Here is a spotlight on the winners and losers from the just-completed NASCAR weekend at Kansas Speedway:
Chad Knaus and Ron Malec
As the crew chief and car chief of Hendrick Motorsports' No. 48 team, Chad Knaus and Ron Malec are the backbone of the team that has guided Jimmie Johnson to unprecedented heights. On Sunday, the two were also the catalysts for a remarkable rally that saved the 48 team's championship hopes.
The moment Johnson righted his machine after losing control and crashing into the wall, Knaus served as the authoritative voice and dictated what repairs were to be made while Malec led the collective effort over the wall. Because of their resolve, Johnson not only stayed on the lead lap, but in the process was able to turn certain disaster into a ninth-place finish.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
As good as Johnson's comeback was on Sunday, it still wasn't even the best of the weekend. Instead, that honor goes to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who wrecked himself early in the Nationwide Series race and fell two laps down – which would have all but handed the championship to Elliott Sadler.
But thanks to a combination of factors including deft strategy, timely cautions and bad luck for his rivals, Stenhouse not only ended up back on the lead lap, but in Victory Lane. It was further proof the 25-year-old has both the talent and the moxie needed to be a challenger next year when he moves to Cup.
Despite going 0-for-2 in the wins department, Kansas had to be considered a success for Paul Menard. On Saturday, he dominated the Nationwide Series event, leading over half the laps before running out of fuel on a late-race restart. And that speed carried over to the following day, where he finished a season-best third in the Sprint Cup Series race – the best result for Richard Childress Racing since Jeff Burton crossed the line second in July's Daytona race.
After Danica Patrick's eighth Sprint Cup Series start, a quick look at the stats proves she needs far more seasoning in the Nationwide Series before she makes the step up to Cup next season.
In those eight Cup races, Patrick has finished no better than 25th, has yet to finish a race less than two laps down and has been in wrecks (some of her own doing, some not) at Daytona, Bristol and Kansas. And this isn't even taking into account how ordinary she's been in Nationwide, where in 30 races this season she has just three top-10s and an average finish of 19.4.
On top of all that, it is apparent Patrick still has a ways to go before she figures out the nuances of being a stock car driver. Rookies don't often try and assert themselves by intentionally wrecking a competitor. But when payback is required, don't take yourself out in the process.
You have to feel for Mark Martin for the year he's had in 2012. Since the green flag waved on the season at Daytona, the veteran has been a constant presence near the front of the field. And despite running a limited schedule, he has led more laps and been more competitive than a host of prominent drivers.
However, though no fault of his own, Martin has failed to visit Victory Lane thanks to continually being hampered by bad luck and mechanical gremlins. The latest example occurred Sunday, when Martin led 60 laps and was in the lead in the latter stages before his engine started to go sour – the fourth time that's happened in 2012.
Entering this weekend, Aric Almirola had led a total of 67 laps in 66 Cup career starts. On Sunday, with what he called the best car he's ever driven, he surpassed that total as he took the point on three separate occasions for a total of 69 laps. At the time, it looked as if it was shaping up to be a breakthrough performance for a driver who doesn't yet have a contract for next season.
Unfortunately, Almirola blew a right-front tire – twice. The latter incident sent him shooting into the wall so hard, it knocked the wind out of him.