Brad Keselowski won and Jeff Gordon appeared late in the running to almost give him some competition. There is nothing very stunning about the major headline for Sunday’s running of the AAA 400. You won’t even be surprised at the finishing order of the rest of the Chasers. The race was, well, kind of everything we expect at this point in the season. Those who have been running in the top 10 still are. If you’ve been napping on the couch instead of watching, you haven’t been missing anything.
Or have we?
The fact is that all we hear about in NASCAR come October has everything to do with the final push to arrive in Miami and who will sit in what order in Las Vegas. But hey, aren’t there still another 15 teams or so that have a tale to tell, beyond the anointed few? Yes, there are. I thought we’d take a moment and visit some of the stories not everybody is talking about, but maybe we should.
Let’s begin with who came in third on Sunday, Mr. Mark Martin, and not so much about the solid performance of the driver, but the car. That No. 55 has continued to shock and surprise all year long. With the ride being split between the ever spry and spunky Martin, the loquacious Michael Waltrip and the returning Brian Vickers, you’d think the car would be mired near the bottom of the standings. But no. The third full-time team for MWR sits very nicely 14th in the owner points, right between the No. 99 and the No. 18 – two teams that arguably should have made it into the Chase this year.
Two years ago, Micheal Waltrip Racing appeared as a struggling start-up that enjoyed more spotlight than it had earned due to the glib tongue of its owner. However, in 2012 few can argue that the team hasn’t earned its spot in the top-tier of the sport. With both the No. 56 and No. 15 in the Chase, and the third car easily staying abreast of the competition manned with nothing more than a mish-mash of drivers, something magical appears to be happening over there. Keep an eye on Mikey and Co. for 2013.
Next on our list is Carl Edwards. His No. 99 finished a respectable fifth on Sunday, after spending the day fighting to remain on that exclusive lead lap. Not too bad. But perhaps the daylong struggle is also indicative of his entire season. Coming off his this-close run for the Cup in 2011, it seemed like the Fastenal car had missed its fertilizer in the spring. 2012 has been nothing but a string of disasters and outright scrambles all year long.
Yes, Edwards should have made it into the Chase, if for no other reason than he’s got Roush’s rock solid support beneath him. But, as so often noted throughout the years, things don’t always work perfectly well for Jack’s Fords. Something snaps, and then it starts to crumble. And so it goes.
Fifth was nice for one day. I’m afraid that’s all Edwards will get this year, and maybe next. There’s a new chosen son arriving next year, and the No. 99 may not get all the great equipment he’s had in the past.
Who’s the new guy on the Roush block? Oh, he ran on Sunday, and didn’t do too poorly for a rookie appearance. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed his day with a solid 12th-place finish. Yes, three laps down, but let’s not get too picky with only six cars managing all 400. There’s a list of Chasers who didn’t do so well on the day, so it’s safe to say even after Matt Kenseth‘s No. 17 crumbling, it isn’t all bad news for the Roushketeers. Stenhouse may very well inherit all he needs to take the Cup Series by storm next year. Maybe they’re already moving the good stuff to his garage.
And finally, we’ll take a look at one driver who really ought to have earned a Cup by now, but hasn’t. Kyle Busch missed out on the gas mileage this week. His No. 18 had it all, riding down on the bottom nice and tight and keeping its tail straight coming out of the turns. In fact, even if JJ Yeley‘s tire hadn’t exploded early in the day, it’s doubtful there would have been more than 10 other cars capable of staying on the same lap with Kyle. His car was that good. He’s that good. But like his entire career, Sunday was just another example of almost.
Whether he can’t close the Big Deal due to a lack of machine under his butt or simply because he outdrives the track, the fact remains that the younger Busch still has not managed to pull everything together required to take home the Cup. 2012 has seen far fewer fireworks coming from this Gibbs driver. Is keeping his cool what steals the fire from his pedal? It makes you go, “Hmmm.”
Four drivers. Four tales. And all of them from farther down the chart than the Top 12. See? It can be done. And it wasn’t even that hard.
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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