Menard's staying power, JJ dominates and Busch likes blondes
It was the blessing and the curse of being the son of home improvement magnate,
But this season, Menard is showing he's much more than
Emerging as one of the most surprising storylines of the early season has helped to quiet those who questioned whether he belonged, but it only sparks another: is it a fluke?
Menard has a few things working in his favor. While he has a top five at Atlanta to his credit, his rise has been primarily about consistency. He has an average finish of 14.2, ninth-best in the series and better than eight drivers who made last year's Chase.
He also has a veteran guide behind him in crew chief
"There wasn't quite as big of a learning curve. We kind of knew each other's personalities and clicked when I saw him a few years ago and it's just worked out," Menard said.
There's also a little matter of history on Menard's side. In the Chase era, those sitting above the cut-off line after five races have made the playoff 74.2 percent of the time (49 of 66).
Of course, we're entering a stretch of tracks (Martinsville, Phoenix, Texas and Talladega), where Menard averages no better than a 23rd-place finish. How he performs there with his new-found confidence should be a telling test of Menard's maturation and whether or not one of the early-season's most shocking stories has staying power.
Tiger, M.J. and Dale Sr., were simply in their heads and that's exactly the edge
"To pour my heart and soul into this race to beat the 48 car, I was trying to hit my marks every lap," he said. "I feel exhausted, I feel disappointed."
That's coming from a guy who dominated at Thunder Valley, leading 278 laps and has five career wins on the track. Busch isn't the first competitor Johnson has left deflated this season, remember the two-tire/four-tire gamble
"To see [Busch] get out and throw stuff at his car and punch his car, it's comical," Johnson told SI.com "I'm glad that we're doing this to these guys."
Five races into the season, Johnson has three wins, and he could well add a fourth at the Paper Clip (more on that later). Winning at that rate alone is enough to drain his competitors, but what the other contenders should really be worried about is the mind games J.J. is playing with them.
If we've reached the point where drivers are more concerned about where the No. 48 is than the race itself, the hardest part of Johnson's pursuit of a fifth straight title may already be over.
758: Laps Dale Earnhardt Jr. has led in his career at Martinsville
319: Laps Mark Martin has led at Martinsville
0: Junior's wins
2: Martin's wins
Johnson. Yes, he's the safe and easy pick, but he's the safe and easy pick for a reason. In the last seven Cup races at the Clip, Johnson has five wins. His nearest competitor, Denny Hamlin has claimed two of those races, but there's nothing about Hamlin's season (he's averaging a 21st-place finish), that leads you to believe he's going to truly present a challenge.
We continue our video series with the elder Busch, who discusses his favorite racing movie (hint: it stars