No driver has had worse luck this year than Martin. He suffered blown engines at Fontana and Las Vegas, which led to back-to-back 40th place finishes. He also cut a tire in Atlanta that resulted in a 31st-place finish. After four events, he wasn't in the top 30 in the standings.
But even when he was sinking in the points, Martin was running well. He kept telling anyone who would listen that he and his crew chief
So what's changed for the No. 5 team? In a word, nothing. Gustafson has prepared fast cars for Martin each week, and he could easily be in the top-five in the standings right now if not for those fluky engine failures earlier in the season. At this point you've got to like Martin's chances of qualifying for the Chase, which is the entire reason the 50-year-old came out of retirement this offseason.
Johnson had won the previous three races at Phoenix, and at times during this one he clearly had the top car in the field. But he had some problems on pit road midway through the race, lost track position, and then was forced to claw his way back up through the field. He finished fourth.
Now second in the standings behind his teammate
First, the good news for Junior: He led 67 laps on Saturday night. The bad? After falling through the field, he was nudged into the wall by
"We just couldn't get it right tonight and we were very loose at the end," he said. "It felt good to lead some laps. We'll get 'em [next week] at Talladega."
While all of Earnhardt's teammates at Hendrick Motorsports have won a race this season, he continues to flounder. He has just two top-10 finishes and he's 19th in points. Sure, we're only a fourth of the way through the season, but Earnhardt is already in danger of missing the Chase. Next week will be a crucial one for the No. 88 team. Talladega is his best track on the schedule, and he desperately needs a solid top-10 run to turn his season around.
The only thing, in fact, that will prevent Busch from being in the title mix this fall is Busch himself. A few weeks ago at Martinsville he got into a heated discussion over the radio with his team owner,
If Busch is the biggest surprise of the season, then Stewart is second. On Saturday he finished second to record his sixth top-10 run of 2009, which ties him for the most in the series with Gordon and Johnson. Stewart is fourth in the standings.
To review: This offseason Stewart launched his own race team, Stewart Haas Racing. He brokered a deal with
This team is going to win a race -- soon. They should be very good on Sunday at Talladega, where Stewart took the checkered flag last fall.