Racing Rewind: Indianapolis

Racing Rewind: Indianapolis

RacingOne Rewind: Indianapolis
RacingOne.com

A look back at Tony Stewart's 31st career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in Sunday's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard including news, notes and observations by the RacingOne Staff.

Inside Line

Tony Stewart scored his second win in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and second straight NEXTEL Cup Series victory Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Keys to Victory Lane
Stewart passed Kevin Harvick on lap 151 after a late race battle for the top spot and then cruised to victory lane.

Zero to Hero
On the heels of Toyota's first win in the Busch Series, Dave Blaney started 27th and raced to his first top 10 of the year in his No. 22 Toyota. Clint Bowyer finished 13th after having to start at the rear of the field sue to an engine change. Plus give a call out to Ward Burton who brought home the under funded No. 4 Chevrolet to a 14th-place finish after starting 40th.

Hero to Zero
The Penske Dodge of Ryan Newman and the Evernham Dodge of Kasey Kahne both started inside of the top five and went out early after accidents gave them respective finishes of 42nd and 40th.

Rookie of the Race
From the green flag to the checkered, few drivers (nevermind rookies) could keep pace with Juan Pablo Montoya, who took top rookie of the race honors for the ninth time this season with his runner-up result.

Notables

Matt Kenseth started 31st and finished 10th, plus Martin Truex Jr. battled back from two excessive speed penalties while exiting pits to finish 12th. Dale Jr. also led his first laps (33) at Indy since 2002, but fell out of the race with engine troubles on lap 136.

Pit Stops
* Tony Stewart captured his 31st career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in his 304th start. Detailed Active Driver Wins
* Stewart won the 57th race for car owner Joe Gibbs. Detailed Active Car Owner Wins
* Stewart became the first driver to win at The Brickyard from the 14th position. He also became the 24th driver overall to win a race from that position. Starting Position Facts
* Stewart led seven times for 65 laps. Lap Summary
* Stewart won the 16th race of the season for Chevrolet. It was also the 612th overall win for the manufacturer. All-Time Manufacturer Wins
* Juan Pablo Montoya had his best NEXTEL Cup finish on an oval with his second place result.
* Jeff Gordon extended his lead in the NEXTEL Cup Series championship to 371 points with his third place showing.
* Kyle Busch now has an average finish of 7.33, including his fourth top-10 result Sunday, since it was announced he would not return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
* Reed Sorenson picked up only his third career top-five finish in his 58 race NEXTEL Cup Series career.
* Mark Martin's sixth place result keeps him inside the top 20 in the championship standings despite skipping five races this season.
* Kevin Harvick now has five top-10 finishes in seven visits to IMS.
* Jeff Burton scored only his third top-10 finish at Indianapolis in 14 career starts.
* Dave Blaney recorded Toyota's fourth top-10 finish in NEXTEL Cup competition with his ninth place result.
* Matt Kenseth (10th) was the best finishing Ford driver on Sunday.
* The 160-lap race saw 14 lead changes among six drivers and an average speed of 117.379 mph.
* Nine caution flags were thrown for 43 laps.
* The Allstate 400 at The Brickyard lasted 3 hours, 24 minutes, 28 seconds.

Lug Nuts
* Stewart wins, scores maximum points and then goes and says a bad word in his post-race interview. A point penalty and fine should be waiting for him on Tuesday.
* Changing the noses on the Dodge Charger is not going to solve the problems at Evernham Motorsports. Evernham's week went from bad to worse after his personal life was discussed in the media and then followed by watching all three of his cars crash Sunday.
* Talk about cruise control to victory, Tony Stewart was able to take his hands off the wheel to drink some water while racing down the front stretch with six laps to go.
* Jimmie Johnson sometimes gets cracks on his "perfectly manicured eyebrows" including from Jay Mohr at the awards banquet. But after today's fire they are less than "perfectly manicured." Thankfully he's ok after the fiery crash.
* One Indiana boy was celebrating Sunday but two others - Ryan Newman and Tony Raines - didn't have a very good homecoming weekend.

