Top 10 Best Re-Starters In NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IAugust 15, 2010

Top 10 Best Restarters In NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing

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    For some drivers, it's the one moment they absolutely grimace at, knowing that their tremendous straightaway leads evaporated into a matter of nil.

    All that domination fades away into side-by-side, sheet metal action that surely translates into dramatics for both competitors and the fans at the track, who surely have no idea what will happen until the green flag unfurls with a parade of colors flashing by at over 180 miles per hour.

    Other racers absolutely feast on the concept of double file, "shootout" format restarts, knowing it's their one chance to make the most of their opportunities for a win.

    After biding their time, sitting contentedly within the lead pack, it's shut up or go time for these competitors, ready to pounce and attack on the leader who's been in the front of the field all race long.

    It's no secret that race victories happen because of a driver's ability to make the most out of a restart, most especially when they're within grasp of the winner's circle.

    That's why for these nine drivers and possibly a face to remember this season, they've found what it takes to win in recent years.

    And if it's due to coincidence or sheer skills, make no mistake that these are the faces you want to keep an eye on when you see their machines pacing or near the front of the pack when it's crunch time.

    Ladies and gentlemen, here are the "Top 10 Best Restarters in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," who always play a role at the end of every race, no matter the time or place.

    Author's Note: For more of my racing thoughts and analysis, please visit my blog, "The Podium Finish," where you can find out about the latest racing sensation or my perspectives on a popular racing topic, such as restarts or the struggles of a NASCAR Cup team. Check out "The Podium Finish" at http://thepodiumfinish.com, where you're amongst the winners all the time!

Jimmie Johnson

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    NASCAR's newest four-time champion may have his greatest strength unveiled here in this very slideshow.

    Sure, fans and critics may point that The Chase has played a hand in his consecutive titles, which have certainly looked like child's play for the No. 48 team.

    But for Jimmie Johnson and his Lowe's crew, they've excelled at the sport's year-old rules policy of the double-file restarts.

    Johnson's captured 10 of the 45 races run since the implementation of NASCAR's "Double File, Shootout Style" restarts.

    There's no denying the fact that even if luck has been a part of his amazing run, the lead foot of the El Cajon ace is about as sought after as Peyton Manning's ability to run a two-minute drill, even with all the pressure mounting on him to lead the Colts to victory.

    In the case of NASCAR's version of Manning, credit the spotter for guiding Johnson with these victories, which include last year's Brickyard 400 and his first wins at Bristol and the road course at Sonoma, Calif., his "Achilles' heel" of sorts in his storied career.

    So while the critics and naysayers believe it's mainly the genius of crew chief Chad Knaus, an apprentice of Ray Evernham, the fact that he's won 10 out of 45 events under the rules change points out that there's a very exceptional and astute driver who knows how to get it done, no matter where he starts.

Kurt Busch

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    Is it coincidence or an observation that Kurt Busch has reeled off wins at the 1.5, quad-oval facilities since the use of the double-file restart rule? Hmm, possibly a bit of both.

    How convenient, since we're talking about the man who drives a little blue deuce coupe, and no, not the the one that Mike Love sang about with The Beach Boys long before people knew about Good Vibrations.

    Joking aside, there's no doubt that when one thinks about a driver who's aggressive but smart, willing to push the envelope only when it truly matters, it's the 2004 Cup champ that comes to mind.

    When it comes to intermediate tracks, where there's a fine balance of full throttle racing mixed in with finesse, as well as battling one self and the track, Kurt Busch knows how to get it done.

    Proof in point: look no further than the March Atlanta race, where he passed Clint Bowyer in the penultimate restart with just about 10 laps left in the Kobalt Tools 500.

    It was a critical restart, as Bowyer would get collected in a seven-car crash in turn four.

    Ultimately, it proved to be a race-winning move and possibly a catalyst for the solid season that the No. 2 Miller Lite/Penske Championship Racing team has enjoyed all year long.

    Can anyone guess who's just as good as big brother Kurt?

Kyle Busch

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    They may say a picture describes a thousand words, but one look at Kyle Busch strapping his gloves and game face at the controls of his No. 18 Toyota may describe a singular adjective, particularly with restarts: tenacious.

    Like big brother Kurt, he's garnered a trio of wins since the restart rule's implementation, although honestly, whatever the rules are, when the checkered flag is on the line, he'll do whatever it takes to win, no matter what.

    If it means even wrestling the lead away from one of the sport's future legends, so be it.

    One of the more poignant moments of the 2010 season has to be Busch's victory at Richmond this past May, passing Jeff Gordon with just five laps to go.

    The pass meant two things to fans and those following NASCAR in 2010:

    - Jeff Gordon's inability to close out races was greatly highlighted, and perhaps, was addressed recently with the hiring of Kyle Busch's now former spotter Jeff Dickerson.

