This past weekend was the first open date on the Sprint Cup schedule and for many teams and organizations it was a welcomed event. Not every team has gotten off to the start that it envisioned when it loaded its haulers and headed for Daytona to begin the season while others would rather keep racing because of the great starts to their seasons.
Ryan Newman came within one place of winning last season’s title without ever winning a race, but this season it may be that his only chance of just making the Chase will be by winning a race. Newman’s No. 31 Richard Childress Racing’s team was just slapped with a P5 penalty that included a loss of 75 points that should no longer give that team the option of making the Chase by its position in the point standings.
This season has already found several drivers forced to the sidelines because of various problems. Kyle Busch remains sidelined with a broken leg sustained at Daytona, but his brother Kurt has returned after being suspended while a domestic violence case played through the court that eventually found no charges being placed against him.
Brian Vickers was not in his Michael Waltrip Racing’s Toyota to begin the season as he recovered from offseason heart surgery. His return to the series only lasted two races before he was once again out from behind the wheel because of blood clots. It was the second time in his career that blood clots have forced him to miss races.
Kyle Larson also was forced to sit out a race after he fainted during an autograph session at Auto Club Speedway.
Kevin Harvick’s string of eight consecutive races with top-two finishes that included the final three from last season has made him the favorite to repeat as this season’s champion. This success has made his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and owner Tony Stewart’s miserable start even more puzzling. The three-time Cup champion is the second-lowest ranked full-time driver in the sport as he sits 32nd in the point standings.
Roush-Fenway Racing struggled mightily last season and those struggles have continued as only Greg Biffle is in the top-20 and he sits in the 20th spot. Following Biffle are his teammates Trevor Bayne in 25th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 28th.
Kyle Busch’s accident in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona brought up safety concerns at every track on the Cup schedule. NASCAR wasted little time in reacting to the serious accident as it sent safety crews around to each track to make recommendations on the installation of additional safer walls and the use of tire barriers until the new walls could be installed.
While Harvick may have gotten off to the best start of the early season, Penske Racing has gotten off to the best start of any organization. Penske’s Joey Logano won the Daytona 500 and has six top-10 finishes to start the season that has him second in the points. His teammate Brad Keselowski sits in fourth in the points, thanks to a win and five top-five finishes in the season’s first six races.
Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team may have shown the most improvement of any team competing in the series. The one-car operation occupies third place in the standings even though it has yet to win a race. Truex has put together a string of six straight top-10 finishes to begin the season that has him trailing series leader Harvick by 32 points.
Six races only makes up a sixth of the season, but it is enough to see who the contenders will be to make the Chase. Win and you’re in is still the quickest way as trying to make up points in this series may be even harder than winning.
Race Preview Event: Duck Commander 500 Track: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval, 24o of banking in the turns) Date: April 11, 7:30 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: PRN Defending Champion: Joey Logano