CONCORD, N.C. – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Round 5 of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup:
• Jeff Burton admitted that Saturday night's win won't supply any additional momentum to his team, that it's hard work that will deliver results. That may be true, but of all the teams currently in the top five in points, only teammate Clint Bowyer's team has had a weaker season.
• Congratulations go out to Burton and his entire team for a job well done, but winning the championship? Don't bet on it, despite Burton's newly acquired second-place slot in the points. You just don't come alive in the last few races and get it done; you need to be good all season long. Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have been.
• I counted five times that Johnson wrecked during the race. He just didn't hit the wall. His car was so loose that at times it left me believing that takes more than a bad race car to stop him. When his car is bad, he's still good. When his car is good, he's unstoppable.
• These past seven days has Carl Edwards humming the lyrics to the '80s Cher hit, "If I Could Turn Back Time." This must have been the worst seven days of the driver's NASCAR career. And the more I look at the AP photo of his encounter with Kevin Harvick in the Nationwide garage, it appears to me that Edwards wasn't the aggressor. Look again at Edwards' facial expression.
• Those closest to Edwards say if there's a knock against him, it's that he tries to live to such a high standard that he mistakenly holds others to the same standard.
• I guess by now we all realize that Kenny Francis has a pretty good set up for Kasey Kahne's Dodge at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Now, if only it will work at similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta and Texas, this team just might have a couple more wins in their future.
• The biggest surprise of the night may have been the performance of Jamie McMurray. I knew he liked this track, especially after he qualified on the pole for Friday night's Nationwide race, but I had no idea how much. McMurray has been an enigma since coming to Roush Fenway Racing. At times (like now, for instance), he's been in some of the best equipment in the field and he's not shown the kind of results that his RFR teammates have. Maybe, just maybe, things are beginning to change?
• It sure looked like the Jeff Gordon of old, didn't it? For just less than 50 laps, the four-time champion was fast and appeared headed for the headlines. Then the track changed as the night wore on, and others kept ahead of it better than Gordon's team did.
• Let's look at the driver-musical-chairs scoreboard, shall we? AJ Allmendinger was making his first (and only) start in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 00 car, and he was the first one out of the race, hitting the wall hard where there was no SAFER barrier. Ouch!
"I just feel like an idiot honestly," said The Dinger, who was scored with a 43rd-place finish. "I probably wasn't patient enough and I feel bad. It was all me."
Is honesty the best policy? Maybe so, but it probably didn't win him any fans in the MWR front office.
"I guess Schrader thought it was a green-white-checkered, I don't know," said Skinner, who was scored with a 39th-place finish.
• The musical chairs continue next weekend at Martinsville with Allmendinger taking over the reins of the No. 10. Scott Speed will attempt his first Cup start and the driver of the MWR 00 is TBA.
• Although he led only one lap on Saturday night, David Ragan's run – much of it in the top five – was very impressive to say the least. Smart money says the RFR driver will finish 13th in points at the end of the season. Ragan sure has come a long way since his Martinsville debacle in 2006, when he hit everything but his marks. He's a Chaser next year, for sure. And I'm saying now that he'll do better next season than the guy who used to drive the No. 6 car – Mark Martin.
• I haven't said much about it the past several weekends, but the empty seats continue at Cup races. At Lowe's Motor Speedway it was a sad sign, especially for a Chase race in the heart of NASCAR country. Times are tough all over.
• Another sign of the times is the rumor I heard in the Cup garage that NASCAR has floated the possibility of a change in the field size for the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series to 28 vehicles and the Cup field down to 36 sometime in the future.
• If Matt Kenseth didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all.
• Jessica Simpson got the words to the National Anthem wrong. The third line goes like this, Jessica:
"Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight. "
Simpson sang, "Who brought stripes and bright stars through the perilous light."
That was just one of several lyrical errors during her pre-race performance. She looked great singing it, though.
• OK, can we all agree now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out of the running for the title? Along with Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch? And to be realistic, you can add Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart to that list.
Heck, why not just say it's down to Johnson, Burton and Biffle?
We've reached the halfway point and the great story lines keep coming. The Chase is the best thing to happen to the Cup series since, well … since the Chase was invented.
No one could have predicted just 45 days ago that Kyle Busch would be a non-factor for this year's title and that Greg Biffle would be. Thanks to the Chase, they are.
If you thought Talladega was a blast, wait until next weekend at Martinsville.
See you there.
- Carl Edwards