    - Busch's ability to dominate races, when everything comes together, translates into a work of art, enhanced by his attentiveness with NASCAR's brief moments of an NHRA-like drag race on a restart.

    While his value as a solid restarter may be in a bit of a limbo since Dickerson's release in late July, mark my words when there's personnel changes within his group, given some time to gel with his newest members, the 25-year-old Vegas sensation will most likely succeed at all aspects of the game, including restarts.

    Can you say, "Andale, andale, arriba, arriba?"

Jamie McMurray

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    Sure, a Chase seed may not be in the cards for one of NASCAR's most improved stars in 2010, but Jamie McMurray has enjoyed some tremendous success in a season that hardly looked promising for the Joplin, Mo., native during Speedweeks at Daytona.

    Is it any secret as to how McMurray and the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy team's garnered their two wins this year?

    Actually, not really...because the key lies in them having an attentive spotter, solid pit crew, and oh yeah, a driver who knows how to restart solidly.

    Stats don't lie and if you take a glance at the box scores from the 500 this past February and at last month's Brickyard 400, look at who made the race-winning pass?

    Yep, the same guy who many discounted and labeled as a misfit at Roush-Fenway Racing.

    And can you guess when he made those amazing moves? Correct again, during the last restart of the race.

    OK, so restarts at Daytona, much less Talladega are an art form in itself, but to get a good jump at a flat yet lengthy speedway takes skills from the driver and communication from the man upstairs (I'm talking about the spotter, mind you).

    Ironically, in both instances where McMurray made the race-winning pass for the lead, Kevin Harvick's been had, left in the dust while that orange and day-glow No. 1 Impala receives the spoils in Victory Lane.

    If this team works on their consistency and happens to improve on their weak areas, particularly at the other intermediate speedways, there's no doubt that this group will not just be regarded as a spoiler in late-race restarts.

Kevin Harvick

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    Oh and speaking of Harvick, he's only had a pair of wins in 2010, but oh, has he ever become the master of stealing victories, or snatching them away when it truly counts.

    Don't sympathize with this season's longest tenured points leader, who may have had two additional possible wins lost at the hands and accelerator pedal of Jamie McMurray, but he does have a lot to be comforted with this year:

    - As mentioned, he's got the points lead, riding on consistency with top-fives and 10's, as well as those two wins.

    - And oh yeah, those two victories come at the expense of Jamie McMurray and teammate Clint Bowyer, both at plate facilities.

    In the Aaron's 499 at Talladega held this past April, on the final lap of the much-extended race that went into "overtime," it was the familiar yellow and red No. 29 Shell Chevrolet colors that painted the winner's circle, as Harvick shot past McMurray on the final lap of the 200-lap event.

    Then there was the Fourth of July weekend win at Daytona, with a solid restart on teammate Clint Bowyer that translated into a second win, albeit again at a plate track.

    However, Harvick's aggressiveness, paired with Richard Childress Racing's horsepower and equipment, spells out a restart warrior in NASCAR Sprint Cup parlance.

    Come to think of it, if the No. 29 team continues its consistency game for the rest of the year, the rest of the circuit should definitely be concerned from here on out, especially when it's Talladega time come Halloween weekend in The Chase.

Ryan Newman

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    In a list that should probably be called "Drivers Who Have Beaten Jeff Gordon At The End of a Race," you have to consider the driver who's nickname appropriately includes the word "Rocket."

    Yep, I'm talking about "Rocket" Ryan Newman, who blasted his way to Victory Lane in April with the prolonged Subway Fresh Fit 600K, much at the chagrin of Jeff Gordon, who's probably feeling a bit put upon with this list and the fact that the No. 24 team hasn't closed out a race since wings weren't just on chickens and Red Bull energy drinks.

    Sure it may have been one time, but it's a memorable moment for the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year winner, who surely hasn't much to be proud about in recent years.

    However, since joining the Stewart-Haas Racing faction, he's been a factor most of the time for wins.

    While 2010 hasn't been quite as friendly as last year's magical run in the Chase, he has a solid reputation to be a great restarter.

    Also, when it comes to restarts, he's known to be a strong defender for his position.

    Ask Gordon, whose 2007 victory at Darlington probably would not have happened without Newman's defensive skills for the runner-up spot at the expense of Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

    OK, so he eventually was passed by Hamlin, but the point is, with his need for speed, a fast car, and his desire to win, he's one of the dark horses, but a name to remember when all the money's on the line and that No. 39 Chevrolet's up there, with the win for the taking.

Denny Hamlin

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    It's been something of a loud year for the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team and Denny Hamlin, who are solidly in the thick of things with the Chase, including four pivotal wins.