Garage Talk
* "A little late to be concerned about it now, isn't it? It pretty much is what it is.
      Whatever happens, they still can't take this trophy away from me today. Whatever happens, happens." -Tony Stewart on his language use after his victory
* "Juan, you know, was definitely strong there at the end. Not bad for a rookie (laughter)." -Jeff Gordon on Juan Pablo Montoya’s runner-up finish
* "I went by him so fast on the outside that it got him loose and made him mad. So he said ‘I figured if I was going, I’d take you with me.’ That’s what he said to me. I guess he’s having a bad day. It’s a frustrating sport and neither one of us want to be racing in the race like this today. " -Tony Raines on what Kasey Kahne told him after their incident
* "We continue to beat ourselves. That’s one thing we’ve got to fix." -Brian Vickers
* "It’s disappointing. Twenty-seventh is bad, but it’s not terrible. That was a season worth of pit stops in one race. For that car to run around here and even finish 27th is amazing." -Robby Gordon
* "That was way better than we could do. We had probably a 25th-place car and finished 10th with it, so, somehow, we were able to steal some spots and finish it but we ran just terrible. We’ve got to get our car a lot better." -Matt Kenseth

RacingOne Rating
On a scale of 1 to 10 bricks, we'll give Sunday's Brickyard 400 a solid eight. Too man crashes and caution flags in the early going, but things finally settled down in the second half and a great race unfolded. A thrilling battle for the lead, Montoya's stirring finish and in the end another home state guy scoring a win at the Brickyard. One of the better visits to Indy for the stock car boys. Now it's back to Pocono, believe it or not, for next week's Pennsylvania 500.

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Re: Racing Rewind: Indianapolis

Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Brickyard 400 Race Recap

The Key Moment: With ten laps to go, Tony Stewart muscled his way under Kevin Harvick. The two skirmished for a lap, but Stewart quickly emerged ahead and drove off to an uncontested win.

In a Nutshell: All of the sizzle and none of the steak for the world’s most overhyped sporting event.

Dramatic Moment: There was some good racing with the Top 5 over the final fifteen laps as a clearly irritated Harvick slid backwards.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Fortunately, the Brickyard 400 still pays fairly well, because a profanity uttered live on ESPN’s first Cup broadcast of the season ought to set Stewart back about $50,000 later this week.

OK, was Harvick mad at Stewart after the race or just horsing around? My guess is the latter, and Harvick’s actions don’t merit any penalty. The rub against the No. 20 car left a tire mark, but no major damage, and it did not occur on pit road. If that’s the case…let’s just say I hate seeing all the emotion taken out of stock car racing.

OK, it was ESPN’s first stab at a Cup race in a long while, so no final judgments can be made. What was excellent was the return of Dr. Jerry Punch to the broadcast, Neil Goldberg’s production work, the camera work, and the post-race show, though missing Kevin Harvick’s thoughts was disappointing. Rusty Wallace put in a solid performance calling his first Cup race, and the respectful interchanges between the boys in the booth and in the production center were impressive, even though Andy Petree seemed to have fallen out of the picture by the end of the race. The broadcast also lacked any of the tortured and failed attempts at comedy FOX is known for attempting poorly. What could use some improvement? About everything else. What needs to go? The Draft Track.

How about what ESPN can fix before next week? For starters, the scroll showing the running order belongs on the bottom of the screen. That was an ESPN trademark in the golden era. Also, as silly as it seems, I really missed the familiar old ESPN music used to introduce their NASCAR broadcasts, and that welcomed fans back from commercials. The sound of that song used to bring everyone running from the porch to the couch…please bring it back.

