By admin | April 10, 2011
By Richard Allen
Coming into this NASCAR Sprint Cup season three of the sport’s biggest names and most popular drivers were in the middle of long slumps. Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. each had to flip the calendar back quite a way to find their last victory. As it turns out, each is in the midst of a resurgence this season to the delight of their teams, their fans and themselves.
Kenseth’s win at the Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night was his first in 76 races. After winning the first two events in 2009, the former NASCAR champion had gone over two years without taking a checkered flag.
In victory lane at Texas Kenseth was reflective. “I’ve said it after every win, but especially after over two years, I didn’t know if I’d ever have a chance to get here again,” he said after climbing form his car.
Aside from winning a race, Kenseth is again starting to show that consistency that produced a title for him in 2003. He has scored three top-5s and four top-10s thus far in the young season. As a matter of fact it was the Wisconsin native’s fourth consecutive top-10 and his sixth consecutive top-12. Those results have placed him third in the overall standings.
Jeff Gordon also ended a long winless drought earlier this year with his triumph in Phoenix. That was the first victory in 66 outings for the four time Sprint Cup champion. A crash in Daytona and running out of fuel on the last lap in Texas have damaged his chances of adding a fifth season ending trophy to his collection although he is far from out of the hunt in 14th place of the standings.
During the off season Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports team executed a major crew and driver swap which ultimately paired him with highly regarded pit boss Alan Gustafson. So far the two seem to be working through a few kinks but there is no doubt the win in Phoenix boosted Gordon’s confidence in the new association.
Perhaps even more refreshing to NASCAR than the revivals of two former Sprint Cup champions is the improvement shown so far in 2011 by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The sport’s most popular driver came close to making his own appearance in victory lane last weekend in Martinsville and added another top-10 to his collection in Texas.
As of now, Junior sits in the sixth spot of the standings after recording four top-10s out of seven starts. The previously mentioned crew swap at HMS placed Steve Letarte atop Junior’s pit box and that change seems to have worked wonders for the driver’s confidence and demeanor.
So far, 2011 is proving to be the year of the comeback. For these three drivers, and even for NASCAR to some extent as well. And likely, it is no mere coincidence that there have been better attendance and ratings as these drivers continue to show improvement.
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