Monday, March 23, 2009

Some Breakout Performances at Bristol

First of all, congratulations to Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin for making it a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing at Bristol on Sunday.  Busch and Hamlin finished 1st and 2nd, respectively.  Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon also put in solid performances for Hendrick Motorsports, finishing 3rd and 4th.  Richard Petty Motorsports' Kasey Kahne continued to show strength in 2009, finishing 5th at Bristol in the Budweiser Dodge.

Two drivers who made badly needed good runs on Sunday were Mark Martin, who finished 6th, and Ryan Newman who finished 7th.  Both of these drivers are running for new teams this year, Mark Martin for Hendrick, and Ryan Newman for the brand new Stewart-Haas Racing, and both have been mired back in the pack in points thus far in 2009, mostly hampered by bad luck and engines trailing parts and oil and smoke.  It's good to see two good drivers get good finishes at Bristol.

Ryan Newman is often somewhat of an afterthought to most casual fans of the sport.  He maintains a quiet demeanor, and rarely makes waves either on or off the track.  Ryan is often overshadowed by his often flamboyant partial owner and teammate Tony Stewart.  It is sometimes forgotten that Ryan Newman is a great qualifier, one of the best in the modern era of NASCAR, and he's won his share of races so far in his relatively short career.  

Mark Martin is, of course, probably the biggest legend among current drivers in NASCAR who has never won a championship.  Mark came very close a couple of times, but has never managed to take the big trophy home.  2009 was to be his last full time season, but now he's been talking about attempting a full time 2010 run as well, and one has to wonder if owner Rick Hendrick will give him that opportunity next year, or will Mark have to go elsewhere to make that happen.  Though Mark basically has been on the verge of retiring for several years now, his priorities have changed.  He originally was going to retire to help his son, Matt, with his racing career.  Apparently Matt has other priorities other than racing, and Mark seems to have a renewed energy and passion for doing what he has done for so many years, which of course is driving race cars.

There are some fans and even sports writers who have been critical of Mark Martin's quest to keep driving, even though he's announced his retirement more than once.  The criticism seems to be that he's taking up room that could be filled by younger, hotter drivers.  I understand that argument, but I have to admit, Mark Martin has been running well this year.  He's won 2 poles so far, at Atlanta and Bristol, and though he's had problems with engines and such during the races, Sunday showed he can still run with the young guys.  To me, a guy born in 1959 is not ancient.  Of course I might be biased on that opinion, since I was only born a scant 4 years later than that.  I also have to say that when you're hot, you're hot.  50 or not, go for it, Mark. 

Has anyone noticed that Jeff Gordon has a 76 point lead over second place Kurt Busch in the points?  Though Jeff has not been to victory lane in over 45 races now, the 24 crew has done what they need to keep Jeff exactly where he wants to be early in the 2009 season.  Under the current points system, Gordon is playing the game exactly as it needs to be played, by being consistent.  Though Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth have each won 2 races this year, neither is number 1 in points.  Not exactly a criticism, but maybe a suggestion, and I'll bet readers of this article have probably thought it before:  Why not make wins count more?

Just a suggestion.

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