Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: 2012 Charlotte/Dover Edition

My prediction of a lightning rod hitting Jeff Gordon‘s car and the car then catching fire didn’t become a reality at Charlotte. Actually, nothing interesting happened to Gordon on Sunday night (May 27). His steering wheel didn’t fall off, his tires didn’t deflate and his engine didn’t break.

Gordon led five laps and finished seventh. It must have felt like a victory for the No. 24 team, Gordon’s first top 10 since Texas on April 14, which is an interesting date because that is when Kasey Kahne scored his first top-10 finish and finally began to turn his season around. Five races later, Kahne was in victory lane riding a streak of six consecutive top 10s.

It all started with a seventh-place result at Texas for Kahne, which makes me think, was Sunday’s result the start of something big for Gordon?

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

HOT

It has been a tale of two seasons for the hottest driver at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne. He placed 29th or worse in four of his first six races. In his last six starts, he hasn’t been worse than ninth.

If you were surprised that he won the Coca-Cola 600, you shouldn’t have been. Three of his 13 career wins have come in the 600 and four of his wins have come at Charlotte. The victory moved Kahne up to 15th in the driver standings and he is only seven points back of Ryan Newman for what would be the final Chase spot right now.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: A Rollercoaster Ride to Redemption for Kasey Kahne

Kahne’s been impressive over the last month and a half, but he hasn’t been the most consistent driver on the circuit. That award goes to Kyle Busch, who hasn’t finished worse than fourth in his last five starts (including the All-Star Race). That included a third-place run in which he led 55 laps on Sunday.

Busch has led laps in each of the last five races and has one of his best race tracks coming up next on the schedule ā€” Dover, where he has two wins and seven top fives.

WARM

Subtract out a late wreck at Talladega and Denny Hamlin could find himself in the same boat as Busch, with five straight top-five performances. Either way, four in the last five races isn’t too shabby. He placed second at Darlington and Charlotte.

The way Hamlin and Busch are running, we may be looking at the summer of Gibbs, but the boys at Hendrick might have something to say about that.

One bad pit stop kept Jimmie Johnson from a top-five finish in the Coca-Cola 600, although the No. 48 team won’t be down for long. Johnson was the hottest driver in the garage entering the 600 after dominating at Darlington and in the All-Star Race. Expect him to pick up right where he left off at Dover, a track where he has six career wins and nine top fives.

COOL

It’s not often that I’m going to place a driver who was seventh and ninth in the last two events in the Cool section, but while Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth continue to battle for wins, Carl Edwards is fighting just to score top 10s.

At this time last season, Edwards already had six top fives. This year, he has two. And while he only won one race (Las Vegas) in 2011, Edwards was a factor nearly every week. Besides maybe Richmond, he hasn’t been a factor to win any races in 2012.

The No. 99 team has clearly taken a giant step backward, while the other teams at Roush Fenway have moved forward.

After Tony Stewart dominated Las Vegas and smoked the field two races later at Fontana, it seemed the No. 14 team was going to be the one to beat at intermediate race tracks this season, but that just hasn’t been the case. Stewart was about as fast as Danica Patrick on Sunday and only finished five positions ahead of her.

Smoke was 25th, three laps off the pace. That was no aberration. Since winning at Fontana, Stewart has been 24th at Texas, 13th at Kansas, 17th in the All-Star Race and 25th on Sunday.

Last year’s championship contenders better get back to the drawing board quick if they want to be in that position in 2012.

COLD

It’s tough market for job hunters, and no one knows that better than Kurt Busch. Busch declared that he “hated his (bleeping) job” over the radio while wrecking at Darlington. Who can blame him? Who wants to work all the time and not get any positive results? Busch wrecked his primary car in practice for the Coca-Cola 600 and brought the backup car home in 27th. It was his fourth straight finish of 20th or worse.

Let’s hope Kurt can find a new profession sometime soon. Until then, he’ll just have to stick out in a spot no one wants to be, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Sunday’s race summed up the season thus far for two drivers: AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose. The fact that both their runs ended because of the same unusual mechanical problem (broken wheel hub) just makes it that much worse.

Ambrose was clearly dejected when his top-10 run was stripped away because of the problem, and it’s hard to blame him. He was third at Phoenix when his engine expired, in the top 10 at Bristol when he was caught up in a wreck and ran out of gas while running eighth on the last lap at Texas.

If lightning is going to strike anyone at Dover, it’s Ambrose.

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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