Welcome to the November 5, 2012 edition of Start ‘N’ Park Blog’s Stock Watch. Each week we’ll take a look at who’s rising, falling, and treading water in the world of NASCAR. This stretches all division and all aspects of NASCAR, including drivers, owners, crew members, media and fans. Finding their way onto this week’s watch includes Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Johnny Sauter, Austin Dillon, James Buescher, and Kevin Harvick. Is your favorite NASCAR personality rising, falling, or treading water?
Johnny Sauter (Camping World Truck Series) – Sauter has been pretty much nonexistent in the 2012 Camping World Truck Series unless the series is in Texas. He was able to sweep both races, but those have been the only two highlights of this season so far. He sits 9th in points with only six top 5s and eight top 10s on the year. Expectations were a lot higher for him and teammate Matt Crafton for the year, Crafton is higher in points (6th place) but Sauter has the wins.
Ryan Blaney (Nationwide Series) & Parker Kligerman (Camping World Truck Series) – In August Kligerman was dropped from Brad Keselowski Racing (and Penske Racing, technically) in favor of Ryan Blaney. Blaney struck first with a win in the Truck Series out in Iowa. Kligerman got his win in the Truck Series at Talladega a few races ago. This change has worked out for the best of both drivers and this weekend was another example. Back to Kligerman, he finished 2nd, which was his sixth top 5 finish in nine races with Red Horse Racing. Blaney finished 2nd in the Nationwide Series and has been on a fast track to the front in the trucks and Nationwide Series. I like both drivers, so it’s great to see it working out for both.
Jimmie Johnson (Sprint Cup Series) – He lost the Chase in 2011, but he will not be denied in 2012 for his sixth title. For the second week in the row Johnson cashed in on the max points by winning the race. He did so by out dueling with his closest competition in Brad Keselowski. He showed his muscle by winning the pole, leading 168 laps, and grabbing his 60th career win. With two races to go Brad Keselowski will need to win out or have Johnson falter. Right now, it doesn’t seem like either is going to happen with the 48 on track.
Austin Dillon (Nationwide Series) – Dillon, as I said on Twitter, lost some respect of mine for his post-race altercation with Denny Hamlin. Not so much what he did to Hamlin, but the idea that he got out of his car and ran away, leaving his crew chief to be the one yelling at/with Hamlin. Last year when team owner (and grandfather) Richard Childress confront Kyle Busch after a truck race I thought it to be funny. Now it seems to be a pattern that Dillon lets others fight his battles. Heck even brother Ty was down jawing at Hamlin, but again TV cameras did not catch Austin anywhere close. You’d better man up and fight your own battles or Cup will eat you alive kid.
Justin Lofton (Camping World Truck Series) – Weird to think that earlier this year when I interview Lofton he was coming into Martinsville being in the thick of the championship battle. He would win at Charlotte a few weeks later and be leading the points. At Texas Lofton finished 22nd and has dropped to 8th in points without any signs of that improving. I’m not sure if everyone else got better around him, his team is lacking something, or the start of the year was a fluke, but it has been a weird season for Lofton and his team.
Denny Hamlin (Sprint Cup Series) – Hamlin finished 20th at Texas, which dropped him two more positions in the standings. He’s down to 7th in the standings, whereas he was 3rd just two weeks ago. Hamlin was pegged as someone to give Keselowski and Johnson a run for their money, instead he’s done nothing but nose dive when the pressure is on. I think Hamlin and crew chief will be better in 2013, just surprised that things didn’t stay going the way they were.
James Buescher (Camping World Truck Series) – Native Texan Buescher was looking for a strong run to close out the championship battle between him and Ty Dillon. Instead he finished 11th while Dillon came home 5th. That is six points Buescher lost on Dillon, but still maintains a 15 point lead on Dillon. There are two races to go and Buescher needs to finish better than 11th to make sure he captures his first title.
Kevin Harvick (Nationwide Series/Sprint Cup Series)– Weird to put a driver who won on Saturday under “treading water” but that’s what Harvick will get. Harvick won on Saturday, leading 127 of the 200 laps, which made me impressed. The problem is he can do that Saturday, but I need something more out of Sunday runs. And to sum up Harvick’s season in the Sprint Cup Series, prior to the race a sky diver ended up landing near his car and damaging it. What other driver could have that happen to in 2012? Harvick recovered from that and finished Sunday in the 9th place. Which isn’t bad, but it is not doing much to help him in the standings. Hopefully continued off season changes behind the scenes will help right the RCR ship in 2013.
Kasey Kahne (Sprint Cup Series) – Mathematically Kahne and 7 other drivers have a shot at the title still. Realistically it’s down to Johnson and Keselowski. Kahne was in the conversation before a 25th place finish at Texas, but with that he’s just too far away. That’s where he’s falling, but what is making him rise (and thus treading water) is the fact he has exceeded most expectations in his first year at Hendrick Motorsports. I thought good things, but never saw two wins, four poles, 11 top 5s, and 18 top 10s for Kahne. He’ll most likely keep in the top five in the final standings, and I think that’s a lot of momentum to build on for 2013.