NASCAR in primetime tonight

Published 9:10 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

After taking last weekend off for Easter, the Sprint Cup series cranks back up this week in Phoenix. This will be the first Saturday night race of the young season and the beginning of 14 consecutive weeks of Cup racing.

Five races into the 2010 season, there have been no real big surprises relative to a particular driver’s performance, or lack thereof. The usual suspects are present atop the leader board with Jimmie Johnson leading the way. Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Burton make up the rest of the top five in the standings.

If there is a surprise driver, it would have to be Paul Menard in the 11th position. Widely considered to the fourth-best driver in the four-team Richard Petty Motorsports stable, Menard is outperforming teammates Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler, both of whom have made the chase. Although Menard is all but guaranteed a ride due to a built-in major sponsor in the family-owned Menard’s Home Improvement business, he has proven his ability to compete thus far this season.


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Speaking of Kahne, this is his free agent year and he’s made no secret his return to Petty next season is far from a done deal. In fact, I would be shocked if he wasn’t somewhere different next season. Now driving Fords, resulting from the merger of the Gillette Evernham and Yates Racing merger, Kahne has said the success of the team would determine his plans in 2011.

Early whispers indicate that The Captain, Roger Penske, will make a run at having Kahne replace the ever-struggling Sam Hornish, Jr. in the No. 77 Dodge. If that’s the case, mark off Budweiser following the driver, as Miller Lite is already on board with Penske.

The other big free agent this year is Harvick. Going into the year, I didn’t think Richard Childress stood a chance of keeping Harvick past this season. Now, I am not so sure Harvick will be moving teams in 2011. Shrinking to three teams from four, Childress is hitting on all cylinders and all three of his teams are in the top nine. Harvick has been steady in fourth, Burton in fifth, and Clint Bowyer sits ninth.

If Harvick does make a move, the obvious destination would be a third Stewart Hass Racing car. But, I wouldn’t totally rule out Harvick following his buddy Tony Stewart’s lead and becoming his own boss. Kevin Harvick Inc. already fields top-notch truck and Nationwide teams and could easily make the transition to Cup racing.

Haven’t heard much for Jeremy Mayfield and his David vs. Goliath fight against NASCAR lately. But it seems like Mayfield has been busy nonetheless, busy not paying his taxes. The IRS has a lien on some Mayfield property for unpaid taxes of over $230,000. Not to be left out, the state of North Carolina is owed over $65,000 in late income taxes. This guy really has some problems, hopefully he gets himself straightened out.

Looking forward to Saturday night in Phoenix. This is a one-mile flat track that typically produces entertaining races. Typically, drivers who are strong at Martinsville, are also strong at Phoenix. My pick to win is Jeff Gordon.