Best damn finishes ever. Well, for two of the four events to date, that has been the headline for NASCAR in 2016. Daytona and Phoenix were decided by gaps measurable with a ruler, and that has to be a good thing. Hell, a great thing. That said, just how exciting has the visual been, what you and I see on the television prior to the final few laps? Pushing the fast forward button at Daytona was difficult, but it always is. As for the rest, the temptation has been there to quicken the action, if only for a few round and round laps.
Kevin Harvick won last week by a hair over Carl Edwards. That was a good story. Rumblings that Harvick might bolt Stewart-Haas Racing when it abandons Chevrolet for Ford might be a better one. Oh, no, it is not going to happen, if you listened to the driver at Daytona. Funny, that was the same line Tony Stewart gave before he dashed away from Joe Gibbs when they went with Toyota. Mind you, this is different. For example, we are not hearing anything about anyone about to place Harvick’s name on the wall as a name partner any time soon, but the point is that today’s promise could always wind up broken.
A piece by Beyond the Flag’s Christopher Olmstead does make one ponder, with sponsor deals with Busch Beer and Jimmy Johns coming to an end after this season and only an option of keeping Harvick for a season longer if push comes to shove. If he bails, some figure he could replace Kasey Kahne in the Rick Hendrick stable. Makes some sense. Still, there is a good chance that where there is Smoke there shall also be Harvick. Rumors can be fun, at least for the gossipers if not so much for the principles involved. Did we not once think a certain Hendrick driver would actually wind up driving for Richard Childress in a car his dad made famous? Nice story, different ending. It could be the same with this one.
Here is hoping the racing at Fontana proves entertaining from start to middle, as well as the finish. Even more entertaining than any rumors. No doubt, a few of the drivers among our Hot 20 will be front and center this weekend, as Jimmy Johns might be replaced by Jimmie Johnson as Sunday’s center of attention. Now, why am I yearning for a sandwich about now?
1. KEVIN HARVICK – 1 WIN – 154 PTS
In the words of Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, he is once again back up where he belongs.
2. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 1 WIN – 140 PTS
Expect no less than a Top Ten, as long as he has something more than vice-grips to steer with.
3. DENNY HAMLIN – 1 WIN – 131 PTS
Last week he did not have a great performance, yet finished third. Sometimes okay is enough.
4. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 1 WIN – 110 PTS
Needed a bus at Phoenix, as everyone knows its wheels go round and round, not kaboom!
5. KYLE BUSCH – 154 PTS
3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th kind of works as he goes forth.
6. KURT BUSCH – 137 PTS
At least, we have one Busch who knows why Big Leaguers do not regularly play Little League.
7. CARL EDWARDS – 136 PTS
Carl mattered in Phoenix, he will matter at Fontana.
8. JOEY LOGANO – 127 PTS
Life lesson #22: Gas and go…but get all the gas you can before you go.
9. AUSTIN DILLON – 122 PTS
A new generation is making its presence felt…but where are Newman and Menard?
10. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 117 PTS
A new manufacturer, trouble in inspection, a race without his crew chief…and all is well?
11. DALE EARNHARDT JR. – 115 PTS
Would be much, much higher if Daytona had not been so much a disappointment.
12. RYAN BLANEY – 104 PTS
Some fly charter, some fly coach, and for some, it just does not matter.
13. ARIC ALMIROLA – 100 PTS
No matter where he goes to bed at night he always remains Almirola by morning.
14. KASEY KAHNE – 96 PTS
Beaten up by a loose air cooling hose in the car, finally beaten by a tire issue outside it.
15. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 94 PTS
Has never enjoyed a Top Ten season. Even in 2010 (Daytona 500/Brickyard) he finished 14th.
16. MATT KENSETH – 90 PTS
Relevant in every race, but just has had trouble before the end of every race…except for last week.
17. KYLE LARSON – 85 PTS
Not yet a Top 15 driver. Not yet.
18. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 83 PTS
Even after the disaster that was Phoenix, he still is the best performer Roush-Fenway has.
19. GREG BIFFLE – 76 PTS
A mean handling car meant another long day for the Biff.
20. A.J. ALLMENDINGER – 75 PTS
Average finish of 20th does not cut it, but it beats Trevor, Chase, Danica, Ryan, Paul, Clint…