Variety is the spice of life. 2011 is offering NASCAR fans variety as the season’s seven races have given us six different winners, and none of them named Johnson or Hamlin.
Check out the top ten from Saturday night, and you have something of a snapshot of who’s making noise this side of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne. It may be safe to say many of those top ten drivers at Texas Motor Speedway fit in either the dark horse, or the comeback category.
Race winner Matt Kenseth. 2010’s “King of the Top 15” has been money from Bristol forward, kicking the door down on a 76 race winless streak in the Samsung Mobile 500. With the handle that the Ford teams have on the intermediates, the likes of Kenseth and Edwards may represent the healthiest threat to five time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
How about ol’ Junebug? Here may be the next driver to end a drought, especially with Talladega looming. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 6th in the points and has four top tens on the young season. This combination of Junior with crew chief Steve Letarte seems to recaptured some old magic for the winner of 18 career Cup wins, but only three since 2005.
Who do we have here at 11th in the points? The fifth place finisher at TMS, Paul freakin’ Menard! I’ve been as critical of Menard as the next guy, but he’s silencing the smack talk of being a Cup driver only because of Old Man John’s sponsorship money. Menard’s wealth may have opened some doors, but now with a relevant organization such as Richard Childress Racing, he’s keeping himself on the INSIDE staying in. What you may be looking at inside the 27 car is the next first-time visitor to victory lane.
In some circles, he’s been derided as “Little David Wreckum”; yet lately, David Ragan- the driver of whom Tony Stewart said was a like a “dart without feathers”- seems to be finding his way once again. After barely missing the Chase in 2008, Ragan has been flagging, and the decision to keep the Georgian over Jamie McMurray was roundly criticized. This season, Ken’s boy just missed winning the Daytona 500 and his 7th place finish at Texas gives him two top tens in a row. OK, so it’s not like Kevin Harvick’s two WINS in a row, but these are nice strides the 5th year driver is making.
This is to say nothing of the mini-run Clint Bowyer is on after the mini-slump the 33 team endured to start the season. There’s plenty of good racing ahead with Bowyer smack dab in the middle of what is arguably the best organization in NASCAR right now as three RCR teams sit inside the top 12. With the new Chase qualifiers, Bowyer needs to ratchet up his game, but when the chips are down, Kansas Clint finds a way.
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