Eight completed races on a 36- race schedule doesn’t make for a season, but it does give us enough to start labeling drivers that may already be in trouble, or those who have surprised us coming out of the box.
The introduction of the new point system where every finishing spot is worth one more point than the next makes the job a little more difficult this season, but some drivers, it appears, would be hurting regardless of the point system being used.
Regardless of which drivers are sitting in the top 10 at this point, the season has already proved to be one of the more competitive in recent years, as all four manufacturers are represented in the topsix spots in the standings. It’s not just the manufacturers that seem to be on equal footing either, heading into Richmond this week there are seven different organizations appearing in the top 10.
Carl Edwards now sits on top of the standings, the spot that he also occupied after the races at Daytona, California and Texas. He has one win on the year but has been joined in victory lane by Roush- Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, giving that organization some early season momentum. It also doesn’t hurt that their other teammates Greg Biffle and David Ragan have also been competitive so far this year.
Hendrick Motorsports, it seems, will always have a say in who sits on top of the standings regardless of the time of year, and this season is no different. Fivetime series champion Jimmie Johnson trails Edwards by five points and is coming off his first victory of the season at Talladega. While he is the flag bearer for that organization until someone from within can win the title, it is his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. who sits in third that has turned the most heads this season with his newfound consistency after joining forces with crew chief Steve Letarte.
The only two-time winner in the series this season is Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who is in fourth place. Joining him in the top 10 is teammate Clint Bowyer in 10th but it is first year RCR driver Paul Menard in 11th that has been the surprise so far this season for that organization. It would be hard not to point to RCR as the top organization at this time if it wasn’t for the horrible start of its fourth driver, Jeff Burton.
Burton was one of the preseason favorites to contend for the title after a strong run last season, but his best finish this year is an 11th at Texas. To make things worse, he also has just one other top-15 finish on the season. Burton has always had the reputation of being one of the most consistent drivers in the series, but this season he hasn’t even led a lap and has yet to be a contender for a win during the closing laps of a race.
While some teams have flourished during the early season, the same can’t be said for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch is the lone exception of the three-team operation as he once again took the checkered flag at Bristol and presently sits in the sixth position in points. His teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have each posted only one top-10 finish this season.
This Saturday’s race at Richmond is very important to several drivers if they want to try and begin to turn their season around, but it is the next trip to Richmond in September that everyone has an eye on. That is the final race before the field is set to see which drivers will move on to the Chase round with the opportunity to run for the title. There is a lot of racing between the two stops at Richmond, but for many race teams there just might not be enough time to get the job done.
PIT NOTES: The 25 nominees for the 2012 Hall of Fame class were announced last week, from which five new members will be announced on June 14. This year’s class, composed of David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Lee Petty and Bud Moore, will be inducted on May 23. That will bring the total number of enshrined to 10 and with only five being elected each season, there will always be some great names being left out. The fear here is that those who helped build the sport during the early years may never gain entry as their names will continue to fade with each passing ballot.
Race Preview Event: Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 Track: Richmond International Raceway (.750-mile oval with 14 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: April 30, 7:30 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champ: Kyle Busch