Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in NASCAR: Talladega Edition

If you wonder if watching a NASCAR race is good for you, then were a lot of good reasons to like what happened in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond: Long green flag runs: Check. Multiple yellows to bunch the field back up: Check. Seeing Smoke back out on the track: Check. An unexpected Earnhardt special on the final lap: Check.

So make Carl Edwards the latest Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win two in a row. It’s not really a surprise that Edwards won a second straight, he’s one of those guys that can get on a winning streak, but just how he won was indeed a surprise. With his teammate Kyle Busch leading going into the last lap, it was Edwards who used the bump and run for the win. Now, to be fair, Busch might have played it a little conservative thinking not only did he have a teammate behind, but that teammate was Edwards, generally considered one of NASCAR’s nice guys. But all the nice guy stuff goes out the window when the checkered flag is involved. Busch seemed to take it all in stride because maybe both he and Edwards know that if the roles were reversed the same thing would probably happen. Well, know we know if the roles are reversed the same thing will definitely happen.

Late last week, Tony Stewart criticized NASCAR for not enforcing teams to put on five lug nuts during pit stops any longer because it could compromise safety. Stewart’s points were good and valid, and really, it was no surprise he brought the issue up. However, what was a surprise is that NASCAR fined Stewart $35,000 for those comments. The messages NASCAR sent with that fine have many layers. Obviously, they don’t want to be criticized, at least in public (that’s from the everything is fine move along school of thought). Then, the other message is that just maybe drivers’ and potentially fans’ safety might not be as big of a priority as NASCAR wants us to believe.  Stewart’s point is that safety matters in all areas.


(Photo: Matthew Thacker / NKP)
Several drivers looked like they had a shot at the trophy at Richmond. (Photo: Matthew Thacker / NKP)

One thing I liked about the Richmond race was the diversity of leaders. For a while it looked like Kurt Busch had the car to beat as he led 55 laps. Then for a little while, Jimmie Johnson held the lead as he led 44 laps. Then it was Edwards who had the best car, as he led 150 laps before that final pass. And at the end, it looked Kyle Busch was going to win as he led 78 laps. Unless it’s your driver, it’s no fun to watch one driver completely dominate a race. It was good to see several drivers look like they had a shot Sunday, even if none of them were my favorite.

Ryan Blaney has been pretty good this for anybody, let alone a rookie, but Sunday just wasn’t his day. Blaney ended up 28th fighting ill handling. This may happen at times for the Blaney and the No. 21 team, especially when it goes to tracks it hasn’t been to regularly for the last few years. Look for Blaney to improve on that finish when NASCAR returns to Richmond in September. He’s a fast learner and despite having an off day Sunday, a fast driver, too.

Yes, it was good to see Tony Stewart out there and competitive again. He was nowhere near the lead, but thanks to the bevy of late yellows he was able to get back on the lead lap and finish 19th. But maybe the best thing was what Stewart said during and after the race: He said it was fun to be back out there again. Imagine that, a professional athlete enjoying what they are doing even though they didn’t win? What a revelation.

Clint Bowyer’s interim campaign in the No. 15 (before he moves to the No. 14 next year) continued with another poor finish Sunday. Bowyer finished 33rd, two laps off the lead. He is now 29th in points and just eight points ahead of 31st-place Regan Smith. It’s true Bowyer is on a smaller team with limited resources, but you have to wonder if the executives at Stewart-Haas Racing are concerned about how he will do as Stewart’s replacement next year.

Prediction: Trying to predict who will win a restrictor plate is pretty much Forrest Gump (see box of chocolates) city here. You just never know what is going to happen. So with Talladega on the schedule I’m going to go with Joey Logano, only because he’s due for a win and it’s too easy to just pick Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The deep sleeper, super underdog, someone you might not think of pick this week is Clint Bowyer (yes, the same Clint Bowyer mentioned earlier in this column) who has three top 10s in his last four races there for an average finish of 11.0.

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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Jay Young

Disagree strongly with your opinion of Carl Edwards “generally considered one of NASCAR’s nice guys” – he is one of the dirtiest drivers on the track today. He has proven record of taking out teammates and being more than overly aggressive to other drivers – when he started at Gibbs he publicly stated “he needed to be a better teammate.” Can’t wait for Kyle to get back at him.

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