Southern 500 at Darlington: Surprising, Not Surprising

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IMay 11, 2009

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 09: Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Cheez-it/CarQuest Chevrolet, races with Joey Logano, driver of the #20 The Home Depot Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Southern 500 on May 9, 2009 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Good morning fellow NASCAR Nation. After a two-week hiatus from the B/R community (except for posting the Creature vs. Creature picks and results), I am back on track (hopefully) to begin working on my weekly series again.

For the record, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Monday, Apr. 27 at 1:10 PM. Sydney Rhayne was eight pounds, three ounces, and 21 inches long.

Enough about that (though I could brag all day long) and on to the Surprising, Not Surprising for the Southern 500 at Darlington this past weekend.

Surprising: Mark Martin moves into Chase contention

What? This is the same 50-year-old driver that was barely clinging to a spot inside the top 35 just weeks ago!

Now, however, Martin is perusing his way through the field, knocking off two wins in the past three weekends and charging his way towards that elusive championship.

With Martin's win on Saturday night, he moved to 11th in the points standings.

Will he fall out by Richmond? It would definitely be surprising if he did.

Not Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be the fourth wheel at Hendrick

Seriously, Rick Hendrick, you have got to realize there is something amiss with this team.

There is no reason for three out of four teams to have won this year and all be in Chase contention, while the fourth driver continues to struggle week in and week out.

Do I know what's wrong with the team? No.

Does Hendrick? Apparently not!

But the thing is, Hendrick has got to figure out something to do with this team. The rumored threat to swap teams with Martin appears to be just that, a rumor.

Besides, with the No. 5 Chevy winning two races and moving themselves into Chase contention, it'd be stupid to make any changes with that team.

If things don't change soon (I know, we've been saying that for weeks), Hendrick is going to do some shuffling around on this team, and I think Junior Nation will like the results.

Surprising: Scott Speed misses the race, yet drives

Yet another team that has something amiss is the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota driven by Speed.

Seriously, 45 cars enter Saturday night's race, and Speed can't beat out two of them?

Brian Vickers and the No. 83 team now have two poles this season and qualify fairly well each and every weekend, yet Speed has now missed two races in 2009.

This one hurt bad, however, as Speed would have entered Darlington less than 40 points away from 35th place and a guaranteed starting spot when the boys head to Charlotte in two weeks for the Coke 600.

He left Darlington over 100 points out of 35th.

Even more surprising was the move by Red Bull to ask Joe Nemechek if Speed could get behind the wheel of his No. 87.

The idea was to get the young rookie some more seat time, which to me makes no sense, being as the circuit doesn't visit Darlington again until next year.

Not Surprising: David Reutimann finally falls out of top 12

I think this actually happened after Talladega last week, but I never wrote anything about it, so I included it this week.

Sure, I had begun to put Reutimann in the Not Surprising part of the series because he was consistently finishing in the top 15 and maintaining his top 12 points spot, but we all knew it wasn't going to last, didn't we?

Not to take anything away from Reutimann—he's a great driver—but with the likes of Martin and other top-notch drivers banging on the door for a Chase spot, we all knew Reutimann's time was short-lived.

Surprising: Clint Bowyer falls out of top 12

Bowyer's streak of running at the finish of 83 consecutive races came to a screeching halt on Saturday night when he was caught up in a wreck.

The streak is the modern day (1972-present) record and was one shy of the all-time record of 84 set by Herman Beam.

The DNF was more than crushing of the streak; it pushed Bowyer outside the top 12 for the first time this season.

Bowyer now sits 13th in the points, seven points behind 12th-place Carl Edwards.

Not Surprising: Joey Logano picking up steam

I, for one, have been extremely tough on the 18-year-old phenom also known as Sliced Bread.

I still think the kid has a lot of learning to do and a long year ahead of him, but he appeared to be making some gains in recent weeks.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, however.

Tony Stewart drove the No. 20 Home Depot car for 10 years and always struggled the first few races of the season.

It wasn't until a few races in that the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team hit their stride, and Stewart usually ended the summer with numerous wins. In fact, the majority of his Cup wins have come during the summer months.

Greg Zippadeli and the No. 20 team have good setups for the coming weeks, and Logano should continue to improve.

Sure, he won't come out of summer with a couple wins, but he could put together a couple more top-fives and top-10 finishes before the end of the year.

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