Kyle Petty started his 800th race in NASCAR’s top division, an amazing milestone in a long and storied career. Each year, it seems like there are fewer and fewer fans left who recall when Petty was a legitimate contender for both race wins and championships driving the Mello Yello Pontiac for Felix Sabates Racing (Now Chip Ganassi Racing.) As one of the most forthright and erudite interviews in the garage, this week Petty was asked his take on the recent wave of mergers between Cup teams and what it meant for the sport. Replied Petty, “What it says about the sport is ‘You’re missing the point. It’s not a sport any more; it’s a business.’ It’s moving closer and closer and closer to becoming a total business.” Ouch. Well, you can’t blame Petty for admitting that’s the case, but I for one just wish it wasn’t so.

The relationship between the media and the real stars of the show, the drivers, has never been a rose garden picnic, but some drivers seem about fed up with the scribes. This week, Tony Stewart not only pointedly refused to answer some questions, he let the askers know their questions were incredibly dumb. After finishing second in Saturday’s Busch race, Greg Biffle fulfilled his TV and radio obligations, but decided against visiting the press box as required after the race. Hey, finishing second is frustrating; as the late Dale Earnhardt used to say, that means you’re “first loser.” Hey, I can understand not wanting to verbally dissect what went wrong in detail with a bunch of folks…most of whom have never driven a race car in anger. But NASCAR thinks differently, hinting that there will be penalties for Biffle for his non-compliance. I really don’t think that’s necessary. When a driver cooperates, nice things are written about him and his sponsor’s name gets lots of ink. When a driver doesn’t cooperate, writers point out he can be a bit of a jerk and doesn’t give his sponsor any mentions. That, in turn, upsets the sponsor, who then tells that driver to go and play nice. It’s a self-healing wound that needs no NASCAR intervention.

This is the story, of a man named Bobby, who started four race teams of his own, all of them in financial difficulty, the youngest one shut down. This is the story of a woman named Teresa, absentee mother of three teams of her own, the most noted of her drivers already having found a shocking new home. Until one day this man met this lady and they decided in and of their own, that the two must somehow merge their race teams, and that’s how they became…

Apparently, UPS’s new slogan is “Everyday is race day….except Sunday.”

Let it be noted this weekend that Toyota won their first Busch Series race…and the second Angel of the Apocalypse has blown his trumpet. Woe to those on earth for what soon must follow.

Looking at qualifying results from Saturday and seeing the Chip Ganassi and Penske teams vying for the title made it seem more like May than July. Of course, the newly found Newman/Haas/Yates consortium didn’t match their open wheel results, needing a pair of provisionals just to make the field.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It’s bad enough for the defending champion of the race to wreck twice, but Jimmie Johnson had to bail out of a burning car as well after the second incident. His slump continues.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. looked to have a solid lock on a much needed Top 5 finish when his engine expired late in the race.

Once again, Denny Hamlin lost a potential win in the pits. His crew seemed flustered and unsure what to do next when the car ran out of gas and stalled on pit road, as no attempt was made to push it. Stop by the shop one day this week, guys, and I’ll give you a case of starting fluid.

Ray Evernham saw all three of his cars reduced to scrap during the race. None of them turned enough laps to validate whether the new front end sheetmetal on the Dodges has been his Achilles’ Heel this season; the team was running 2006 versions of the car at Indy.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

A pit road collision could easily have ended Kurt Busch’s day, but he wound up eleventh instead.

Martin Truex, Jr. was running up front prior to a pit road speeding penalty, but still managed a reasonable twelfth place finish.

With the team’s future in question, a very credible fourteenth place finish by Ward Burton helps hope remain alive.

Mark Martin drove to a sixth place finish…without second gear. Hardly anyone noticed.

Worth Noting

His Brickyard victory, coupled with his win at Joliet before the off week, marks the seventh time Stewart has posted back-to-back wins in his career.

The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Dodges, a Toyota (Dave Blaney in ninth), and a Ford (Matt Kenseth in tenth).

Obviously, Juan Pablo Montoya was top rookie of the race, as he scored his best Cup finish on an oval. It was also his first Top 5 on an oval track since Atlanta.

Jeff Gordon scored his eighth consecutive Top 10 finish. He now has Top 10 finishes in fifteen of the last sixteen races, with four wins in those sixteen events.

