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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Pocono/Watkins Glen Edition

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Pocono/Watkins Glen Edition

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It could be argued that Jeff Gordon deserved to be in Victory Lane several times in 2012, but Sunday wasn’t one of them. When Jimmie Johnson’s car broke loose because of a flat tire on a late restart and a wreck ensued, Gordon just happened to be the first car to make it through the smoke and was awarded the win when the skies opened up minutes later.

It was a lot of luck for a driver who hadn’t had any luck at all before Sunday. From flat tires, to accidents, to blown engines, the first half of the season had it all for the No. 24 team. As Gordon said in Victory Lane, “I think this is the one that makes up for all the ones that have gotten away.”

It was also an exciting day for Ryan Newman, who at one point seemed to have a commanding lead in the battle for the second wild card spot after watching Kyle Busch take down the Turn One wall. Newman couldn’t have been bitter about watching Gordon win the way he did though, because Newman won the same way at Martinsville earlier in the season.

It was almost the exact same scenario, where the top four or five cars all wrecked entering Turn One and Newman was just the first to make it through the mayhem. It’s only fitting that the two drivers that lucked into wins are tied for the final Chase spot with five races to go in the regular season.

Here is Who’s Hot and Who’s Not after Pocono.

Jeff Gordon finally found his rabbit’s foot at Pocono this week. Combined with a string of top 6 finishes…he’s looking mighty hot.

*HOT*

*Jeff Gordon* got a little help from his teammate Jimmie Johnson (maybe not intentionally) to win on Sunday, but Gordon does deserve some credit. Unless it’s the Nationwide race at Daytona earlier this season, usually the 23rd-place car isn’t the first to make it through the smoke when those late-race wrecks involving the leaders ensue. Gordon came out first because he was running at the front.

The four-time champion has been as consistent as anyone in the last seven races. He finished sixth or better in six of those seven events, and only finds himself tied for the second wild card spot because of how strong he has been this summer.

Remember when there were only 10 points separating Carl Edwards and *Brad Keselowski* for the 10th spot in the standings, and everyone thought the battle for 10th would come down to the 26th race at Richmond?

Well, it won’t. There are now 71 points separating them. It’s in large part because of how well Keselowski is performing. He might qualify between 31st and 53rd each week, but Keselowski takes care of his equipment and finds a way to the front nearly every race.

Keselowski’s fourth-place finish at Pocono was his fifth straight top 10 and vaulted him up into seventh in the standings.

*WARM*

*Kasey Kahne* suffered a slight hiccup at Indianapolis (12th), but bounced back at Pocono with his third podium finish in the last five races. The No. 5 team is in a strange position over the next five races. They won’t be able to score enough points to get in the top 10 (currently 11th) where their wins would count for bonus points in the Chase, but they don’t necessarily need to fight for wins because with two, they are almost assured of a wild card spot.

*Ryan Newman* has been about as streaky as any driver on the circuit this year. It’s amazing to think that he is tied for a wild card spot after going 11 races without a top 10 before the July race at Daytona.

Since Daytona, Newman has been a different driver, with top 10 results in each of the last four races including a sixth on Sunday.

*COOL*

Seventh might as well have been last to *Carl Edwards*. The Roush Fenway driver earned his first top 10 in the last three races on Sunday, but it’s all going to be a moot point if he doesn’t win before the Chase cutoff.

The second-place driver at the end of the last few seasons has not fared well in the next year and Edwards is just continuing that trend. Denny Hamlin struggled for much of last season, but earned a late win and a wild card spot, only time will tell if Edwards does the same.

Forget a Pocono sweep, *Joey Logano* was a non-factor in his return to the speedway where he earned his second career win in June. After winning that race, Logano put himself in solid position to contend for a spot in the Chase.

Forget that, too. Logano is now 36 points behind Gordon and Newman and hasn’t even been close to matching their consistency as of late. On top of that, it’s only a matter of time before Matt Kenseth is unveiled as the driver of the No. 20 for 2013, which depending on sponsorship and whether Logano wants to stay at Gibbs, could get him demoted to the Nationwide Series.

*COLD*

I hate to keep harping on *Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing*, but the disappointing runs continue. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified his car on the pole on Saturday (the highlight of the season for this team) and Jamie McMurray was picking his way through the field early on Sunday.

At the end of the day, neither driver ended up in the top 15. McMurray was 17th and Montoya was 20th. The weekend started with hope for a turnaround, but it ended as just another average weekend for a team struggling to stay competitive.

*Kyle Busch* could easily be in the top five in the series standings. He’s 15th because either his car breaks or he makes a costly mistake nearly every week. The No. 18 team’s summer of self-sabotage continued at Pocono when Busch shot up the track into the turn one wall after a brake failure.

Busch cost himself solid finishes at Kentucky (hit wall while leading), New Hampshire (speeding penalty) and Infineon (wheel-hopped and spun) and had mechanical failures at both Pocono races, Dover and Michigan. Combined, that includes seven of the last nine events.

The No. 18 team is still only 12 points out of a wild card spot, but with five races to go, they better hope the summer of self-sabotage ended at Pocono.

“Contact Brett Poirier”:http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/33361/

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