Early in the year, a guy can get by with good. Good puts you in position for great things, with 20, or 30, or 40 races to go in the season. What Jimmie Johnson had last Sunday was a great car, a great performance, and the man who would be a six-time champion won his 55th career victory to move to within four points of the top of the hill with just six races to go.
[media-credit id=2 align=”alignright” width=”229″][/media-credit]Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick had good cars, hung around in the top 20, but stepped it up to great to both finish in the top ten to keep Johnson from moving on past them. Edwards was fifth, one better than Harvick, to take the Chase lead by a single point. So that now leaves us with three drivers who have been great, a handful of others who have been good, while four more can pretty much dream of what is to come…in 2012.
Denny Hamlin was good enough to be 16th as Kansas. Not bad if it were February at Daytona, but when things have been bad thus far in the Chase it just means more dirt has been tossed over his championship hopes for this season. His is now 79 down and he is not coming back.
Ryan Newman needed to be great, and at 18th he wasn’t even good on a day where he actually had been worse for the most part. He is now done. Jeff Gordon started blowing up with thirty to go before it gave up the ghost with less than ten remaining to finish 34th. Number five will have to wait another season. Dale Earnhardt Jr cracked the Top 15, but he needed a Top Five. Now he is more than 40 in arrears, and that pretty much leaves him in the dust.
Five sit within 11 to 20 points back, still with a chance for greatness if those who have been great go bad, and do it soon. Brad Keselowski finished third in Kansas, just behind Kasey Kahne, and sits fourth in the hunt. Not great, but damn close. Matt Kenseth is a dozen away, and being fourth at Kansas keeps him relevant. The Busch boys and Tony Stewart all had Top Fifteens, not great, but some very good, even great, performances earlier leaves them between 16 and 20 off the pace. Good enough for the moment, but Charlotte and Talladega better be great.
ESPN…well not great but good for the most part. Rusty and Brad, God love them, are kind of like letting a deadbeat relative be part of your entourage. If the broadcast team were the Corleone family, Rusty and Brad would be a pair of Fredos. When someone makes the mistake of turning on their mics during a race, Nicole Briscoe brings up some pertinent fact and these boys concept of providing additional color is to simply provide a long-winded version of “you betcha.” If your grandma can replace an announcer, I’m guessing there isn’t much point of having him…or them…there.
There, this Saturday night, is Charlotte, North Carolina. If Kevin Harvick can repeat his performance there from last May, that would be great. If Kurt Busch can do what he did there the previous spring, that would be great. If Jimmie Johnson can do there was he has done five times in his career, that would be great for him, but the rest better be either great or really, really good. If not, then Denny, Ryan, Jeff, and Junior are going to have some company out on exile island. Enjoy the week.