Kyle Busch has Top 10 finishes in five of the last seven races. That will look good on his resume…

Reed Sorenson scored his best finish since the World 600, the third Top 5 result of his short Cup career.

Mark Martin had his best finish since Las Vegas.

Dave Blaney scored his first Top 10 finish of 2007 and his first such finish since Loudon last Fall.

After a bit of a slump of his own, Jeff Burton now has Top 10 finishes in four of the last five races, as does his teammate Kevin Harvick.

Matt Kenseth scored his fourteenth Top 10 finish in nineteen races this season. Only Jeff Gordon has more Top 10s this year.

Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, and Kasey Kahne all endured their fourth DNFs of 2007.

What’s the Points?

Once again, Jeff Gordon remains atop the standings, opening his gap over second place Denny Hamlin to 371; that’s nearly two full races worth of points. In the meantime, Hamlin’s pit stop from hell dropped him to within six points of third place Matt Kenseth, running 377 behind the top two.

Off the podium, Jeff Burton remains a solid fourth. Behind him, Tony Stewart’s win moves him up a spot to fifth in the standings, dropping Carl Edwards back to sixth. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch advance a spot to seventh and eighth, respectively, while Johnson’s slump drops him two more positions to ninth.

Despite his blown engine, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains twelfth in the standings. But Kurt Busch is now just thirteen points out of the Chase in thirteenth place, and NASCAR and ESPN executives are reaching for jumbo-sized containers of Maalox, considering a scenario with Busch in the Chase and Earnhardt on the outside looking in. Ryan Newman is also closing in on a berth, 59 points behind Earnhardt.

Back behind the Chasers, rookie Juan Pablo Montoya moved up two spots to eighteenth, while Casey Mears fell two spots to nineteenth after getting collected in a wreck.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) We’ll give this one two cans of lukewarm Stroh’s. Racing stock cars at Indy is praying at somebody else’s church; it’s a one groove parade.

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Ten Points to Ponder ... After Indianapolis

1. Stewart Storylines – As expected, Stewart has hit his midsummer stride, winning two straight Cup races and his second Brickyard 400. Stewart-related questions: Will Tony be punished for saying “bullsh*t” in his post-race interview? Just what bullsh*t was he referring to that he thinks his fans have to put up with? Will he continue the trend of six of the past nine Brickyard winners taking the title? And how much will an autographed sweat-soaked Tony Stewart towel go for at auction to benefit his charity foundation?

2. Unhappy Harvick – Kevin Harvick was miffed when Tony Stewart bumped him passing for the lead in the closing laps. Harvick claimed the post-race doughnut he gave Stewart was congratulatory, not retaliatory. Still, Harvick said this: “He’s always the first one to whine about people not giving him enough room. I gave him plenty of room all day to race, and he winds up knocking the left front fender off, and we wound up finishing seventh. It is what it is. Just race them how they race you.” The two drivers are close friends off the track, but will Harvick stand by his veiled threat to move Tony the next time they are battling for a win?

3. 48 Falling – Jimmie Johnson made a quick exit from his burning race car Sunday, suffering singed hairs on his face after cutting a tire and slamming the wall on Lap 62. Johnson finished 39th and fell two more spots in the points to ninth, having been as high as second earlier this season. Although he won four of the year’s first ten races, Johnson has just one Top 5 finish in the past nine events to go along with six finishes of 15th or worse. Are NASCAR’s new, stricter rules regarding the comportment of suspended crew chiefs taking a toll on the No. 48 team?

4. The Angry Minute – Did you see the new feature on the SPEED Report called “The Angry Minute,” featuring a mock-serious debate between NASCAR crew chief Bootie Barker and open wheel analyst Robin Miller? It was very funny! Miller complained that NASCAR’s races should be longer, since he starts watching them at breakfast, and they end by supper instead of a few hours later. Bootie countered that he would like to be an open wheel crew chief, since he’d only be at the track for a few hours a week. This was just one of several issues they traded barbs on. Make sure to catch it next time – you’ll laugh out loud!

