Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: 2015 Duck Commander 500 at Texas Edition

Burnouts (Hot)

Since the Sprint Cup series was off this past weekend due to the holidays, it’s just a little more difficult to tell who is hot and who is not. Maybe it should be who hasn’t cooled off after Martinsville.

One driver that will continue to be on the favorites list each week is Kevin Harvick. And one way to tell just how good a team or driver has been is how they define a bad day. So, when Harvick finished eighth at Martinsville, it seemed like a bit of an off day for him. Most teams would be pretty happy with a top-10 finish, let alone thinking they were a little off to finish there. So here’s to Harvick and his No. 4 team that has easily been the class of the field after the first six races of the season and will continue to be a weekly favorite.

Something else that has happened in the first three races involving Harvick is that he, along with Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. are the only three drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first six races. That puts them in pretty elite company. And while it’s not a complete surprise that Logano and Harvick have accomplished this, that Truex has done it is a surprise. Along with being a single car team, the Furniture Row group has also been a lap down more than once in the early going and fought back to not only get on the lead lap, but to be competitive on a variety of tracks. Harvick has been impressive, for sure, but that has to be at least somewhat expected from the defending champion. But I would say that so far, Truex and the No. 78 team, given its circumstances, has done the most with its resources in 2015.

Lastly, and I would say mostly for this category, one of the reminders I get when attending a NASCAR race like I did at Martinsville, is that the fans at these races are just tremendously good people. While attending other professional sporting events, it’s true that most are good-natured and just looking to have some fun – say 95% of them. In NASCAR, I would put the percentage up to 99%. Since Martinsville was part of a road trip for me, I didn’t get to pack my usual cooler with lunch etc. So, when a fan next to us had some extra bottles of water and noticed I looked a little thirsty, he offered and I accepted. Just an example of why NASCAR fans are the best.

Tire Rubs (Warm)

It’s true that Denny Hamlin won at Martinsville to give him and especially Toyota a much-needed victory. But it was just one race on a short track. So one of the things to watch this week at Texas is if Toyota can make gains on a high-speed track or not. Sure, the No. 11 team isn’t going to give the win at Martinsville back, but they need just a little more proof before moving up to the top category here.

This is for both the Danica Patrick lovers and haters. And just how can that be? Just purely for fun, it’s worth nothing that if the Chase for the Championship started this weekend, Danica, who is sitting 15th in points, would be in the Chase. Take that for what it’s worth. I was never a Danica lover or hater until people said there was no way she could win. I don’t know if she can or not, but it’s easy to pull for someone to do something that many say they cannot do. It’s as simple as that.

In the Cooler (Cool)

Sure, it would have been great for Jeff Gordon’s final full season in Sprint Cup competition to start off like a dream and continue on. But it’s been anything but that. He’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time a couple of times. And then he was in position to challenge for the win at Martinsville and got caught speeding on pit road on what turned out to be the final pit stop, putting him at the back of the pack. While the No. 24 has been fast most of the weeks, it hasn’t translated into success in the final finishes. Most likely, though, it’s just a matter of time before Gordon ends up in Victory Lane this year.

Kyle Larson has been off to a slow start on the track, but when he passed out at an autograph session at Martinsville the Saturday before the race, he wasn’t cleared in time to race on Sunday. It’s true the expectations were high for Larson as well coming into the season. Now he sits 23rd in the points and has yet to lead a lap or even sniff victory this season. Thankfully, Larson is healthy and ready to go for Texas. So maybe that will be the place where he turns things around.

Parked in the Pits (Cold)

One of the rules that NASCAR is pretty explicit about is for teams to not mess with tires. While the NASCAR rules do provide some gray area in many cases, the tire rules are pretty cut and dry. So, it was no surprise that the No. 31 team, which has run well for much of the season, lost 75 points when it was found to have violated the tire preparation rules. To go from sixth to 26th in points, especially for a team that did not win last year, is a pretty big hit. It will be interesting to see how the team reacts on the track starting this weekend.

Lastly, and even a little sadly, it’s a shame to see what was once one of NASCAR’s premier teams floundering to find something positive each weekend in Sprint Cup competition. The top points scorer for Roush Fenway Racing so far this season has been Greg Biffle, which is not a surprise. What is a surprise is that he is only 20th in points, ahead of Trevor Bayne in 25th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 28th. In the days that Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were regular front runners, it would have been hard to believe that the Roush organization would be capable of falling on such difficult times.

About the author

Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.

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