, all he has to do at Richmond is finish 28th or better.
The “Old” Kyle Busch would’ve packed it in after a pit road speeding penalty and problem on a pit stop left him a lap down. The “New” Kyle Busch maintained his composure and raced his way to his seventh top-five finish of ’10. I guess that’s what we call maturity.
Jeff Burton & Kurt Busch
Both drivers fell a lap down early, but both worked on making their cars better, used pit strategy to their advantage and left Atlanta with top-10 finishes. For Burton (4th), it was his first top-five finish since Daytona on Fourth of July weekend. While Busch (6th) posted his third top-10 finish in four races.
Coming off the heels of a 15th-place finish at Bristol, Reed Sorenson (14th), in his home state of Georgia, drove to his second straight top-15 finish.
For his efforts, what does the 24-year-old get? He gets replaced at Richmond by a German Touring Car driver (Mattias Ekstrom), who’s never started a NASCAR race on an oval.
For many drivers crossing the finish line in 24th is a disappointing day. But for Dave Blaney, finishing 24th marks his best finish in a Sprint Cup race since he finished 22nd at Homestead in the season finale of the 2008 season.
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Of the seven mile-and-a-half tracks that are on the Sprint Cup schedule, Atlanta Motor Speedway is by far the raciest of them all. (The good kind of racy mind you, not the bad kind.)
Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin exchanged the lead throughout the early portions of the 500-mile race. Later, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards put on a three-man duel for second-place, which will go down as some of the best racing we’ve seen all year. Except…
Atlanta Motor Speedway
… sadly though, despite annually hosting some of the best and most memorable races of recent years, the track can’t get enough people to buy tickets to warrant two races at the facility.
Bruton Smith is one of those guys who like to shoot-from-the-hip. The majority of time, the stuff he says, though controversial, is spot-on and is something that needs to be said for the good of the sport.
But when asked Saturday about the track he owns in Las Vegas hosting the finale Sprint Cup race of the season, something Smith is adamantly in favor of, here was his quote, “If you’re going to do a championship, you’ve got to do it at the proper place, and I don’t think North Cuba is the proper place.”
Funny? Sort of. Appropriate? No. And unquestionably something a mover-and-shaker of Smith’s magnitude should never say in front of the media.
When he had a chance to make amends for his comment on Sunday, Smith, of course, didn’t back away.
“I was just speaking the truth,” he said. “I was actually complimenting them. It was actually based on location, so I was just kind of being kind to the location. That’s what it was.”
Here’s what needs to happen: Someone needs to take Smith aside and explain to him that not only do loose lips sink ships, and they also don’t get track owners the dates they oh so covet from NASCAR.
After a mediocre 21st-place run Sunday, Mark Martin is all but guaranteed not to be making a return trip to the Chase.
There are a lot of reasons to explain why Mark Martin has not come anywhere close to matching his performance from a year ago, when he won five times and finished second overall in the standings. But at the end of the day, all the excuses that could possibly be given are nothing more than that, excuses.
Like a lot of guys Sunday night Jamie McMurray was befuddled by a myriad of problems. But unlike some of the guys listed above in the winner’s portion of this column, the reigning Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion wasn’t able to recover enough (15th-place finish) to give himself a reasonable chance to make the Chase this coming Saturday night at Richmond.
Denny Hamlin came into this weekend talking big on how he and his team were treating this race like a Chase race. When he won the pole Saturday, and proceeded to lead 74 of the first 140 laps, it looked as if all that talk was in fact reality. Perhaps even a shot across the bow to the competition of what was to come when the Chase begins in two weeks.
Instead, Hamlin’s motor went kaboom and regulated him to 43rd in the final rundown.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/NASCAR Media