With just one more race to go before the Chase begins, four teams are featured among our hottest half dozen. Tony Stewart leads his own team, Carl Edwards for Jack Roush, and there is Jeff Gordon representing Rick Hendrick. The other three belong to Richard Childress, and all have got hot at about the right time.
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton have long had their place at the table set, and if Clint Bowyer can finish in the Top 30 at Richmond on Saturday night he would join his team-mates in the Chase for the title. Over the past ten events, Bowyer has averaged a 14th place finish. It gets better if you remove the two road courses, which have proven to be his Achilles heel, improving to an average finish of ninth. Simply put, he won’t be caught this weekend unless they force him to make some right hand turns out there.
Usually, the hottest drivers are our leaders, but there are some exceptions. Jamie McMurray is very unlikely to make the Chase, but he has been almost as hot as Bowyer in recent weeks. Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann, and Juan Pablo Montoya have also been among our 12 best, but all are racing for pride and to establish themselves for a run next year.
One driver who is cold as ice, who will make the Chase but who isn’t even among our Top 20 hot drivers, is Denny Hamlin. He might be tied with Jimmie Johnson for the Chase point lead, but since he won his fifth race of the season at Michigan he has finished outside the top twenty in half of the races run since. He could turn out to be the Brian Vickers of 2010, the guy who makes the Chase but does absolutely nothing once he gets there. Mind you, Vickers didn’t go down the toilet until Kansas last year. Hamlin is already swimming around the bowl. He might have as much to prove at Richmond as anybody.
Here is a look at our hottest 20 drivers over the past 10 events.
* Drivers in the Chase ** Drivers with a slim chance of making the Chase
1 (2) Tony Stewart* – 1462 pts – 1 Win, 4 Top Fives, 8 Top Tens
If he ran speedboats, would he be Smoke on the water?
2 (4) Carl Edwards* – 1432 pts – 5 Top Fives, 7 Top Tens
Does a happy Carl mean a nicer Carl?
3 (1) Kevin Harvick* – 1416 pts – 2 Wins, 6 Top Fives, 6 Top Tens
Hates engine gunk and exploding tires.
4 (3) Jeff Gordon* – 1379 pts – 4 Top Fives, 6 Top Tens
The car looked pretty, but ran ugly.
5 (7) Jeff Burton* – 1316 pts – 3 Top Fives, 5 Top Tens
Rarely up front, but he usually can see the front.
6 (9) Clint Bowyer* – 1283 pts – 3 Top Fives, 5 Top Tens
Offered up only his back bumper to those chasing him.
7 (8) Jamie McMurray** – 1266 pts – 1 Win, 3 Top Fives, 4 Top Tens
This year, Daytona and Indy. Next year, the title.
8 (10) Jimmie Johnson* – 1248 pts – 2 Wins, 3 Top Fives, 4 Top Tens
One last mulligan race before it begins again for real.
9 (6) Greg Biffle* – 1245 pts – 1 Win, 3 Top Fives, 6 Top Tens
Put his car back together and pegged himself into a place in the Chase.
10 (5) Kasey Kahne – 1235 pts – 3 Top Fives, 4 Top Tens
Why would he upset a guy who has no neck?
11 (11) David Reutimann – 1231 pts – 1 Win, 2 Top Fives, 2 Top Tens
Literally was at a loss for words at Atlanta.
12 (12) Juan Pablo Montoya – 1229 pts – 1 Win, 1 Top Five, 5 Top Tens
I’m Juan Montoya. You race with me, you racin’ with the best!
13 (17) Ryan Newman** – 1214 pts – 3 Top Tens
Kahne should be thankful on Sunday it was a smilin’ Ryan.
14 (13) Matt Kenseth* – 1206 pts – 1 Top Five, 2 Top Tens
Outside Top 20 only twice this season.
15 (18) Kyle Busch* – 1178 pts – 1 Win, 2 Top Fives, 3 Top Tens
Too fast in the pits, too loose was the wheel, yet 5th was the finish.
16 (14) Kurt Busch* – 1177 pts – 2 Top Fives, 5 Top Tens
Dear Kasey. You are welcome. Kurt.
17 (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr – 1102 pts – 1 Top Five, 2 Top Tens
Good thing he didn’t print up those 2010 Championship t-shirts.
18 (21) Marcos Ambrose – 1096 pts – 1 Top Five, 3 Top Tens
Favorite group is not Men at Work.
19 (20) Mark Martin** – 1093 pts – 1 Top Ten
Cup title will need to come now at the age of 52.
20 (19) A.J. Allmendinger – 1091 pts – 1 Top Five, 2 Top Tens
I wonder if he knows Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia?
22 (15) Denny Hamlin* – 1025 pts – 2 Top Fives, 3 Top Tens
If he gets any colder he’ll need to be wearing mitts.