1) For those concerned about a Joe Gibbs Racing slump, I say fear not. No, things haven’t been so good for the last month or so. After winning 5 of 10 races starting with Martinsville and ending at Michigan, Denny Hamlin has averaged a 20th place finish for the last four events. Kyle Busch had a streak of 8 straight top 10s, including two wins, heading to Michigan, but he’s been around a 25th place finisher in the five races since then.
You could put it down to “peaking too early,” but I think it’s more likely that JGR is trying stuff to get ready for the Chase—heck, Denny said as much at New Hampshire.
I’ve long thought that one of the advantages Jimmie Johnson enjoyed was a willingness to go a little farther out of the box during the regular season in order to have maximum preparation for the Chase. His team knew if they ever started to slip into the danger zone, they could go back to the tried and true to make sure they got into the playoffs. I think that’s what Denny and Kyle are doing right now.
Bonus points are nice, but they don’t beat speed in the final 10. Maybe teams are starting to figure out you’ve got to rest your starters a little bit for the playoffs instead of trying to go all out for a regular-season title.
2) Fans see Mark Martin as a nice guy—and they should—but they often miss his tenacious side. That was on full-display when he raced Juan Montoya so hard at the end of the Chicagoland race Montoya said Martin needed “driving lessons.” Montoya also said “I don’t understand” why Martin ran him so hard.
My buddy former Cup driver Rick Mast, who started racing against Mark in the late '80s, wasn’t surprised. He told me for Wednesday’s Rowdy.com podcast that when it came time to pay the money and the points at the end of the race “there was never anybody any tougher. I’m talking Earnhardt, Darrell, or anybody. He won’t cheap shot you. He won’t wreck you. But he’s not the Mark Martin you deal with for 99 percent of that race. That last percent of that race, that’s a whole different animal sitting in that race car.”
You also have to look at Martin’s precarious position in the points. Right now he’s 37 points outside of the Chase, and it looks as though he’ll be fighting for his playoff life all the way to Richmond. Every position matters a lot to Martin, and he’s going to keep racing that way in the final laps—just like he always has.
That break-up was met with Loomis’s “wait!” when he said “Elliott is among three or four drivers who is on the table we're looking at” for 2011—especially if reuniting with crew chief Todd Parrott pays any appreciable dividends.
I sympathize with Sadler because, honestly, who needs all the uncertainty in his life? But rationally he shouldn’t close the door on a return to RPM. The situation reminds me a little bit of the position Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress found themselves in last season. Harvick all but said he was on his way out, but Childress stayed calm and kept the door open. It’s less likely that Sadler will stay with RPM, but I really hope he’s not on his way out of Cup.
4) NASCAR needs to be very very careful if and when they tinker with the Chase. There’s a balance between setting up a system to deliver excitement and making sure that a legitimate Champion is crowned. The Chase, as currently formatted, requires that a driver outrun a strong field of contenders for 10 races. That is certainly a legitimate benchmark of a champion. But if we start cutting the Chase up into “mini-Chases” of 2 or 3 races we may be getting into candyland.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Bass Masters and Buzz Cutler are co-hosts of Rowdy.com. For the best NASCAR community on the internet go to Rowdy.com.
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