Cory Mccartney
Thursday May 20th, 2010

1. It's far too easy to say that Jeff Burton's season has been ruled by Murphy's Law. He's certainly suffered a run of unfortunate circumstances that would back up that diagnosis. There was California, where he failed to put Jimmie Johnson down a lap. He had brake and tire issues at Atlanta and Martinsville, respectively, and pit road problems/violations at Darlington, Phoenix and Texas.

But it's not the adage that "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" that's defining the 42-year-old Burton's season. In fact, when you peel away his penchant for making mistakes, you see Burton is actually driving under a very different, and lesser known, axiom: Martin's Law. Mark Martin's past seasons have given support to the idea that the elder statesman who hasn't been a title threat in years can, and will, break through. Case in point: Last weekend at Dover, Johnson's speeding penalty on pit road opened the door for Burton to play it safe and finish second.

Through 12 races, Burton is eighth in the points with eight finishes of 12th or better, including five top-5s. On the surface it's not that much of an improvement from last year, when he had five top-10s at this point in the season, but the difference is that Burton isn't just running near the front, he's been a contender in nearly every race. On more than one occasion, he's had the best car on the track. He could have won at Fontana and Darlington and he's led a combined 279 laps in eight events. He still hasn't reached Victory Lane since Oct. 11, 2008, a span of 53 races, but this year you feel like it's only a matter of when Burton's going to win instead of if he's going to win.

Basically, Burton is having the year Martin had last season, and as for Martin? Well, much like with Burton, the would-be title contender's numbers don't tell the entire story.

Martin may have a better average finish (15.0) than at this point last season, be 11th compared to 12th last season, and boast five top-5s, but what's been missing is his calling card: consistency. Martin has thrown bad finishes after good, posting stretches of 33rd, 35th and 21st after two fourth-place efforts and was 25th, 16th and 15th after going fourth, sixth and fifth.

Like the rest of Martin's Hendrick Motorsports brethren, you'll hear the spoiler as a culprit, but no matter what's on the back of the car, Martin has led a combined 42 laps this season and five times his start-to-finish plus/minus stats have been minus 11 or greater, meaning when he's struggled, he and crew chief Alan Gustafson have rarely been able to salvage a bad day.

Maybe it's the finality of knowing his retirement from running a full schedule is drawing near, with Kasey Kahne officially inked to take over his No. 5 ride in 2012 as the proverbial nail in the coffin of his Hall of Fame career. Whatever the cause, Martin just seems off this season. Meanwhile, Burton, who is nine years Martin's junior, is riding Martin's Law and his trademark consistency is helping him seize the title as the sport's most dangerous driver over age 40.

2. Joe Gibbs is putting his foot down, but is The Coach making the wrong call? Gibbs wants Kyle Busch and teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to focus on their Cup duties, meaning Busch is losing out on an opportunity to defend his Nationwide Series title. To hear Busch tell it, logging the extra laps are part of what's made him run so well on Sundays.

"That's kind of the plan," he said. "You know, that's the way I've always done it, and that's why I've always raced as much as I race."

Gibbs clearly has his reasons for reigning in his drivers' extracurricular activities; he needs Busch and Hamlin to be strong in November, something running multiple races (especially for Hamlin, who is still rehabbing from knee surgery) doesn't help with. But is The Coach messing with a good thing? In the past two weeks, Busch and Hamlin have both followed up Nationwide wins with Cup victories, races that gave his drivers invaluable knowledge that practice and qualifying can't. Plus, if Busch thinks a full weekend gives him an edge, why disrupt his psyche by taking that away?

There's no hotter team in the game right now than Joe Gibbs Racing, and Gibbs himself, who won three Super Bowls with the Redskins, ought to know that if something isn't broken, you shouldn't try and fix it. Of course, my colleague Tom Bowles begs to differ, claiming it's a problem NASCAR needs to fix before the series itself goes belly up.

1985: Darrell Waltrip won the inaugural All-Star race, which featured a 12-car field.

2000: Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first rookie to win the event.

2008: Kasey Kahne's win was the first for a driver voted in by the fans.

Who wants to be a millionaire? Or, more precisely, who wants to win $1,058,656? Johnson has six top-5s in the event, including wins in 2003 and 2006. But two major reasons I'm rolling with J.J.: 1) He's driven after a pit penalty cost him at Dover and helped one of his biggest rivals take the checkered flag and 2) In a race broken down into four segments with mandatory pit stops, you have to go with the smartest guys in the room, and until they've been knocked off, that leaves Johnson and Chad Knaus.

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