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Who’s Hot / Who’s Not

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Chicago/New Hampshire Edition

Jimmie Johnson made it clear in the mid-part of 2012 that he would be the driver to beat in the Chase because of his consistency. From the May 12 race at Darlington to the June 30 race at Kentucky — a seven-race span — Johnson won twice while finishing inside the top six all but once. The only other driver that displayed consistency even remotely matching that this season is Brad Keselowski. What Keselowski has done might even be more impressive. Nobody has scored more points in the last 11 races; during that span, Keselowski has two wins, seven top 5s and 10 top 10s.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Richmond/Chicago Edition

Jeff Gordon climbed from his car and raised his fists in the air after 400 miles at Richmond. Never has someone been so excited to finish second (At least, not since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 at Atlanta). Clint Bowyer’s victory was an afterthought and so was the performance of nearly every other driver besides Kyle Busch. However, Gordon wasn’t the only to driver to exit his car at Richmond after a top-five finish to breathe a sigh of relief. After a four-race slide in which Tony Stewart nearly fell out of the top 10 in points, he finally stopped the bleeding at Richmond.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Atlanta/Richmond Edition

In his post-race interview after blowing an engine at Atlanta, Carl Edwards said all he could do to get in the Chase was win at Richmond on Saturday and hope for a miracle. The reality is, unless Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch get involved in a melee from Talladega Nights, Edwards isn’t going to make the playoffs. With three superstar drivers looking at the Chase from outside at the beginning of the summer, it was pretty clear that Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Edwards weren’t all going to claw their way back in. After engine problems at Atlanta, Edwards has one nail left on the claw and is hanging from a ledge.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Bristol/Atlanta Edition

Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart’s seasons have almost mirrored each other. Both drivers entered Bristol with multiple victories in seasons that have been more up and down then Kurt Busch’s rear deck lid. Hamlin and Stewart entered Bristol in The Chase, but they knew what was on the line Saturday night. Kasey Kahne has been steadily closing on the drivers in the top 10 and neither Hamlin nor Stewart wanted to be the driver to drop into a wild card slot and forfeit his team’s wins.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not: Michigan/Bristol Edition

With drivers the caliber of Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman fighting for the final wild card spot, many fans expected them all to get hot and combine to win a bunch of races before the Chase. I was one of them. I guess I forgot why these teams were fighting for the second wild card spot in the first place: they haven’t been very good. Gordon earned a win (earned might not be the right word), and Newman has put together some decent runs, but with the sense of urgency high with only three races until the Chase, it doesn’t really seem like anyone wants the spot.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Watkins Glen/Michigan Edition

The ending to Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen wasn't like anything I’d ever seen before. It brought back memories of my favorite video game as a kid — Super Mario Kart for Super Nintendo. The ending was so chaotic it didn’t seem real. Kyle Busch had the win and the second wild card spot locked up when he began slipping in oil during the final two laps, allowing Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose to close in. Keselowski spun Busch in the esses (green shell) and along with Ambrose, drove through the grass in the bus stop (shortcut).

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Pocono/Watkins Glen Edition

It could be argued that Jeff Gordon deserved to be in Victory Lane several times in 2012, but Sunday wasn’t one of them. When Jimmie Johnson’s car broke loose because of a flat tire on a late restart and a wreck ensued, Gordon just happened to be the first car to make it through the smoke and was awarded the win when the skies opened up minutes later. It was a lot of luck for a driver who hadn’t had any luck at all before Sunday. From flat tires, to accidents, to blown engines, the first half of the season had it all for the No. 24 team. As Gordon said in Victory Lane, “I think this is the one that makes up for all the ones that have gotten away.”

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Indianapolis/Pocono Edition

Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson may have been the two latest Hendrick Motorsports drivers to visit Victory Lane, but make no mistake about it, the spotlight is going to be on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this week. For the first time since September, 2004 Junior will head to the next event as the Sprint Cup points leader. And while media coverage and interviews are nothing new to Earnhardt Jr., both are going to be ramped up this week.

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Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: New Hampshire – Indy Edition

Kasey Kahne’s victory at New Hampshire sure shook up the wild card race. Kahne basically assured himself a spot in the playoffs, while he put other drivers who were looking good heading into the weekend on less solid ground. Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon are those drivers on thin ice. Newman and Logano have a very slim chance of winning another race before The Chase, and Gordon’s chances of winning twice also seem unlikely.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in NASCAR: Daytona/New Hampshire Edition

For drivers, superspeedways can be the ultimate momentum killers because often they can’t control their own destinies like they can at other tracks. Jimmie Johnson is the perfect example. Johnson had reeled off five straight finishes of sixth or better heading into Saturday’s race at Daytona and was one of the hottest drivers in the series. He was an afterthought by race end.

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