NASCAR’s Sprint Cup's top five in points are Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth. The top five winners in last weeks’ race five in Fontana were Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards.
Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top five at Fontana and maintained or positioned themselves in the top five in points for the season.
These three top five contenders have different teams, SHR, RCR, and HMS, but they have the same manufacturer: GM’s Chevrolet.
Stewart has stated that it takes at least five races before the stronger Sprint Cup teams show consistent performance. Some of those teams may be in the top 10 or not far behind, but for Stewart, Harvick and Earnhardt, the top-five standing is a good start on a long season.
Sometimes comments by contenders before and after races can point to the team’s strengths and potential for wins.
Select quotes from Stewart, Harvick and Earnhardt before the green flag at Fontana, after the checkered flag at Fontana and before the green flag at the next race in Martinsville, Virginia might be telling.
Before race five, Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet) talked about Fontana.
“It’s just a very difficult place to get a hold of, and if you can get your car balanced, you really can drive away from the majority of the field and get a pretty big gap there, “Stewart said. “ You have to have that balance perfect. Somebody is going to get it right. I mean, somebody gets it perfect every time we go there.”
Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet) talked about the track surface.
“The more the tracks wear out, the racier they get. This racetrack has become really racy over the past few years just for the fact that the groove moves from the bottom to the top”.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet) expressed his concerns.
“I like this race track. It’s wide and I enjoy running on tracks that give you the opportunities to run different grooves. I am just worried about qualifying. If you don’t start up front it’s really hard to get there. If you qualify mid-pack it’s hard to get out of that.”
After winning Fontana, Tony Stewart was obviously upbeat.
“You hate to have them end with rain like that. But I've lost some that way," Stewart said. “We stayed out, the leaders came in. I mean, we were leading the thing and had earned that spot. Proud of that.
“Steve (Addington) did an awesome job all day of the changes that he made. Every time he changed something, the car really responded well to it. That's when you know you have a real good race car under you, when you make little changes and it makes a big difference. He did an awesome job. Each run we got better and better and better.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with his Fontana performance as well.
“We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came,” Earnhardt said. “We had been watching the weather all day. We felt certain if it started to rain it wasn't going to stop. We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three.
“We weren't making big changes to the car at all. I liked the speed."
“If we can keep going like this, we might get some opportunities like we did last year of winning some races and seal the deal eventually.”
Kevin Harvick described his day at Fontana.
"I think that was the right call at the end there, to stay out and not pit,” Harvick said. “Our biggest battle today was that the Jimmy John's Chevrolet did not take off well at the beginning of a run, and then we spent the rest of the time making up track position. Shane Wilson and the guys made changes on the car throughout the race, and towards the end the handling was really good."
Race six in the Sprint Cup Series is at Martinsville Speedway, a .526-mile track with 12-degree banking, less than half of the 30 degree banking at the .533-mile track at Bristol. Many drivers like racing Martinsville.
Tony Stewart shared his fondness for Martinsville.
“It’s still that old short-track feel,” Stewart said. “That’s what I like. We’ve got two half-mile tracks that we race on. This one’s quite a bit different than Bristol, and that’s what makes it fun. You can out-brake guys and you can run the outside if you get a shot. It’s racing the way we all grew up racing.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had good words for Martinsville.
“I look forward going to Martinsville,” Earnhardt Jr. “I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. We've had some good success there. I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.”
Kevin Harvick likes his history at Martinsville.
“It's a race track we feel confident at,” Harvick said. “All of our cars have run well there in the past. It's really keeping yourself out of trouble and getting to the end and hopefully by the end of the day you're in position to do something in the top-five.”
One mathematical reality adds up all season. Consistent top-five results will put a driver and team in strong contention for the Sprint Cup trophy.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, quotes and information were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by NASCAR and team representatives.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum at Racetake.com