Take heed, points leaders: the spoiler is waiting, returning on March 28 at Martinsville and it figures to have a measurable impact on the standings as teams try to adjust to life without the wing.
"My view of this is that there is a wing season and there's a spoiler season," Jeff Burton said days before the Fontana race. "I think you have to capitalize on the wing season."
Burton certainly has, sitting in ninth as the series shifts to Bristol, the final race of the Wing Era. But the same can't be said for five would-be contenders who badly need a points surge at Thunder Valley or risk falling even further behind.
Denny Hamlin. Remember him? The odds-on favorite to dethrone Jimmie Johnson arguably has been the biggest disappointment of the season. He's sitting at 22nd in the standings, with zero top 10s. You can't blame Joe Gibbs Racing for his problems, considering that teammate Joey Logano has fared so well. Is it the torn ACL that Hamlin said wouldn't be an issue? He has at least shown some sign of a rebound, leading a season-high 32 laps at Atlanta. He'll need to build on that at Bristol in order to break out of his funk.
Kyle Busch. No, we won't be spending the entire piece in the JGR garage. But Shrub has been equally as confounding as Hamlin, also failing to break the top 10, though he is 15th in points. There are two reasons to believe he could get above the Chase line after at Bristol: 1) He's dominated there, winning the last two races; 2) Brother Kurt winning at Atlanta with Kyle's former crew chief, Steve Addington, means the younger Busch has to deliver with Dave Rogers now.
Carl Edwards. He's not in horrible shape points-wise, sitting 20th, but has to make people remember the back-flipping, Aflac-shilling Carl instead of the Mr. Hyde he unleashed in Atlanta. If he's going to reignite the belief that he's a worthy title-contender, a track where he has two wins, three top fives, and four top 10s in 11 starts is as good a place as any to start.
Jamie McMurray. He's got the label of Daytona 500-winner to carry around now, but other than that, the most noise JamieMac has made is winning the Fontana pole then wrecking teammate Juan Pablo Montoya at Las Vegas. He's faded to 19th in the points and is in danger of following the last two 500 winners, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth, who failed to make the Chase.
Brad Keselowski/Ryan Newman. These two are lumped together because they're both in danger of falling below 35th by Martinsville, which would mean having to qualify on speed the rest of the way. For Brad K., it shows you just how much the Edwards incident cost him. Had he not been sent airborne and finished fifth, Keselowski would be 23rd headed to Bristol. Instead, he's 33rd. Newman doesn't have a wreck-turned-viral video to blame for his problems. With teammate and owner Tony Stewart sitting eighth with two top 10s, it's hard to put the blame on anyone but Newman.
2. Like Mariano Rivera trotting out to Enter Sandman, Trevor Hoffman to Hells Bells or Jonathan Papelbon to I Think We're Alone Now (okay, I made that one up), closers' intro themes are all about intimidation. Cup drivers' song choices for their Bristol entrances? Not so much.
Maybe their selections are intended to give us new insight into drivers' psyches. Jeff Gordon and the Black Eyed Peas' Boom Boom Pow? Logano picking Soulja Boy Tell 'Em's Crank Dat? I'm taking issue with two (technically three) picks in particular: those of Burton, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr.
Biffle and Burton both went with Guns 'N Roses'Welcome to the Jungle, which is the equivalent of their showing up at the prom wearing the same Sherri Hill gown. They're badly in need of new tunes, and thankfully, Racing Fan is here to help.
In honor of Biffle's 2002 run-in with Kevin Harvick at Bristol, which began with Biffle putting Harvick into the wall and ended with Happy jumping over Biffle's car to "discuss" things with him, Biffle's new song is the aptly-named Partridge Family theme C'Mon Get Happy.
Burton, who stopped by the fictional Port Charles in his acting debut last year, could give an internal lift to fans in attendance who swear they don't watch soap operas by coming out to the General Hospital theme.
I can't begin to describe how sick I've grown of Truex's NAPA Know-How commercial and guess what? That song, a corporate jingle is what he picked for Bristol. Seriously? Maybe Paul Menard can use the Menard's jingle or Mark Martin can have the "Go Daddy, Go, Go, Daddy" blaring in the background. Instead, Truex should go with Nine Inch Nails' And All The Could Have Been, since the ride he vacated at Earnhardt Ganassi when he left for Michael Waltrip Racing is the same one that McMurray rode to Victory Lane in Daytona.
64: Laps that Menard failed to finish over the first four races of 2009
0: Laps he's failed to complete this year
38: Menard's points standing after Atlanta last season
9: Menard's current rank, the highest of his career
Mark Martin. Think there'll be more than a little bit of pressure on the Hendrick cars after that dismal performance in Atlanta? That's all the more reason to pick Martin, who has 23 top 10s on the World's Fastest Half Mile and nine career poles, including both last season.
We continue our video series with Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS car, who took some time after filming a commercial to open up about his ultimate Miss Sprint Cup lineup, which driver he'd like to see on Dancing With the Stars and more.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. played himself in Cars and Talladega Nights, but for his latest acting gig, Junior is testing his acting prowess by playing ...wait for it...a famous race car driver. Earnhardt will appear in Handy Manny Big Race this weekend, along with 'N Sync's Lance Bass, as "Chase Davis," a name that seems somewhat ironic after Jr. missed the Chase with his worst points finish in 10 Cup seasons. No word on whether Junior will participate with Bass and Manny's cast of tools on the special's musical number.