NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Stays Hot

NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Stays Hot

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch streaked to his first victory in the Brickyard 400, and his fourth win from the last five races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver continued his drive to claim a spot in the Chase for the Championship by working his way within 30 points of his target. His four wins tie him with Jimmie Johnson for the most in the season, yet he is still on the outside looking in due to the races he missed due to injury at the beginning of the season. His potential to make that cut appears greater every week, though.

Sunday's race promised to favor those teams who qualified well, and showed speed throughout practice. Busch fit that bill, but the odds of winning four of five races running seemed too steep for anyone to climb. He did just that. The No. 18 outlasted the strategy games played by other contenders, and was out front to make his restarts pay off in the final miles of last week's race. The team led 19 laps, but had the best chassis in the final miles. Kevin Harvick's 75 laps led showed how dominant he was yet he couldn't come up with the win. Not one driver completely drove away from the competition last weekend, but the new aerodynamics rules didn't exactly open up the field. Only six different leaders proved that Indianapolis would continue to be a track where the fastest cars can run away from the field.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch streaked to his first victory in the Brickyard 400, and his fourth win from the last five races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver continued his drive to claim a spot in the Chase for the Championship by working his way within 30 points of his target. His four wins tie him with Jimmie Johnson for the most in the season, yet he is still on the outside looking in due to the races he missed due to injury at the beginning of the season. His potential to make that cut appears greater every week, though.

Sunday's race promised to favor those teams who qualified well, and showed speed throughout practice. Busch fit that bill, but the odds of winning four of five races running seemed too steep for anyone to climb. He did just that. The No. 18 outlasted the strategy games played by other contenders, and was out front to make his restarts pay off in the final miles of last week's race. The team led 19 laps, but had the best chassis in the final miles. Kevin Harvick's 75 laps led showed how dominant he was yet he couldn't come up with the win. Not one driver completely drove away from the competition last weekend, but the new aerodynamics rules didn't exactly open up the field. Only six different leaders proved that Indianapolis would continue to be a track where the fastest cars can run away from the field.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch - Busch made it four wins out of five races on Sunday in the Brickyard 400. He drove a fantastic race and put himself within 30 points of the coveted top-30 in points, which he needs to break into in order to claim a spot in the Chase for the Championship. He outlasted all of the competition and a green-white-checkered finish to come home in the top position for his first win in the prestigious race, and his second win at the speedway in as many days. Busch is on fire, and it doesn't seem like he is going to slow down any time soon. The next thing on his list to check off is a top-30 points position.

Carl Edwards -
Edwards has been steadily turning up his results in the past few weeks. His surge forward in finishing position coincides with Joe Gibbs Racing's turnaround in performance, too. At Indy he used that boost to qualify on pole, and lead the opening portions of the race. He may not have had the dominating machine that teammate Busch did, but he turned in another top performance despite only having the 13th-place finishing position to show for it. Edwards led 21 laps on Sunday, which was more than Busch, but he couldn't hold on to win at the end. Edwards is starting to turn the right direction as the Chase approaches, and that may not be happening at a better time.

Joey Logano -
Logano took control of Sunday's race at the Brickyard after the second caution period. The Penske driver qualified extremely well, and put Ford's gains in power to good use last weekend to lead some laps. He pushed his way to contention for the victory in the closing laps, but just didn't have enough machine on the final restart to be able to overtake Busch. He may not have been able to complete the Penske Racing sweep at the speedway, but his recent revival has to be great news for the team that was struggling just four weeks ago. Logano is another driver that appears to be hitting his stride as the Chase begins to loom large.

Brad Keselowski -
Despite starting deep in the field on Sunday, Keselowski used his speed on long green-flag runs to work his way into the top five by the halfway point of Sunday's distance. Keselowski raced intelligently at that point, staying behind Tony Stewart in an effort to save as much fuel as possible. The effort worked well to put him in front in the final stages, but he knew he would have to pit for fuel. The strategy game worked against the No. 2. Despite dropping in the order after that stop Keselowski fought back and used the final restarts to force his way back into the top 10. That finish is his third consecutive top-10, and it seems a certainty that he will return to Victory Lane soon.

DOWNGRADE

Jeff Gordon - Gordon lost control trying to avoid Clint Bowyer early last week, causing contact with the wall. The resulting damage to the No. 24 machine ended any chance of Gordon becoming the first six-time winner at Indianapolis. It was a terribly disappointing afternoon for the driver in his last visit at what could be considered a home track. The veteran driver, still searching for a win in his final season, should have been a contender last week, but his hopes were dashed again. That seems to be the tale of 2015 for the No. 24 team, and things will need right themselves for Gordon to make one final Chase appearance. There are still a few races to make that happen, but luck has not been on his side.

Tony Stewart -
Respectable practice times and a top qualifying effort gave Stewart confidence ahead of Sunday's race at the Brickyard. The two-time winner at the track used that confidence to run confidently inside of the top five in the opening segments of the event. That confidence faded as the race distance edged downward, though. Stewart turned heads early last week only to return to his normal 2015 form before the race ended. His finish last week marked his third consecutive finish outside of the top 15, but is probably more disappointing due to the speed he showed early in the weekend. Stewart is a driver fantasy players should avoid the remainder of the season even if he shows early speed on a given weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Earnhardt continues to show improvement at tracks he hasn't been a factor at in the past. Indianapolis last week was a case in point. The No. 88 had top practice times, and raced really well to be in contention for a top-10 finish. That effort came undone late when he lost control heading into Turn 1, though. Earnhardt found himself on the inside grass, which caused him to lose control and smack the outside wall. Sunday's finish was his second finish outside of the top 20 in the last three races. The veteran driver needs to build confidence and momentum before the Chase begins, but finishes like last week's will not contribute to that cause.

Aric Almirola -
While too much wasn't expected of Almirola last week in Indianapolis, ending up in the wall wasn't one of those things. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver hasn't finished inside the top 10 since Dover at the end of May. He finished outside of the top 30 in two of his last four races, too. Signs just aren't looking as positive as they were this time last year. At this point in the season Almirola knows he needs a win in order to work his way confidently into the Chase field, and results like last weekend will not allow him to find that glory. Almirola and team need to find some positives and work their way forward to maintain their position in points.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne needed to have a strong run at Indianapolis, but that effort fell flat once the green flag waved. The Hendrick Motorsports driver showed every sign that he would be able to fight for a top-10 last week, but the race didn't play out in that fashion. Kahne lived up to the perception that when he qualifies poorly, he races poorly. He started 27th last week in Indianapolis, but showed speed in practice. Ultimately, he was only able to finish 24th. It was a terribly disappointing day for a driver that should be capable of much more. There are a few tracks to come where Kahne could be a factor, but his current trend is not a good one.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Clint Bowyer - After not showing too much speed in practice, Bowyer ultimately lost control, which could have ended his chances of finding victory last week at Indy. Instead, the team put the mistake behind them and worked forward to claim a top-10 finish from what could have been a terrible day. Bowyer's sixth-place finish on Sunday was his first top-10 since the last time the series visited Daytona, and his second in four races. The team needs to build confidence and consistency, but has not been able to find it quite yet. Progress has been made in that quest, but more distance is left to run for the No. 15. Bowyer needs a win to enter the Chase, and not much less will suffice.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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