5. Kyle’s Milestone – It was a little bit lost in the typical Brickyard overhype, but Sunday marked Kyle Petty’s 800th start in a Cup race. His first start came back in the 1979 Talladega 500, where he finished ninth; in case you’re wondering, dad Richard Petty finished fourth while Darrell Waltrip won the race. Kyle wasn’t as strong this Sunday; he finished 32nd after getting caught up in a multi-car wreck and remains 36th in points. but that didn’t taint a historic day for the Pettys. The milestone puts Kyle sixth on the all-time starts list, behind his dad (1184), Ricky Rudd (895), Dave Marcis (883), Terry Labonte (849), and D.W. (809).

6. Comical Commercials – I got a chuckle out of the new “Stop Team Tylenol” ad, in which several drivers try to figure out what makes the Team Tylenol race cars go so fast. Elliott Sadler holds up a picture of a running jackrabbit and says he thinks the secret is “Rabbit Release,” but he is quickly told that the correct Tylenol phrase is “Rapid Release.” Meanwhile, Michael Waltrip’s new NAPA TV ad has him poking fun at his own misery, reading mail from fans who offer helpful advice like, “Turn 3 is not a school zone.”

7. Battle at the Bottom – Three drivers at or near the 12th-place Chase cutoff struggled at Indy: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 34th, Ryan Newman 42nd, and Jamie McMurray 33rd. Two others in the fray had better outcomes – Kurt Busch, who came in 11th and Greg Biffle, who finished 15th. Junior is currently the final driver above the cutoff, while Busch and Newman swapped spots for 13th and 14th, respectively. Of note: one race ago, the gap between 12th and 16th was 185 points. Now, it is just 128 points.

8. Evaluating ESPN – Would love to hear what you guys thought of ESPN’s broadcast. I am hearing mixed reviews so far – a lot of fans felt that the guys in the booth talked too much and that the cameras did not always show the most important action. Your thoughts?

9. Toyota on Top – It’s worth a mention that Toyota notched its first ever Busch victory on Saturday at ORP, with Jason Leffler behind the wheel beating out Greg Biffle on 50-lap older tires. Toyota also scored a top-10 at the Brickyard Sunday, thanks to Dave Blaney, who finished ninth.

10. TMI – Lastly, a few things under the heading of Too Much Information: Old Spice is not only auctioning off the used Tony Stewart towel, but is also running a tongue-in-cheek commercial about exploring a new media opportunity – posting advertisements on “Tony Stewart’s armpits.” Meanwhile, we learned in the pre-race show that Kevin Harvick’s favorite karaoke song is Madonna’s “Material Girl”. By the way, whatever happened to Kevin Harvick’s “Wax Smoke” campaign?

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Re: Racing Rewind: Indianapolis

Stewart faces possible penalty for live comment
SCENEDAILY.COM

INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Stewart, excited over winning at the track he cherishes more than any other, got a little carried away in his postrace interview. The expletive he uttered could cost him a penalty later this week.

Stewart was celebrating his second win the Allstate 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday when he uttered the obscenity on ESPN. While NASCAR officials would later say they thought there was a network delay protecting the driver, ESPN officials said delays are only used on replays of radio conversations, not live victory lane interviews.

"It was an unfortunate incident that we did not anticipate," said ESPN officials in a statement.

NASCAR officials said they will address the issue at the beginning of the week. Vice President Jim Hunter said there could be a penalty or a loss of points.

He also said that NASCAR would talk to ESPN officials.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was penalized 25 points and $10,000 at Talladega in 2004 for also using a similar term in an interview. Hunter said there's a simple solution to the problem.

"The drivers should clean up their language in my opinion," he said. "There are a lot of young kids who look up to these drivers. I'd prefer they use the English language."

