MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- While NASCAR parks itself for a weekend of Easter celebrations and the NCAA basketball tournament, there are plenty of drivers who are hot, but even more who are not.
The first natural break of the 2008 Sprint Cup season allows a chance to evaluate who is riding high and who needs to get it in gear for next week's 500-lap showdown at Martinsville Speedway.
It's not the fact the younger brother of '04 Cup champion
"Right now, he is the 'Wheel Man' of the series,"
"When you watch
"You watch Kyle Busch drive and not only is he going fast, but you see he is taking your breath, too. I've been there before. When you are at the very, very top of your game. He's got car control and he is smart enough to be able to make it. He's not wrecking them and bringing them back on a roll back. He's putting it all together."
That is high praise from one of the most respected drivers in the garage,but the 22-year-old Busch isn't letting the compliments go to his head.
"It's pretty cool to have people talking about my abilities like that and to have my abilities for people to be able to talk about -- that's pretty special to me, Busch said last Friday at Bristol."I just go out there and drive the wheels off anything that I can drive the wheels off. Whether it's a go-kart, a Cup car, a Nationwide car, a truck or a late model car -- it doesn't much matter to me.
"I'm just going out there to have some fun and do what I can behind the wheel. Obviously my talents propel me forward to win races."
So far, Earnhardt has answered definitively.
Not only has he adapted to HMS, he has been the team's best driver through five races.
"He's done a great job," Johnson said. "He and
"He really has done an amazing job. He came out and won a couple of the non-points races. He's been running well up there in the points and really doing a good job. So, I've been impressed with his performances and impressed with his involvement in the race team and also the level of feedback he is giving from inside the car. He is doing a great job.
"I don't think any of us knew what to expect, to be quite honest. We've all watched races where he's been real fast. We've watched him win races. He has been in points battles in years past. I don't think anybody knew what to expect. I think all of us at Hendrick had an open mind and welcomed him as we should and as we always support new teammates. He's doing a great job."
Earnhardt continued his streak of being the highest finishing Hendrick driver in four of the first five races this season with a fifth-place finish at Bristol.
"It is nice relief," Earnhardt said of fitting in to the new team. "You do tend to let yourself feel good about it, but you can't too much. You really can't think about it. You have to really concentrate on what is ahead of you and focus on that.
"It is just like winning the semi-final game, you can enjoy it just a little bit, it is a good mood, but you can just as well be going home next week and be miserable.
"You have highs and lows in this sport. The lows are low, low, low ,and the highs are real, real high. You just have to be able to handle that swing. It seems that I have the opportunity now, with the equipment and the team that is around me, to enjoy more success over an average this year and throughout. We just have to keep our heads on straight, be smart, not let our egos swell up and not let anything get the best of us and just try and do our job."
But in true Biffle fashion, he is often overlooked when it comes to assessing the top drivers in the series, much like his teammate,
These two drivers would rather let their on-track performance speak for them.
Fresh off his first win at Bristol in 29 tries,
In the offseason, the RCR drivers believed they had narrowed the gap on Hendrick Motorsports, and through five races this season they have surpassed NASCAR's elite team.
Since that time, Johnson has puttered around in mid-pack. He finished 29th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he had won the previous three races. He then was 13th at Atlanta and 18th at Bristol, leading many to wonder if after two championships, has this team become stale?
"We had a great race at California and at Vegas, thing didn't go as we wanted," Johnson said. "And we had some back luck in Daytona. But we knew that the competition was closing up. We knew that this year we were going to have challenges with the Car of Tomorrow on larger tracks, and we're not where we want to be but we're working very, very hard to get on top of things.
"I wouldn't expect us to have a poor performance much longer."
Most of Gordon's bad luck came when he crashed in the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished 39th. Since that time, he was third at California, before knocking the wall down at Vegas while he was trying to get up to second place late in the race. He came back to finish fifth at Atlanta but dropped to 11th at Bristol.
So, does that mean Hendrick Motorsports is officially in a slump?
"We'll talk about that in December,"
"We can answer that question in late November. We can't answer it today."
He suffered transmission failure while running away from the field at Atlanta before dropping a lap off the pace and finishing 16th at Bristol.
But don't expect Mr. Backflip to take this lying down. He would still be in the top 10 in the standings if he wasn't docked 100 points when the lid came off his oil box at Las Vegas.
Edwards has all the ingredients to add a Sprint Cup title to the championship he won last year in what was then called the Busch Series.
Never mind the top 10, Franchitti hasn't been able to sniff the top 30.
He has been remarkably consistent in one category -- he has finished 33rd three times, 32nd once and 36th last Sunday at Bristol.
This has to be a shock to the driver from Scotland who usually ran near the front of the IndyCar Series, but, of course, open-wheel race cars are part of his racing heritage.
