Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: 2009 AAA 400 at Dover Edition

Each week, Frontstretch hosts a live blog during the Sprint Cup race. It’s a great way for readers to interact alongside their favorite Frontstretch writers with videos, live commentary and live polls. Three of this week’s “Five Points” were polls taken during the Dover live blog.

ONE: Who can we effectively eliminate from the title picture?

The Chase may have just begun, but already we can see the cream rise to the top when it comes to legitimate title contenders this season. Sure, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson have established themselves as the favorites, but on the opposite end of the spectrum drivers like Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers saw their chances take a big hit with subpar runs.

So can we eliminate anybody from the championship picture yet? Of course. Kasey Kahne had a solid eighth-place effort, but still lost points to the leaders and is now 189 points out. He’s done. Carl Edwards was flat-out pedestrian today – somewhat surprising considering his success at concrete tracks – and remains winless, 153 points out. Cross him off. Vickers came home 18th and Team Red Bull just seems happy to be in the Chase. It’s not going to happen. Greg Biffle had a mediocre (compared to 2008) 13th-place finish at Dover, is winless on the year and is showing no signs of being a threat. He’s out.

So by my standards, I think there are now only eight drivers who have even a little shot at bringing home the hardware in Miami. Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya may be winless, but have the equipment to contend. Jeff Gordon sits eighth in points, but had a solid sixth-place run Sunday and has had success at next week’s oval in Kansas. The top four right now have the best shot, but five through eight are sleepers who are capable of stringing together top fives.

TWO: Throw out the book on Montoya and the No. 42 team

The sudden emergence of Montoya as a bonafide Chase contender has been both surprising and exciting to watch. Despite just two top-five finishes in the “regular season,” the No. 42 has come out of the gate strong with back-to-back top fives and a current third-place points position. But what’s most surprising is that he is running strong at tracks that he’s never run well at before.

See also
The Yellow Stripe: Juan Pablo Montoya Shows 2010 Championship Credentials in 100th Start

Coming into Dover, Montoya averaged a 24.4 average finish with just one top 10 in five starts, but opened up the weekend fast and closed out Sunday with a solid fourth place. At the final eight Chase tracks, Montoya has averaged better than a top 20 at only Martinsville and Talladega; but if the trends continue, none of it will matter.

THREE: Who would you take to win the championship?

Fan Vote – Johnson and Martin: 86%; The Field: 14%

The wily vet and the three-time defending champion have lived up to their pre-Chase hype by each winning one of the two Chase races and opening up a slight margin on the rest of the playoff field. They have showed no signs of slowing down and both have become the top-two favorites for the title. Not that the rest of the Chase field hasn’t run well, but the No. 5 and No. 48 are in a league of their own.

If I were a gambling man and had to decide between Johnson and Martin or the field, I would take the two without a doubt. It’s early and we still have a few wildcard races, but they have that championship swagger that the other 10 teams seem to lack right now.

FOUR: Who needs a win more right now?

Fan Vote – Kurt Busch: 50%: Montoya: 50%

Kurt Busch and Montoya were not considered championship contenders by a number of experts before New Hampshire, but after two races sit third and fourth in points to raise some eyebrows. It wasn’t that neither had the talent, but the Pat Tryson drama was expected to affect the No. 2 team and many thought Montoya couldn’t legitimately have a shot at the title without a win.

Both have pleasantly surprised the critics, but which team needs that Chase win more to get over the hump and compete with the boys at Hendrick? I think that without a doubt it’s Montoya and the No. 42 team. Back-to-back top-five finishes have been great, but they’ve still lost ground to Martin in the process. Montoya and Ganassi have made great strides over the course of the season, but need that one trip to victory lane to put them into that elite category with the No. 5 and No. 48.

FIVE: Who’s to blame for the incident between Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin on Saturday?

Fan Vote – Keselowski: 0%; Hamlin: 33%; Racing Incident: 67%

Clint Bowyer won Saturday’s Nationwide race at Dover, but the story was the continued war of words between Hamlin and “young gun” Keselowski. The two made what appeared to be incidental contact when Keselowski clipped the left rear of Hamlin and sent him into the wall, but when the mics were stuck in their faces the blame game began. Keselowski claimed that Hamlin was trying to take advantage of the “new guy,” while Hamlin bluntly stated that Keselowski couldn’t cut it in Sprint Cup.

See also
Denny, Gibbs, What Were You Thinking?

I firmly believe it was a racing incident between the two and that there was no intent by Keselowski to put the No. 20 in the wall, but I will say that it’s unfair for Hamlin to criticize a young driver who clearly has what it takes to compete – and win – at the sport’s highest level.

Notes to Ponder

  • Mears on the outs?: Richard Childress Racing hasn’t picked up its option on Casey Mears and Jack Daniel’s will not return as sponsor leaving many – including myself – to believe his days with the No. 07 are over.
  • Logano scare: How scary was it to see the No. 20 roll down the Dover banking? And how great was it to see Joey Logano walk out of the infield medical center.
  • Truex wins – The other Truex: Ryan Truex won the Camping World East Series championship this week. Frontstretch is proud to announce he will be a Frontstretch Driver Diary participant beginning in 2010.

Follow Mike Lovecchio on Twitter HERE

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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