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Racing notes: Pressure already on for big names

April 23rd, 2013 9:18 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Normally, it would be absurd to hit the panic button eight races into the 38-race Sprint Cup Series season.
However for a trio of accomplished drivers, this might be the time.
Denny Hamlin is the first driver on the list.
Stuck on the sideline due to the back injury he suffered in a last-lap crash at California, by the time Hamlin returns to the cockpit of the No. 11 Toyota, he will be so far down in the points he will face tough decisions on the track.
He has to race conservative enough to get back in the top 20 of the point standings, but aggressive enough to win a pair of races if he wants to make this year’s Chase for the Championship.
While it might seem like a longshot at this point, I do believe Hamlin will get the job done. He had five wins last season, but more important is the performance of the Toyotas this season, particularly on the intermediate tracks.
The Toyotas from Joe Gibbs Racing, which Hamlin drives for, as well as those from Michael Waltrip Racing have been the fastest cars in the series so far.
Tony Stewart is the second driver on the list, and his prospects aren’t looking that great at the moment.
While the three-time NASCAR champion is a notorious slow starter, this has easily been the worst start of his 14-year Sprint Cup career. Through eight races, he has one top-10 finish, an eighth at Phoenix, compared to four finishes outside the top 20.
He is 21st in the current point standings, but more troubling is how none of the three Stewart-Haas Racing teams are contending for wins.
Of the team’s three drivers, only Ryan Newman has a top-five finish. He has four top-10 finishes overall, but also three finishes outside the top 30 for a less than inspiring 17th place in the points.
Although she’s 26th in the points, Danica Patrick may be the least disappointing of the trio. Being a rookie, the expectations are tempered with her performance. The times she has impressed with an eighth-place run in the Daytona 500 and a 12th-place run at Martinsville have overshadowed the fact her other six finishes are 25th or worse.
Stewart’s team is provided engines and technical support from Hendrick Motorsports, but getting the cars dialed-in is the responsibility of each team. It’s obvious things aren’t clicking with the drivers and their crews right now.
Juan Pablo Montoya is the third driver on the list. Currently 27th in the points, he’s actually one spot behind Hamlin in the point standings.
Out of the eight races so far, Montoya has only finished on the lead lap once. He finished 27th, three laps behind race winner Matt Kenseth, at Kansas on Sunday.
Unlike Stewart’s scenario, it’s not a case of the whole Earnhardt Ganassi organization way off the mark. Montoya’s teammate Jamie McMurray is currently 11th in the points, finishing seventh in two of the last three races.
If things don’t get turned around in a hurry. It will be a second straight disappointing season for Montoya, who finished 27th in the points last year.
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Coming off wins in the previous two NHRA national events, Greeneville driver Allen Johnson lost in the second round of quad eliminations of the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte this past Sunday.
With the early exit, the defending Pro Stock champion dropped to second behind race winner Mike Edwards in the point standings.
Johnson will get his Dodge Avenger back on track and try to regain the points lead this weekend at the NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.
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Closer to home, Bristol Dragway hosts the X-DRL (formerly the ADRL) this weekend.
Some of the classes contested include: X-Treme Pro Stock, Pro X-Treme and Pro Nitrous.
Billy Glidden, son of NHRA Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden, is one of those scheduled to compete.
The X-DRL Thunder Valley Madness kicks off with three sessions of qualifying on Friday. Eliminations start at 2 p.m. on Saturday with finals scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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Kingsport Speedway and Volunteer Speedway are both taking this week off from racing action.
NASCAR Weekly All-American Series racing returns to Kingsport Speedway on Friday, May 3, and dirt track action returns to “The Gap” on Saturday, May 4.

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