The summer has certainly heated up and so has NASCAR. Over the last few months, Rusty's been holed up in his cool basement watching the fastest sport in America. During this cave dwelling experience, I've noticed a few things that's made NASCAR exciting. Here's a short list.
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 02: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 Wrangler Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
1. #3 in Victory Lane
There are a few, and I mean a very few things that have the slightest inklin of bringing a tear to a NASCAR fan's eyes. After the tragedy of the 2001 Daytona 500, an Earnhardt behind the wheel of a #3 Chevrolet in victory lane is one of them. A few short weeks ago, we were treated to just that . . . and at Daytona, no less, the site of one of the greatest tragedies in NASCAR history. In honor of his father, Dale Jr. piloted a Nationwide car with his old man's #3 Wrangler blue and yellow paint scheme. With his usual restrictor plate aplomb, Dale Jr drove a great race and found victory lane for the first time since 2008. Once in victory lane and filled with his usual post-victory emotion Dale Jr declared he did what he wanted to do and that he would probably never again pilot the #3. His swan song, if it remains that, can surely go down as one of the best in sports history. Essentially, he drove it from victory lane, into the history books. That my friends, is certainly the #1 thing on Rusty's power rankings for this part of the season.
2. Chip Ganassi
There is no triple crown in auto-racing, but if there was, Chip Ganassi would get the honor. This year, Chip Ganassi, co-owner of the #1 car with driver Jamie McMurray in NASCAR and owner of the #10 car driven by Dario Franchitti in the Indy Series, won the top 3 races in America. In just 5 short months, Ganassi cars have found victory lane at the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, and the Brickyard 400. Rusty's certainly one to argue that there's a good deal of luck in racing, especially NASCAR, but unless Ganassi's been buying rabbit's feet by the truck-load, I think we can say he's got a few things figured out. Currently sitting at 17th in the points, it's not looking too bright for McMurray's chances to make the Chase, but of any of the tracks to win at, Indy is the most indicative of a driver's championship success. Only a handful of winners at the Brickyard have NOT won a Championship. McMurray added his name to that short list this year . . . for now, but Ganassi might just have another trick up his sleeve, yet.
3. David Reutimann
Who? Exactly! Unfortunately for David, up until this point, he's essentially been considered an also ran. A teammate of the sponsor-lovin Michael Waltrip, Reutimann has had minimal success at best. He's never made the Chase, and honestly has never really been close. He had won before last week, but in a rain shortened event. I know, I know, a win's a win, which is true, but Reutimann arguably wasn't going to win that race without a little help from the man upstairs. This time, it was a different story. Reutimann's win in Chicago was done with the usual moves seen by the sports top contenders. Reuti, as we've learned is his nickname among friends and growing fan-base, led a total of 52 laps and made the right moves toward the end of the race to finally take the checkers in a full NASCAR Sprint Cup event. Time will only tell if this springboards a promising career for the driver of the 00 (pronounced double zero) Toyota, but Rusty doesn't think we've seen the last of him.
4. ESPN's coverage
As a general rule, ole Rusty's not a fan of the cable sports giant's coverage of actual sporting events. Rather than having some national know-it-all flown in 10 minutes before the game and handed a single page dossier on the teams, I'd rather have local or regional guy who actually follow the teams call the game. ESPN's NASCAR coverage is the exception, however. Though I'll miss the lovely Lindsay Czarniak, the ESPN team truly does an excellent job. Further adding to ESPN's stellar work is the cut-away car segments. Now, usually I'm not a fan of anything that gets away from the actual action on the field, but racing's a little different. Discussions about the intricacies of the modern NASCAR race car are greatly aided with the ESPN cut-away car. Sure, Fox, and NBC, and TNT all have similar things, and ESPN wasn't even the one to invent the concept, but according to this avid fan, they've perfected it. The level of detail and knowledge base provided by this little aside is what makes ESPN's coverage of NASCAR make the current power rankings.
5. Greg Biffle/Jack Roush
The "bug-eyed-dumby" made it back to victory lane. The #16 3M Ford from the Roush stable ended a long winless drought stretching back to 2008. It was also Jack Roush's first win since last fall at Talladega. The win couldn't have come at a better time for the Cat in the Hat, either. Just before the Pocono race where Biff found victory lane, Jack was involved in a rather serious airplane crash. The wily old man was piloting his own private plane when it got a little hairy on landing. Roush was able to walk-away, but has been through several surgeries since. Having one of his teams find victory lane the Sunday he had to watch from a hospital bed, I'm sure helped in the recovery. Biffle's currently sitting at the 11th position in points, not a shoe-in for making the Chase, but this victory certainly helped, and if he does make NASCAR's version of the playoffs, those 10 bonus points will sure come in handy, too.
The Rusty Old Jalopy award: Carl Edwards
It's time to park, Mr. Ed. I've always been a fan of letting race drivers settle their business on the track. Let'em race, and let'em race hard. In recent years, NASCAR's been quick to punish overly aggressive driving in order to polish their image. This year, they let the gloves come off a bit, but maybe a little too much. Carl makes this week's jalopy award for his kindergarten behavior at a recent Nationwide race (oh, and let's not forget earlier this year at Atlanta). Brad Keselowski and Edwards have never been fast friends, but regardless of any rivalry, Keselowski didn't deserve to be outright wrecked on his way to the checkers like Edwards did a few weeks back. This isn't the first time Edwards has gone a little berserk either. After a wild race in Martinsville a few years back, Edwards came up and physically threatened teammate Matt Kenseth during a post-race interview, a teammate! Even more notable was his Cole Trickle-esque bumping of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at a Michigan Nationwide event. Junior got into Edwards towards the end of the race. Mr. Ed expressed his displeasure at Junior's move by ramming his car during the victory lap at the conclusion of the race. Junior escaped losing his hand by mere inches. Rusty's always been a fan of the bump-n-run and letting guys get aggressive. I'm an Earnhardt fan, for crying out loud. But there's a line. Using your car as a weapon and means of exacting revenge is over that line. Carl continues to cross it, and should be parked. Period.