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Re: Racing Rewind: Indianapolis

Who's Hot / Who's Not In Nextel Cup: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard Edition

While Tony Stewart was kissing the bricks at Indianapolis for the second time in three years, some drivers almost kissed their Chase hopes goodbye in the wreckfest that was the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday. In the first 60 laps of the race, a total of 18 drivers had been involved in at least one accident, with defending race winner Jimmie Johnson making the most spectacular exit from Indy. As Johnson ran for cover from his burning car, several other key Chase contenders were in the garage area; namely Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, who were involved in earlier incidents. But what could have been a terrible day for those drivers turned out to be nothing more than a tiny bump in the road when current Chase bubble driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s engine went up in a plume of smoke.

With those Chase drivers fresh on everyone’s mind, which men left Indianapolis able to soak in the majesty of the famous track after putting in a good run…and which ones couldn’t wait to make a beeline for the exit? Read this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not to find out.

Chase Watch
Editor’s Note :
From now until the Chase begins, we’ll take a look at the drivers gunning for a spot in the final 12 and tell you who’s hot and who’s not in their bid to make the playoffs.

Hot: Kurt Busch – Busch was the only one of the drivers on the outside of the Top 12 that was able to take advantage of 12th place Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s troubles at Indy on Sunday. After scoring an 11th place finish, Busch moved up one spot to 13th and is just eight points behind Junior heading into Pocono. With two Top 10s prior to his run at Indianapolis, Busch and the No. 2 team are starting to gel at the right time.

Not: Ryan Newman – Things could have been a lot worse for Newman following his brief stint in the Allstate 400 Sunday at Indy. He started off the day well after qualifying third on Saturday, but things quickly went downhill from there. An ill-handling race car and rising water temps dropped him in the running order, but was nothing compared to what laid ahead. Following hard contact with the wall on lap 21, Newman was done and finished 42nd. The finish dropped him to 14th overall and he lost 29 points to Earnhardt Jr. in the battle for 12th. The No. 12 team has been a bit shaky lately when it comes to putting in good finishes, but remember they were within just half a car length of winning at Pocono last month.

Hot

Jeff Gordon:
He may not have left Indianapolis with his fifth Brickyard win, but his third place finish will help go a long way to helping Gordon record his fifth championship this season. Sunday’s run was his eighth straight Top 10 and series high 13th Top 5 finish of the year. Unlike his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, the loss of crew chief Steve Letarte doesn’t seem to be having an adverse affect. Now with an even larger lead in the standings (371 points), Gordon and Co. return the site of their last win, when they used clever pit strategy to out duel Ryan Newman and the rain to get win number four on the season.

Tony Stewart: If you’re one of the fans that Stewart dedicated his win to on Sunday, you have to be happy about the position your driver finds himself in. Heading into the middle of the summertime, or should it be Stewarttime, stretch of the year; Tony has scored back to back wins for the seventh time in his career and shows no signs of slowing. Currently fifth in the standings, barring any penalty for dropping the “B” word in his post race interview, Stewart is in the thick of the Chase race with just six races remaining before Richmond. The only cause for concern is that in the past this year, Stewart hasn’t been able to get a major streak of Top 10s going without faltering somewhere along the way.

Matt Kenseth: You almost get the idea that Kenseth enjoys quietly laying back, just waiting to make his move at exactly the right time; and he appears to be doing the same this season. Following a tenth place finish at the Brickyard, Kenseth finds himself just seven points out of second place as the Chase draws near. Trips to Michigan and Sonoma last month proved to be stumbling blocks, but nothing that the team hasn’t been able to overcome with four straight Top 10s. Pocono hasn’t been one of his strongest tracks, but he has plenty of cushion in the Chase race if he should break his Top 10 streak this weekend.

