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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Battle royale for Chase spots; Local boy Keselowski gets first win

First things first, Kasey Kahne did a masterful job or driving through the field after a pit road penalty to continue his hot streak and make another trip to Victory Lane. He’s on a roll, up to 9th in points, and has elevated himself back to where he was a couple years ago -- a legitimate title contender.

But the biggest story to come out of Sunday’s race, in my mind, was the bunching up of the points standings around the 12th-place cutoff point for the Chase. Tony Stewart finished a lap down and is 470 points behind points leader Kyle Busch. David Ragan and Ryan Newman are both within 10 points of Stewart. Matt Kenseth, who had an awful start to the year, is only 34 points out of the Chase, Martin Truex, Jr. is only 56 points back, and a hot Brian Vickers is only 112 points behind Stewart.

All of these drivers have a legitimate shot to make the top 12 and compete for the title. If anyone is going to jump into the Chase, my money would be on Kenseth, and possibly Vickers -- who finished second at Pocono and drives for a Red Bull team that appears to be improving every week.

For someone to jump in means someone must drop out. Drivers near the bottom of the top 12 -- including Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon -- must continue to perform well or they risk not being there come Richmond this September.

Saturday night’s race at Nashville was a treat for me, as it’s one of the few each year not dominated by Cup drivers. Only a handful of drivers did both races, so we really got a chance to see what the full-time Nationwide drivers have to offer. Not only did a Nationwide driver win the race (a rarity these days), but he’s a local guy. Brad Keselowski, an Oakland County native from Rochester Hills, comes from a great local racing family. His father Bob Keselowski won a Truck Series race in 1997, and now Brad is on the path to becoming a NASCAR star. If his performance so far this year drving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. is any indicator, he’s going to go far in the sport, probably moving up to Cup within the next couple years.

We also got a glimpse into the immediate future at Nashville, as young Joey Logano and Keselowski were battling for the lead early in the race. Look for that to be a familiar scene the rest of this Nationwide season. Another strong performance came from another young up-and-comer, 18-year-old Landon Cassill.


The triple didn’t turn out so well for Kyle Busch. While he did finish 2nd in the Truck race, he could only manage 20th at Nashville, then was dead last at Pocono after driving into Jamie McMurray. Perhaps fatigue was a factor in this wreck. At least he apologized for wrecking McMurray -- maybe he’s not a total jerk after all.


Was it just me, or did Dale Jr. seem totally out of it in his post-race interview? That comment about the weather seemed very random. I’m thinking this not-winning thing is really starting to get to him, and he’s probably hoping to avoid even talking to reporters after the race until he can get that elusive win. I say cheer up Dale, you’ve got 10 top-10s and are third in points. Most drivers would love to be in your position.


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