Column: Points, Pit Road, Stenhouse, and Kurt

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In this column I take a look at the points situation in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to let you know who will be battling for the title in Homestead. Pit road cost a bunch of teams on Sunday, why was that? Rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. impressed many on Sunday and might have clinched the Rookie of the Year title. And finally could there be trouble brewing between two pseudo teammates who will be teammates for real next season?

With only four races remaining in the Chase there are five drivers still mathematically alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jimmie Johnson leads the points by four over Matt Kenseth, 26 over Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon continues to linger behind by 34 points. Arguments can be made that all five could be in it until the end, but my gut and odds are pointing towards Johnson and Kenseth being the two title contenders. Take Talladega out of it and the duo have been too consistent for anyone else to gain on them. After Martinsville I figure one to two more will drop out of range, and it’ll be a matter of time before it’s mathematically down to Johnson and Kenseth.

Pit road was brutal for a handful of drivers on Sunday. Kyle Busch missed his pit stall on his first stop, which resulted in coming back down pit road and going down a lap. He was the only driver who overcame the issue as he got a caution to get caught back up. Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, and Danica Patrick each got speeding penalties that ruined their days. Patrick was running in the top-10 most of the day before her gaffe on pit road. Without any cautions the second half of the race, until the last lap, no one could gain their lost lap back. Normally it might have been an issue, but with such a clean race, all three will have to think about what could have been.

While most might say Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s great run was trashed by perceived contact with Austin Dillon to end the race, I say that doesn’t matter. Replay shows Stenhosue didn’t touch Dillon’s Chevrolet, instead it was the air movement that got him loose. I was very impressed on how Stenhouse handled himself all day working from the back to the front and vice versa with the poise of a veteran. And he had the respect of the field too, because no one left him out to dry, everyone worked with him. It’ll be hard for him to not win Rookie of the Year this season and he’s building a lot of momentum to bring into 2014. I think our cars are getting better, and everybody at the shop is all hands on, just trying to make our season the best it can be here at the end.  We struggled throughout the first half of the season, definitely more than I thought we should or definitely more than we wanted to.  We’ve learned a lot.  I think we’re getting better as a team, and I’m learning a little bit more about what we need to do from practice to the race to make our car still fast throughout the race,” commented Stenhouse after the race.

With two laps to go, Kurt Busch decided he would step out of line on the high side and help out Kevin Harvick. The move proved disastrous because as soon as Busch moved low, Harvick moved back high. Busch was left to out to dry. Listening to his radio, Busch seemed shocked that Harvick did that, dropping some F bombs. For this season Harvick and Busch are pseudo teammates, with Furniture Row Racing (Busch) and Richard Childress Racing (Harvick) working together with a technical alliance. Next season both will be on the same team, Stewart-Haas Racing, and it’ll be interesting to see if this creates a rift to start the season. “Restrictor plate racing is all about being in the right place at the right time,” said Busch, who led twice for three laps. “We were in the right place for the majority of the race, but when it counted at the end we weren’t there. I tried to make something happen, but couldn’t get there.”

Side note, I was hoping Busch’s Wonder Bread car would have been painted more like Ricky Bobby’s from Talladega Nights, but you can’t win them all.