Hamlin obviously on top of Pocono after season sweep
A lot of story lines out of Pocono, but Denny Hamlin sweeping the two events there this season stands out.
Hamlin did what you are supposed to do. Whenever a driver goes to a race and starts on the pole and dominates the spring race like he did at Pocono, you really expect to be able to come back with the same car and do it again. A lot of times it doesn't happen, but this time it did.
Hamlin started on the pole for the second time in as many races at Pocono and dominated the field. That was one of the first times I've seen a car be that consistent from race to race at the same track. Usually at Pocono, the first and second races are different because they are run at different times of the year. One race is really cool and the other is really hot, but this time they had a lot of rain and the track had a lot of grip. It was a different track condition than what we are accustomed to in the July race. Hamlin did exactly what the textbook says should happen: If you are that fast the first race then you should be that fast in the second race. And Hamlin was.
What happened behind Hamlin on Lap 32 made a lot of news, too.
Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer had an altercation and took Carl Edwards out of contention.
I watched that wreck several times. Stewart came off Turn 3 on the outside of the track with Bowyer right alongside him pretty hard, but he wasn't hitting him, but was really up tight against Stewart. When you have a car on the inside of you pushing that much air, one of two things will happen to the outside car: you will lose either the front end or the rear end. Basically it makes the car really unstable when you get that close to a car coming off a flat corner like Turn 3 at Pocono.
Bowyer really forced Tony up against the wall and he bounced off it. When Stewart bounced off the wall he got really mad and turned and bumped Bowyer. Bowyer swung away from Stewart but didn't see Edwards trying to go three wide on the inside. Bowyer took himself and Edwards out when he swerved away from Stewart.
It's not that Stewart knocked Bowyer into Edwards, you have to go back to the first thing that happened. Stewart was forced into the wall and when he hit the wall that made him mad. He took a swipe at Bowyer -- which he shouldn't have done -- because he was really mad.
Edwards is mad because he crashed and he retaliates against Stewart really when Stewart never even touched him. It was a chain reaction and the whole thing started when Bowyer ran Stewart up into the wall. Trust me, Tony Stewart isn't going to come off Turn 3 and drive into the wall and run into it all by himself.
If I was Stewart, I wouldn't have been so frustrated to flip Bowyer off, but I would have been upset. I don't think it's fair to lay 100 percent of the blame on Tony because he's the one who got stuck in the wall. I would put 70 percent of the blame on Bowyer for running Tony into the wall and 30 percent on Tony for retaliating, and Edwards should have just stayed out of it because he was just a victim of a bad circumstance.
Race for the Chase, or next season?
At this point, drivers just on the outside of the Chase aren't even thinking about next season. The drivers thinking about next season are the ones who are completely out of the Chase. The drivers who still have a legitimate shot, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Edwards and a few others, are thinking about getting in the Chase. And the drivers currently in the top 10 are just thinking about staying in the Chase.
The one I like to make the Chase who is currently outside the top 10 is Earnhardt. He really runs well at Richmond and that's the last race before the Chase. He has a good shot at getting back into the top 10. I also like Greg Biffle, who is 44 points out of 10th place. Kurt Busch mathematically still has a shot, but right now he needs the three drivers in front of him (Stewart, Earnhardt Jr. and Biffle) all to have problems, and all year long they haven't been having many problems.
Surprises so far
The most surprising team, as far as performance, has been Jeff Burton and the No. 31 car. He's the Jeff Burton of old. For a while he was confused and lost, but now he's with Richard Childress Racing and his marketing team has signed a lot of new sponsors which has enabled Childress to spend a lot of money on research and development. And Burton has really had a resurgence in his driving. I spoke with Childress the other day, and he said if he could test every day, you would never get Burton out of his car. He's really into his car and the setup and is a renewed driver.
My disappointment for the year, although I know they will turn it around, is Robert Yates Racing. Sometimes you really have to get down to get back up. Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler have decided to leave, enticed by bigger money. Sometimes you really have to be down to know what you are doing wrong, and that's where Yates is.
Robert invited me to his engine shop because I had heard how beautiful it was. After you look at his engine shop, you will never understand how anyone can possibly compete with him, because it is such a well-oiled machine.
Robert is going to go out and hire some great engineers and align himself with better people and get some drivers who are really hungry. He's not giving up and is on a mission to get everything right. I wouldn't want to be in his line of fire right now, because he's really going to get it running.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at rustywallace.com.
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