Word in the garage area is that some crew members are already being pulled off Franchitti's car and reassigned to other parts of the
Franchitti brought a very high-profile career to Ganassi and was assured of making the first five races of the season after taking over the ride that
Last Sunday was the cutoff race for the top 35, and at 38th in the standings, Franchitti is going to have to race his way into the starting lineup through time trial speeds.
With 15 or more cars trying to make the final seven positions in the starting lineup, Franchitti could be facing "Bump Day" every Friday.
"Dario has less experience at this than I have," said fellow IndyCar champion
"I came over here to learn and to challenge myself. I knew that is what it was about. Dario making the decision to do it without running these cars may be feeling that way and scratching his head.
"That's where you figure out who is smarter. I knew what I was getting into and I didn't. I knew how tough it would be so maybe I'm not the smart one in that situation."
Tony Stewart is known for many things in addition to his outstanding racing ability and his two NASCAR Cup titles -- his quick-temper, his "Rebel with a Cause" attitude and his proliferation of facial and body hair that has made him look like Lon Chaney Jr. in the old
Stewart has so much hair on his torso that fellow driver Jimmie Johnson once spotted him on a boat on Lake Norman in North Carolina and greeted him with the Chewbacca sound from the movie
If Stewart shaved first thing in the morning, he would probably have a full beard by that evening.
So one day after he got rear-ended by
To prove there were no hard feelings from the Bristol bumping incident, Stewart invited Harvick to be his guest on Stewart's Monday night radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Later in the show, Stewart made good on a longtime bet with Harvick.
After some teasing about his hairy torso, Stewart said a year ago that if Harvick was able to raise $100,000 for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, he would agree to have his back waxed.
With Harvick having reached the goal with fan donations and a matching contribution from himself, Stewart made good on his promise, undergoing the painful procedure Monday night live on Sirius as Stewart's co-host,
Joe Gibbs Racing President
Asked during the procedure if the pain was worse than hitting the wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart laughed and said, "Yeah, it does actually. It does hurt worse than hitting the wall at Vegas. It just isn't lasting as long."
Despite suffering from severely inflamed vocal chords, it didn't keep Darrell Waltrip out of the FOX broadcast booth for last Sunday's telecast at Bristol. Waltrip's voice was so bad someone thought it was Babe Ruth in the broadcast booth.
Waltrip went to the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic in Nashville, Tenn. on Wednesday and was treated by Dr.
Just kidding, DW.
Jarrett unveiled the No. 44 UPS Toyota Camry he will drive in the Sprint All-Star Race, which features a special paint scheme that pays tribute to several of his career accomplishments. The unveiling marked the first time Jarrett viewed the metallic-gold design, which unites the past with the present. The car displays design elements from both Jarrett's current No. 44 UPS Camry as well as the No. 88 Quality Care entry that he drove during his 1999 championship season.
But, before Jarrett straps into the UPS car for the final time, he'll do something fans have eagerly anticipated, he's going to "race" the truck.
After Jarrett is introduced prior to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, he will step into the UPS Race Truck from the UPS ad campaign and take one lucky fan for a ride around the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
The winner will be randomly selected from fans who have purchased tickets in the "DJ's Deal" section or have sent a postcard labeled "DJ's Ride-Along" to Lowe's Motor Speedway, P.O. Box 600, Concord, N.C. 28026. Contestants must include complete name, address, day/night phone numbers and e-mail address on each postcard entry.
"This is obviously going to be a big weekend for me, my family and everyone at UPS," Jarrett said. "The opportunity for my last race to be at what I consider my home track is something I appreciate and look forward to. With everything that is going on that night-the ticket package, racing the truck and making my last start-and the activities we have planned leading up to that race, I feel quite certain it will be an emotional night."
While most of the Sprint Cup competitors take Easter weekend off, several of them will be at Nashville Superspeedway for Saturday's Nationwide Series Pepsi 300, including Kyle Busch,
"Concrete can be a little treacherous when there isn't a whole lot of rubber on the track, since it gets pretty slick," said Busch, who won an ARCA race here when he was just 17. "Once we get some rubber down on the track in practice, it gets a lot better. The first few years I ran at Nashville, the track was really slick. But then they ground on it and built some grip into the track where we can race well with each other there. It's a great place. It's a really fast and cool mile-and-a-quarter-or-so race track, so everybody seems to have fun there."
Nashville gives its race winners one of the coolest trophies in sports, a Gibson
"Of course, I'd like to bring home another one of those guitars," Busch said. "I've got one from an ARCA race there ('03) and came close twice in the Nationwide Series, but could never close the deal. I'm hoping we can change that with the Z-Line Designs Toyota this weekend.
"We've had two second-place finishes and then two tire issues. It's time to try to change some of our luck around and get our car back to the front when it counts."