By Cory Mccartney
July 01, 2010

1. It certainly seemed like the death knell for Richard Petty Motorsports when Kasey Kahne, their biggest drawing card, decided that he's leaving to join Rick Hendrick's version of Audioslave or Velvet Revolver. There's even a strong chance RPM was picked up in more than a few dead pools after Kahne's announcement.

But there is a new hope shining brightly in the King's camp, and ironically, it's coming from an all-too-familiar number.

Behind the wheel of the No. 43, which Petty himself drove to 200 victories, A.J. Allmendinger has posted an average finish of 11.6 over the last five races, including a 10th-place finish last weekend in New Hampshire. That average finish is better than Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

It's a run made even more impressive considering that over the first 11 races he came in 25th or worse five times and had just one top 10 to his credit, but Allmendinger is finally starting to deliver on the promise that Petty saw when he signed him.

There is still plenty of room for improvement though. Allmendinger, who is 21st in points, has led all of 33 laps over three races this season (17 at Phoenix, 11 at Daytona and five at Talladega) and he showed questionable judgment in setting off Kahne's accident that put a slew of cars in the garage at Pocono. He has a long way to go to match the resume and the name-recognition of his Budweiser-hocking soon-to-be-former-teammate.

Still, while his RPM brethren have been unable to make a legitimate claim at becoming the team's flag-bearer -- Paul Menard has averaged a 22.4 finish over the last 11 races and it's unclear if Elliott Sadler, who has been 20th or worse 13 times in 2010 and whose contract is set to expire, will be back -- Allmendinger has been exactly what a team losing a star needs: one potentially in the making.

2. Red Bull Racing has scoured the depths of NASCAR's castoffs since blood clots knocked Brian Vickers out for the season, putting Casey Mears, Reed Sorensen and even reaching as far as Sweden with Mattias Ekström for Sonoma to keep the No. 83 running.

Moving on without Vickers is something Red Bull never could have seen coming, and while it's commendable the way they've continued, they're playing this golden opportunity all wrong.

It's clear this is a lost season for the No. 83. There's no hope of making the Chase and no real hope of a win with the caliber of drivers they're wheeling out there. So why not use this opportunity to develop a talent who's guaranteed to pique interest?

I'm talking about Travis Pastrana.

Crazy? Maybe, considering the closest the four-time Rally America Series champ has come to NASCAR is competing with the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart on the dirt track of Eldora Speedway. But what Red Bull boss Jay Frye needs to ask himself is: what do I have to lose?

Inexperienced or not, Pastrana has proven his mettle on two wheels and four and he has a massive fanbase, which would translate into ratings, and he would draw tons of attention for a team that is truly in need of something positive with Scott Speed sitting 26th in the points standings.

Now, Pastrana could completely bomb, but considering that in four starts, Mears finished 22nd, 29th, 23rd and 36th, Ekström was 21st and Sorensen was 24th last week at Loudon, could he really be that worse?

600: Bobby Labonte will be behind the wheel for his 600th Cup race Saturday at Daytona, putting the 2000 champ 20th on the all-time starts list.

199: Labonte's career top-10 finishes. With one more he'll become the 26th driver to reach the 200-mark.

4: Labonte's number of top 10s over the last 72 races, the last of which came Nov. 1, 2009.

Tony Stewart. Smoke has turned a horrendous start into a reminder of just how good he can be, rising from 18th to ninth in the standings behind the strength of five top 10s in the last six races, including four straight. But what's been missing from Stewart's rise is a return to Victory Lane. There's no better time or place to finally take the checkers than the holiday weekend at Daytona, where's he won three times, including last season. Of course, this is restrictor-plate racing which means anything can happen, so here's a driver with nothing to lose to keep an eye on: Menard.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)