Before we move on to Fontana, let's take a moment to examine the winners and losers from NASCAR's recently completed weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway:
It can't be overstated what an extraordinary effort Brian Vickers put forth in his first start of 2012. How remarkable? The 125 laps he led on Sunday were a single-race high for a Michael Waltrip Racing-owned car, besting the 104 laps David Reutimann led at the fall Richmond race in 2008.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Not only did Jamie McMurray (finished seventh) and Juan Pablo Montoya (eighth) both score top-10 finishes in the same race for the first time all year, it was also the first time this season that both finished on the lead lap. For McMurray, it was his second consecutive top-10, while Montoya posted his first top-10 of the young season.
After an up-and-down start to the year which included a surprise announcement that the two-car team would be switching from Dodge to Ford next year, there were questions whether Penske Racing would be much of a factor the remainder of the season. Any doubts there may have been were erased when Brad Keselowski led a race-high 232 laps en route to his first victory of 2012.
Paul Menard's 10th-place finish Sunday was his third top-10 of the year, which I am guessing you didn't know tied him with Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson for tops in the series.
Kyle Busch/Carl Edwards/Kevin Harvick
This trio of multi-time Bristol winners entered Sunday seeking another winner's trophy to add to their respective collections. However, an early multi-car melee triggered by Kasey Kahne's spin collected all three; Edwards and Busch sustained heavy damage which put them behind the wall for an extended period of time, though Harvick was able to fight back to finish 11th.
Stop me if you've heard this before: When the green flag waved, there was Kasey Kahne in a car that appeared fast enough to make him a factor in the outcome. But an early accident again ruined any chance he had for a good finish and an exasperated Kahne voiced his displeasure at how quickly his season has unraveled.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
For the second straight week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the racetrack with a disappointing finish – courtesy of speeding penalty during his final pit stop of the day. And of course, there was that run-in with Jeff Gordon which left his teammate heading back to the garage on the back of a tow truck.
Remember two weeks ago in Phoenix when Denny Hamlin was in Victory Lane celebrating and most everyone (including me) was claiming that he was back and admiring what a statement win he just pulled off? Well, since then he's finished 20th in consecutive races.