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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

3 Drivers that liked Bristol more than hated it...

A lot of drivers suffered poor finishes at Bristol. Crashes, flat tires, pit road problems and parts failures contributed to only 15 cars on the lead lap. For a few drivers, Bristol was a dose of medicine that hopefully helps redirect their seasons.

Jeff Green-Green finished 2006 on an upswing. He scored his only two top tens of the year during the Chase. His old, new crew chief Harold Holly helped Green to run more competitively as the season closed. It was a sign of hope for He ran well at Daytona before catching Jimmie Johnson’s spinning car, leaving him 36th. His first four races produced finishes of 36th, 30th, 25th, and 35th. The poor start pushed Green to the brink of guaranteed status. A sixth place finish at Bristol moved him to 28th place. At worst this buys more time in the starting field. Green will obviously hope it is the start of something larger. Teammate Johnny Sauter is also inside the top 35, making for a successful expansion for the company. Haas CNC Racing can use some good news. Owner Gene Haas is battling fraud charges (and people call Teresa Earnhardt a deadbeat owner), and the team hasn’t been competitive at the Cup level in years. Now Green heads to Martinsville where he finished 8th last fall.

Casey Mears-If you needed another example of how difficult it is to jump into a new ride and find immediate success, check out Mears. Just like his former teammate Jamie McMurray he left Ganassi to join a seemingly better situation. So far the results have been middling. Darian Grubb is a brand new crew chief and it will take time for the #25 car to find consistency. There is some hope, however. Mears scored his first top ten at Bristol and Brian Vickers had excellent cars at Texas and Talladega, two races on the horizon.

Brian Vickers-After he crashed last week at Atlanta, Vickers made his third race of the season. Cameras barely captured his car during the race, but he did finish a strong 15th. Consider he also suffered burns on his feet and rear, not to mention carbon monoxide inhalation. Despite missing two races, Vickers is still the strongest Toyota driver. He had a top ten at California, led the first Camry laps at Atlanta and now sits 38th in points. Doug Richert is one of the top crew chiefs in Cup and the two should only improve their communication and chemistry as the season progresses. Toyota is also working very hard to improve their cars which should grant Vickers more consistency.

Notes:
-Looking at the Martinsville entry lists, it’s surprising more Cup drivers did not enter the Truck race. Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Mike Bliss and Ken Schrader are the only drivers entering both events. The trucks have many characteristics in common with the Car of Tomorrow. Obviously young drivers like Allmendinger and Menard need experience at Martinsville, not to mention the new car. With so many teams trying to get a handle on the new car, why not take the opportunity to see what translates from trucks to the CoT?

-The Chase is months away. The most interesting battle right now is the top 35 battle. 100 points separate 35th from 43rd. Every full-time team has now made at least one race. Even more tenuous are the seven teams barely on the good side of 35. 29th place Reed Sorenson is only 74 points ahead of 36th place. At a place like crash-happy Martinsville, that is a very slim margin.

-Tony Stewart has led 441 laps in five races. Dale Earnhardt Jr was 10th in 2006 in laps led with 444.

-Thank you to reader Jim for keeping me and my lousy Final Four picks accountable. I lost Maryland in the second round, but still felt good about my other three picks. Then Ohio State came back from 19 down against Tennessee, Kansas could not figure out UCLA’s defense and North Carolina suddenly forgot how to score. For the second year in a row, I’m left with zero Final Four teams. At least the games should be interesting this Saturday. Just don’t ask me who will win.

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