Warm

Reed Sorenson:
It’s been a pretty good three weeks for the young driver from Georgia. He rebounded from some pretty rough weeks on the Cup side to score a 12th place finish at Chicagoland and followed it up by winning the Busch Series race at Gateway, his first in almost two years; then came his weekend at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he scored his first career pole, becoming the youngest driver to do so in the track’s stoic history, and followed it up with an impressive fifth place run. The team’s stock is up now, but can he maintain? The last time he finished in the Top 5 (Charlotte), he didn’t gain any momentum at all and his best finish prior to Chicago was 23rd at Michigan.

Martin Truex Jr: Only a blown engine at Chicago has put a serious bump in the Truex Express since winning his first Cup race at Dover eight races ago. Since that win, he has scored four Top 5s and just two finishes outside the Top 15. That streak looked to be in jeopardy early at Indianapolis when a pit road violation put him a lap down, but the team was able to battle back to a 12th place finish on the lead lap. As things stand now, Truex maintains his 11th place spot in the standings and thanks to his teammate’s engine woes; increased the gap between himself and falling out of the Chase to 119 points.

Cool

Jimmie Johnson:
While Jeff Gordon hasn’t missed a step since his crew chief was suspended following Sonoma, the same can’t be said for Johnson. He started off strong, posting Top 10s in the two races immediately after Chad Knaus was sent home, but the last two races have been a different story. For the first time in almost three years, Johnson has posted back to back DNFs and has fallen from third to ninth in the standings since the race at Michigan six weeks ago. All of the blame can’t be put solely on Knaus’ absence either; before he scored Top 10s at Loudon and Daytona, the team went on a four race dry spell with Knaus at the helm. With a 253 point gap between himself and udder disaster, the Lowe’s guys have time to right their ship; but they need to do it sooner than later.

Denny Hamlin: Another case of teammate polar opposites is Hamlin and Stewart. While Stewart has been basking in the spotlight of victory lane, Hamlin has been hiding in the shadows since his win at Loudon four races ago. Everyone knows about the Daytona debacle where the pair knocked each other out and the coach had to be called in for a pep talk (butt chewing) and while Stewart has flourished after that; Hamlin has not. In the two races since, he has finished 17th and 22nd; not contending in either race. He still holds down the second place in the standings, but Gordon is drifting farther and farther ahead and Kenseth is right on his tail. Good thing for Hamlin Pocono is on deck this weekend, if the forecast calls for sunny skies; perhaps the FedEx driver can deliver JGR’s third straight win.

Cold

Brian Vickers:
After a rocky start to the season, Vickers looked to have turned things around at the end of May and into the month of June. He made five straight races and scored Toyota’s first Top 5 finish at Charlotte. But since Michigan, the team has gone back to being hit or miss in the qualifying department and haven’t put up the impressive finishes that many expected might come after the Coca Cola 600. In the last five races he’s failed to qualify for three and has managed a best finish of 21st, which came at Indy on Sunday while fellow Toyota driver Dave Blaney cruised to a Top 10. On the bright side, the team did manage to make it into the Pocono race last month; but they came away with a 35th place finish, which is just a prime example of their inability to get anything consistent going on a regular basis.

Dale Jarrett: Sunday during the broadcast of the Allstate 400 Jarrett got more airtime than he has in his No. 44 UPS Toyota all year long. Jarrett was forced to make his only Brickyard appearance in the broadcast booth after missing his second straight race and his fifth in the last seven races. Even with the recent shuffle in the owner standings, Jarrett and his 13 starts this year are no where near a spot in the Top 35 meaning that the team’s struggles will likely continue well into next season as well. Perhaps Jarrett is auditioning for a new team (ESPN) for next year that won’t be relying so heavily on his past champions’ provisionals.

Next up for the Nextel Cup Series is a return trip to the honeymooners’ paradise of Pocono. Can Tony Stewart keep spreading the love around and make it three straight wins for the first time in his career? Or will Denny Hamlin take three wins of his own, continuing his love affair with the track that he swept last year? Will Jeff Gordon continue his hot streak and steal another Pocono victory to complete the sweep in ’07? Or will another driver be able to woo the testy triangle and score a win? We’ll just have to wait until next week to find out Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Nextel Cup Series.

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