5 things we learned this weekend
Cutting it close -- April 2010 at Talladega, February 2010 and February 2007 at Daytona, March 2001 at Atlanta ... noticing a pattern yet? Those races have had some of the closest finishes in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history - and Kevin Harvick was involved in all of them.
Does Harvick always come out the winner when it's too close to call at the end? No, but he appears in the win column enough that it proves he knows how to get the job done.
It's no coincidence that if you look at the list of closest finishes since 1993 (the advent of electronic scoring), you see a few other names repeatedly - Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon. What's significant about those drivers? Each is a Cup champion.
With performances like Harvick's had so far this year, thrilling results like Sunday's, being in a contract year, and motivation after being informed his sponsor Shell-Pennzoil is ditching him at the end of the season, it sure seems like all the stars are aligning for a title run - especially if it comes down to the wire.
Something's missing - Sunday proved to be quite a historic day at Talladega as a record 29 drivers swapped the lead a record 88 times on race day. The list of guys who didn't make their way to the point position is actually shorter than those who did, but it includes a very interesting name: Carl Edwards. Sadly for Edwards, that doesn't come as a surprise. Through nine races this season, Edwards has led a total of zero laps in competition. There are start-and-park operations with more laps led.
Why is that so important? Remember that you get five bonus points for leading a lap of a race and another five bonus points for leading the most laps. If you take the maximum he could have earned in that span (90 points through nine races), he would find himself a comfortable sixth in the standings instead of 13th - right outside the Chase for the Sprint Cup zone. Even if you take a third of those points, Edwards would jump into a Chase position.
Equally as important, Edwards hasn't had the feeling of being leader of the pack in a Sprint Cup race since November 2009.
His results have been OK so far this year but if Edwards really wants to be considered a title contender, he's going to have to get up front.
Mad as hell -- If anybody though the Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson quarrel was just a "heat of the moment" type thing, check out the soundbyte heard round the NASCAR world: "The No. 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that. It takes a lot to make me mad and I am pissed right now." It's going to take a lot more than cookies and milk to calm Gordon down.
Getting spoiled -- OK, its official. NASCAR has hit the mark with their car package. Four weeks since reintroducing the spoiler on the Cup car, we've seen good racing on short tracks (1 mile or less), intermediate tracks (1-2.5 miles) and superspeedways (2.5 miles or bigger). The car is still a work in progress and tweaks are surely coming, but have you noticed there is less griping about the car since we started seeing better racing? Things are getting better all the time as long as NASCAR follows the same path.
One tough mother... -- Say what you will about Brad Keselowski (especially if you are a Denny Hamlin or Carl Edwards fan), but there's no denying his drive. He was one of a handful of drivers expected to do the Talladega double Sunday after rain forced the Nationwide race to Sunday evening, but a late Sprint Cup crash and elevated carbon monoxide levels put the double play in jeopardy. What did Keselowski do? He wore an oxygen mask in between races to eliminate the carbon monoxide problem, jumps in his car and wins the race. Even haters have to be impressed with that.
4 things you may have missed
Hendrick plans ahead -- Rick Hendrick secured his driver rotation for the foreseeable future with his surprise signing of Kasey Kahne. Now he's close to ensuring his top generals stay along for the ride as well.
Nationwide thriller -- Thought the Sprint Cup race was wild Sunday? You won't believe what happened in the Nationwide tilt immediately afterwards. Brad Keselowski went from needing oxygen before the race and almost missing the start to celebrating in Victory Lane. But wait, there's another plot twist after that too ...
Fun while it lasted -- Remember one year ago when team owner James Finch scored one for the little guys as his fledgling operation scored an improbable Cup victory? Treasure the moment, it's likely never to happen again .
Paving the way -- After a chaotic Daytona 500 in February, track officials are ready to get to work on preventing further issues.
3 on top
Kevin Harvick -- Happy had a long time to savor his last dramatic win (155 races - 2007 Daytona 500). He may not want to wait so long this time around though.
Jamie McMurray -- Couldn't hang on for a record-tying third-straight restrictor-plate win, but a strong performance shows he's the man to watch when the circuit arrives at Daytona and Talladega. Now about the other 20 tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule ...
Juan Pablo Montoya -- Stayed out of trouble by hanging out in the back until it was "Go time," then he showed how much "go" he has by being up front when it counted. Finally gets a result worthy of how he performed. Is this what he needed to ward off all the bad luck chasing him in 2010 or is this another high point in a roller-coaster campaign?
2 quotes from around the garage
"I had an AMP production this week and a Wrangler one next one. I had to get back in to shape. It was getting warm, too. It was getting a little bit warm." - Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his new look
"From the competitive standpoint, I don't know what else you can ask for. Anybody can win this race. There's no doubt about it. Any car can win this race and it's just who's going to put themselves in the position with 10 (laps) to go." - Denny Hamlin
1 last thing
Don't ratchet down the excitement meter just yet. Next up on the schedule is Richmond International Raceway - the short track that is much faster than you would expect. With many hurt feelings after Talladega, this may be drivers' best chance to get a little payback.
It's going to be a heck of a Saturday night special.