    While some of their season has been marred somewhat by some controversial moments, there's also highlights too for the '06 Rookie winner.

    Notably, the hard-charging racer from Chesterfield, VA has learned to punch the accelerator when the win's on the line, and that perhaps explains two of his four trips to the winner's circle in a year where he's dubbed himself as the man to beat, even ahead of guys like Jimmie Johnson and the Busch brothers.

    Consider this: a week before his knee surgery, Hamlin surged past Jeff Gordon (notice a trend?) with just a pair of laps to go at Martinsville in March, taking the win away from the four-time champ and easing some concerns for his fans and followers.

    But then again, that's typical short track action, and we kinda expect some bumping and grinding to allow for a late-race dramatic moment.

    But...then there's Texas in April, where once again, Gordon made the headlines with another late race meltdown which paved the stage for Hamlin to capture yet another win.

    However, this one required a bit of work, more so than the paperclip triumph from a few weeks before.

    With 12 laps to go, Hamlin made the race-winning pass on Jeff Burton on the last restart, getting past the No. 31 Chevrolet to take home his second of four victories in the 2010 season.

    Certainly, it's done him wonders and explains for their terrific season thus far.

    Credit his spotter, Curtis Markham, who knows a thing or two about racing.

    Having been a Nationwide Series veteran throughout the 1990s, you know he's able to relay some critical input and information to a driver always hungry for wins.

    Will their success continue for the remainder of 2010? It rides totally on how they strive on restarts, because without a good lead foot and spotter, it's disappointment from here on out.

Kasey Kahne

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    While it's been a season to forget for the man who'll ultimately drive for every manufacturer by the 2012 season, Kasey Kahne's ability to restart excellently has helped him garner a pair of wins.

    Though when I say two victories, these are from last year, and 2010 sorely needs a highlight for the man ready to bolt to Red Bull Racing next year before settling down with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports in '12.

    Look back at his wins at Sonoma, where he had to contend with the hot heels of Tony Stewart, truly hungry to capture a second victory in June of 2009.

    Impressive in that the victory came from an organization that's truly the opposite of organized and against one of the "kings" of road course racing, and it's no wonder why Kahne's victory last year impressed many critics.

    Then there's his pivotal win at Atlanta last year in Labor Day Sunday, besting the likes of Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya, who are two of the sport's hardest chargers.

    Sure, you may credit his pit crew, the crew chief, and his spotter. But then there's the driver factor, in which the Enumclaw, Wash., native has learned to hone his restart game.

    If the No. 9 Budweiser Ford team manages to win a race this season, credit Kasey Kahne, who's made the most out of a lost season filled with distractions and duress.

    Lest we not forget that as he's a guy who pushes his car to the limit, that also translates into a racer who knows how to make the most out of a restart opportunity.

Tony Stewart

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    While he's yet to win a race in 2010, he makes the list ahead of guys like Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon simply cause of the fear factor.

    No matter where he starts in the first row on a restart, if there's one driver whom competitors fear most when it's all on the line, besides Jimmie Johnson, you have to be worried if Tony Stewart's No. 14 Chevy is alongside of you.

    He may just be the closest, and when I say closest, try 1/64th scale version of what Dale Earnhardt was like to competitors in his prime days, although nobody comes even a 1/10th of the fearsome presence that The Intimidator was for his peers.

    Still, would you want a guy who claims he'd race you to the bathroom to restart next to you?

    Stewart has three crucial wins since the restart enforcement, which includes victories the 400 miler at Daytona, as well as that impressive victory at Watkins Glen and Kansas.

    All of these came from last year, although he has been marching ever so closer to a win this season.

    With his Chase implications on the line, while consistency may help, you know he and crew chief Darian Grubb want to win badly before postseason time.

    If you see the No. 14 Chevrolet as the first car to reach the start/finish line when the checkers unfurl, count on it happening on a late race restart.

Whoever Hoists The Sprint Cup Trophy...

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    Sure, to the victors go to the spoils, and while maximum points, good pit stops, and clean air are often mentioned as much as David Spade being funny, you cannot discount the fact that the best restarter on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit has to excel in a drag race relaunch under green flag conditions.

    Most notably, they have to be able to put the spurs to the machine on overdrive, especially if it's in the final 10 laps with no prisoners to be taken.

    If the mentality is such that every lap is like a qualifying, time-trial effort that goes on for three to four hours, then is it not logical to conclude that the driver who's prime at this aspect of NASCAR racing is also likely to hoist the Cup in Homestead-Miami Speedway by mid-November?

    Whether it's any of these mentioned racers, or even some who've had victories slip by the wayside, there's never been a higher premium on restarts than in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing today.

    Ladies and gentlemen, press your gas pedals!