After the end of Sunday’s rain shortened race at Daytona, NASCAR has officially hit the midway point of the season. There have been some amazing races and finishes, there have also been some races that have been head scratches and make you wanna yell at the TV. Overall, the season has been pretty much how i expected it to go with a few exceptions.
Class of the field.
Joe Gibbs Racing.
No surprises in this category as Joe Gibbs racing is the one to beat at the mid-season mark. JGR, who started off the season with a victory in the Daytona 500 thanks to Denny Hamlin, have 10 wins among 3 different drivers. ( Both Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch both have 4 and Hamiln with 2.) Speaking of Truex, no surprise he has picked up right where he left off last year. Truex is in his 1st full season with JGR after his old team, Furniture Row Racing ceased operations after the conclusion of last year, has been very consistent this year with 7 Top 5’s and 11 Top 10’s. The other head of this JGR dominance is Kyle Busch. Busch is coming off one of his most successful seasons winning 8 races along the way finishing 4th in the playoff standings. Kyle has once again shown he is a favorite to capture his 2nd Cup series title this year with 4 wins, 10 Top 5’s and 15 Top 10 finishes. I expect both Busch and Truex to rack up a few more wins befor the regular season finale at Indy in a month.
If it hasn’t been JGR in victory lane, it’s been Penske racing. Joey Logano, who is the defending Cup series champion, is the current regular season points leader, has had 2 wins, 9 top 5’s and 12 Top 10 finishes but what has been his saving grace this season is he has 7 stage wins which is the most among any driver this year. (At the conclusion of the 1st and 2nd stages, the Top 10 drivers receive points. 1st receives 10 points plus 1 playoff point, 2nd receives 9, Etc.) I expect Joey to kick things into high gear as the regular season draws closer to the end. Brad Keselowski is the other driver in the Penske stable who has made some noise this season. Brad has 3 wins, 7 top 5’s and 9 Top 10 finishes through the midway point. Brad has kinda cooled off since his last win but he’s still a strong contender to make it all the way to Homestead and win his 2nd Cup title.
Honorable mention goes to Hendrick Motorsports.
Surprisingly, It’s not Jimmie Johnson who has led the Hendrick resurgence, it’s been the young guns in William Byron, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott. Byron who drives the famous #24 car, has shown a lot of speed and can hang with the big boys consistently. His 1 top 5 and 6 top 10’s have him sitting 12th in the point standings but i have a feeling he will be sitting in victory lane before the season is all said and done. Alex Bowman has visited victory lane this season after winning 2 weeks ago at Chicagoland, has secured himself a spot in the playoffs with that win. Bowman sits 9th in the standings with that lone win on top of 4 top 5’s and 6 top 10 finishes. While I don’t see him making the Final 4 at Homestead, I do see him making the Round of 12 and have at least 1 more win under his belt. Elliott hasn’t had a bad season, his lone win at Talladega on top of his 6 top 5’s and 7 top 10’s have him sitting 7th in the standings, it’s the 3 DNF’s that have hurt him this season.
Making steady improvements
As I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the biggest surprises this year (other than JJ still not winning a race) is the fact the Stewart Haas Racing hasn’t visited victory lane YET and it’s not for a lack of trying. Harvick, Almirolia, Bowyer and Suarez have all shown speed and strength individually, but it seems like lady luck always deals the team a bad hand in ways like an accident on track that they couldn’t avoid or costly mistakes on Pit road that they can’t overcome. Harvick has come closer to winning more than the other 3 but just can’t seem to seal the deal. Harvick came off one of his best seasons since winning the 2014 title. He had a career high 8 wins and finished 3rd in the final point standings. He currently sit’s 3rd in the standings with 5 top 5’s and 11 top 10 finishes. The main question now is no matter if Harvick will win a race, it now has become WHEN he will bring that Freaky Fast Ford Mustang to victory lane. Daniel Suarez is the only SHR driver on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to start today. Suarez is 17th in points with 2 top 5’s and 6 top 10’s.
What to expect in 2nd half of season.
Honestly, I expect pretty much the same as we saw in the 1st. JGR and Penske will continue to show their muscle while the rest of the field plays catch up. Harvick will finally win a race and that should send him on a huge momentum burst that should have the juggernauts looking over their shoulders. I also feel like we will see another 1st time winner or 2 before it is all said and done. Tempers will be on full display as there are only 8 races remaining until the field is rounded down to the 16 driver that will have a chance to compete for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
It’s a triple header weekend at Kentucky Speedway as they host not only the Cup series, but the Gander Outdoors truck series and Xfinity series. Friday I will go over the results of Thursday’s truck race and preview the Xfinity race as well as Sunday’s Quaker State 400. As always I look forward to any comments or questions you may have. See something I missed? Please let me know.