A Changing of the Guard in Miami?

Smoke is on Fire

Two time Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart was upset with what he calls idiotic driving and vows to have at it following Pocono (photo courtesy: Rusty Jarrett, Getty Images Sport)

Denny Hamlin claimed his series-high fourth win of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season on Sunday at Pocono. With the win, Hamlin sits in third place in the point standings, the Top 12 of whom will qualify for the Chase “playoffs” that culminate with a Champion being crowned in Miami Nov. 21. Tickets for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend go on sale to the general public July 3 (renewal deadline is June 15). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

After claiming the win in last fall’s Ford 400 Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami, Hamlin was the preseason media pick to unseat four-time Champion Jimmie Johnson on the Sprint Cup stage this year in Miami. Some of that optimism waned when he underwent in-season anterior-cruciate ligament surgery at the end of March—the result of a January basketball injury—but that decision seems to have worked in Hamlin’s favor. In the nine races he’s run since surgery, Hamlin has three wins and six Top 5s.

Hamlin led 88 laps and appeared to have the race well in hand with just over a lap to go, but his two-second lead evaporated when NASCAR Championship points-leader Kevin Harvick nudged Joey Logano into the wall bringing out a caution.

Because Hamlin failed to reach the start/finish line for the white flag before the caution came out, the stage was set for another green-white-checkered finish. Hamlin chose the inside lane in front of teammate Kyle Busch, a duo that hasn’t exactly been friendly of late with Busch saying he wanted to "kill" Hamlin following a run-in at the All-Star Race in May.

At the restart, Hamlin easily drew free of Busch and Tony Stewart to cruise to victory. What does it all mean? Were the Chase to begin today, Hamlin would be the “reset” standings leader based on his season-high four victories. But 12 races remain before the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Tickets for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 19-21) go on sale to the general public July 3 (renewal deadline is June 15). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

“We just flat-out drove through those guys," Hamlin said. "It was similar to what our win was last year, and it was just a great car. The best it was all day was that last run."

“I did the best I could," said Busch. "I went from about an ‘F’ [grade] at knowing how to get around here today to about an ‘A,’ and an ‘A’ didn't get it done."

Two-time Sprint Cup Champion Stewart finished third to notch his first Top 5 of the season (he finished second at Bristol in March) and jump three spots in the points standings to sit only one point back of the Top 12. Reigning-Champion Johnson finished fifth to reside sixth in the standings, and is actually closer to falling out of the Chase picture than he is to the lead.

Calling the racing that took place following restarts "idiotic,” Stewart left little doubt that he'll seek payback starting at Michigan next weekend. He was less than thrilled with some of the on-track dustups and vowed to test NASCAR’s “have at it boys” policy.

"I've seen some of the worst driving I've ever seen in my life in a professional series right here today,” Stewart said post-race. “So for anybody that's looking for drama for the next couple races, start looking because I can promise I'm going to start making the highlight reel."

With 12 races left before the “playoff” field is set and just 173 points separating 12th place from 20th, many of the series’ top drivers remain in the hunt, including Stewart, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and South Florida’s Juan Pablo Montoya (see sidebar). The contenders for the Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21—will be unveiled after Race 26 at Richmond on Sept. 11.

All of NASCAR’s elite will be looking to gain points Sunday at Michigan (1 p.m., TNT TV, MRN Radio)—Race 15 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public on July 3 (renewal deadline is June 15). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

On the Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Montoya Finishes Eighth at Pocono

Juan Pablo Montoya on Sunday made his seventh career start on at Pocono, the site where he began last fall’s string of nine Top 10s in 15 races to vault from 15th in the points standings to a place in the Chase. In the process, he became the first non-American born driver ever to qualify for NASCAR’s “playoffs.”
After qualifying seventh for Race 14 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall (Nov. 19-21), Montoya finished eighth to equal his finishing spot at Pocono last June. With the finish, the driver of the No. 42 now has earned a Top 10 in all seven races—including four Top 5s—in which he has completed all scheduled laps in 2010.

"It was a crazy day for the Target team,” Montoya said post-race. “We had a good starting position, and it became apparent pretty quick that we had some work to do on the car when the race started. The guys made adjustments all afternoon and Brian [Pattie, crew chief] made some calls on pit road that put us in position to finish in the Top 10."

It is interesting to note that Montoya drove this same chassis to a 37th-place finish at Las Vegas, where he was running in the Top 10 before being involved in an accident—a too-common occurrence in 2010 for the South Florida resident looking for glory this fall on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public on July 3 (renewal deadline is June 15). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

Montoya resides in the 20th spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings with 12 races to go before the field is set for the Chase “playoffs” that will culminate with the 2010 Champion being crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. He continues his points-race pursuit of the Sprint Cup Series Championship with Race 15 of 36 at Michigan on Sunday, June 13, at 1 p.m. (TNT TV, MRN Radio).

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