Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: Las Vegas Edition

Now that we are two races into the NASCAR season, we can’t say something is a trend, but what we can say is that it after two races the drivers who are off to good starts aren’t going to give them back. And the drivers who are off to slow starts don’t like where they are at.

Burnouts (Hot)

We can’t really be surprised that Jimmie Johnson won, can we? The No. 48 team and its driver are capable of winning anywhere, any time. You have to wonder if the new rules that put some of the control back to the driver will help Six-Time even more. It’s not like the No. 48 team needs a lot of help. The team has all the resources and talent it needs to win a championship again no matter what the rules package. The fact the Johnson has won this early in the season might be bad news for the rest of his Sprint Cup competitors.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson made winning in Atlanta look easy. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

It’s true that Kevin Harvick hasn’t won in the first two races, but he very easily could have with two second place finishes. That just means he and crew chief Rodney Childers are very good again with the No. 4. And really, it’s just a matter of time before the wins start coming again for the defending champion. He has nothing to be ashamed of after leading 116 laps Sunday. The one thing to take note of here too, is that if you thought this team was going to relax on the heels of winning the title, well, that’s just not going to happen.

And it’s true too that Joey Logano could have easily won the first two races. He contended for the win Sunday after starting on the pole and led 84 laps before finishing fourth. He doesn’t need a cool nickname anymore to get attention. He’s simply one of the very best out there right now.

Tire Rubs (Warm)

He almost makes the hot list, but the fact he hasn’t made the top 2 yet keeps Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just a notch below. So, you could actually say he’s on the very warm list. But still, Junior is one of the four drivers to finish in the top five in the first two races. And, you’ve got to give him some post race day credit for putting a picture of himself in his dad’s rookie firesuit online.

You have to give a little credit here to Brett Moffitt, who was filling in for Brian Vickers in a one-race deal Sunday. He stayed out of trouble, stayed on the lead lap throughout the day and then wound up with an eighth-place finish. Even though it was just one race, it should bode well for Moffitt to get a ride in the future. He took good equipment, didn’t tear it up, and ran respectable all day.

Martin Truex, Jr. drives for a single-car team and has shown plenty of power in the first two races. He has two top 10 finishes in the first two races which may not be a big deal to some teams, but there are certainly a lot of teams who would love to have those finishes now. Truex is one of five drivers to have two top 10 finishes in the first two races. It will be interesting to see if he can keep that streak going at Las Vegas this week.

Credit: CIA Stock Photography
Martin Truex, Jr. is having a solid start to 2015. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

In The Cooler (Cool)

Kyle Larson had plenty of hype coming off of his Rookie of the Year season. And yes, I’m guilty of producing some of that hype. The question remains not a matter of if he is going to win, but when he is going to win. But after these first two races of 2015, he’s been nowhere near victory. Larson sits 29th in points right now and you know better days are ahead for him. However, after coming up with some impressive finishes in the final 10 races last year, you know this is not the way he or his team wanted to start the 2015 season.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. still has that mullet look. I’m don’t remember exactly where he finished after he crashed out Sunday, but during his post-race interview all I could think was that he’s really got to get that thing cut. His results this year have been very poor business up front, leaving him with no reason to party in the back.

Parked In The Pits (Cold)

This was supposed to be a Cinderella type of season for Jeff Gordon as he announced this will be his last year running full-time in Sprint Cup. But he’s 2-for-2 in a bad way, crashing out at both Daytona and Atlanta Sunday. Certainly, you have to think things will turn around for one of the sport’s all-time greats. But after winning the pole at Daytona, his luck has been nothing but bad.

Another former champion who many (including me) thought would come out of the gate looking strong but has been anything but  is Tony Stewart. After crashing out at Daytona, then getting caught up in another late-race crash that damaged his car Sunday, Stewart sits 35th in points. It is certainly early as there are 24 more of these things left before the Chase starts, but the fact that Stewart was not competitive at Atlanta, one of his better tracks historically, just isn’t a good sign. I will be one of the first to hope he gets things going in the right direction this week, but I sadly have to admit it will be a surprise if he does.

And, oh yes, we found out the hard way (or rather Gordon did) that Atlanta has part of an inside wall that is not protected by SAFER barriers. So after the first two races, the tracks are batting 0-for-2 when it comes to having all available safety features installed. Luckily Gordon’s hit against the concrete wall wasn’t as nearly as damaging as Kyle Busch’s at Daytona last week, but how long are these tracks going to tempt fate?

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