- Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 21:23
- Published on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 21:23
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With the traditional Easter bye week in place, everyone in NASCAR’s national divisions got last weekend off to collectively exhale – especially those in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage who have been busy on-track since the third week of February.
All continue to chase Greg Biffle, whose revamped team under direction of crew chief Matt Puccia has been the “steady Eddie” of the 2012 season. Biffle took over the points’ lead after finishing third at Las Vegas and, with three top-five and four top-10 finishes,
has refused to relinquish the spot he hadn’t held since mid-2005. Biffle, Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, and last year’s championship runner up Carl Edwards, give Roush Fenway Racing three spots among the top 12.
Biffle isn’t the only driver wearing a smile. Stewart-Haas Racing has won three times in six races, two by defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart and one by Ryan Newman.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak reached 135 at Martinsville but his third-place performance moved Junior to second in points – his best ranking since the first race of the season in 2008. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, has climbed to 10th in points after finishing 42nd at Daytona.
Likewise, it’s been a remarkable turnaround at Michael Waltrip Racing: Martin Truex Jr. and newcomer Clint Bowyer solidly among the top 10 and a third entry shared by veteran Mark Martin and Brian Vickers also in the top 10 of the owners’ championship standings.
The pause is welcome for several who have struggled – at least points-wise. Jeff Gordon is 21st – 90 points behind Biffle and 53 points outside the top 10. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, despite winning two Coors Light Poles, is 31st. The focus of both would appear to rest on winning races to gain a “Wild Card entry” into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.™
Stewart-Haas Racing has three wins in the first six races with Tony Stewart third and Ryan Newman, the winner at Martinsville, eighth in points. Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson talked about how SHR operates as one team with the confidence that either driver could win each week: “We know we are working hard as a company to make sure both these cars are as close as we can get, other than what the two different drivers need, little things. We have everything there we need to win every week. It’s hard to win every week, but we have got the equipment and the drivers to do it. We just have to execute and make sure it happens.” SHR has won eight of its past 16 starts dating to the beginning of last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has three top-three finishes, and the rest of Hendrick Motorsports has had bad luck despite having some of the fastest cars as a group. As Dale Jr. said, “I’m happy with the way our car is running. I can’t believe the 5 and the 24, they have been fast, the 5, sitting on the pole and he has been fast everywhere. He was killer fast at Phoenix. The 24 has been lightning fast at a lot of places. Jimmie is always quick everywhere. So they just had really bad luck. I think we actually have more speed as a group, as a whole, than we did last year.”
Earnhardt, who moved to second in the points standings – six behind Greg Biffle – hasn’t ranked this high this far into the season since 2008.
Roush Fenway Racing has two cars in the top four and all three in the top 12. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth (along with Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.) is 12 points behind teammate and points leader Greg Biffle while last season’s standings runner up Carl Edwards is 12th. Kenseth and Biffle are two of only three drivers to have three top-five finishes. (Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the other.)
Five drivers, including three who have combined for five wins at Michigan International Speedway -- Jeff Gordon (2), Matt Kenseth (2) and Kyle Busch (1) -- are scheduled to test the repaved track this Tuesday and Wednesday. Michigan native Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya round out the group.
“We don’t know what to expect at Michigan. I love Michigan,” said Gordon. “We want to play our role and help Goodyear develop the best tire for that track. If we can gather some data that is beneficial to us then we certainly are going to try to take advantage of that as well. It kind of comes at a price. You are giving up a couple of days that you could be developing things at the shop and your key guys that could be resting.”