The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season is nearly one-fourth of the way over at the Easter break, lending some insight to how the championship playoff series could play out. As for picking a winner in the Chase, Tony Stewart pretty much ruined that for generations with last season’s surreal charge.
You hate it when racing commentators say something ludicrous like “If the season ended today ...,” I know you do. It’s like saying “If Yoko Ono hadn’t met John Lennon ...” or “If General William Howe had just stuck to the freakin’ plan ... .” Was that last one too soon for our British readers?
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season is nearly one-fourth of the way over at the Easter break, lending some insight to how the championship playoff series could play out. As for picking a winner in the Chase, Tony Stewart pretty much ruined that for generations with last season’s surreal charge. What we can do is parse where the racers stand entering a brutal 14-race stretch (All-Star event included) that takes the teams to a bye week before the Brickyard 400 – or whatever they’re calling it these days.
Solid: Greg Biffle, despite remaining winless, leads the standings, while the defending champ lurks in third place, tied with Matt Kenseth. Those last two represent half the wins so far this season.
Kevin Harvick is doing what he does, hanging around inside the top 5, while Denny Hamlin is having a bounce-back season. Ryan Newman is doing what he does, hanging precariously close to the Chase cutoff in eighth, and Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, while unspectacular, are in good shape. Also note Brad Keselowski in 12th, who’s been hot and cold so far.
Overachievers: Dale Earnhardt Jr. – yes, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. – is second in the standings and by all accounts the most consistent in Rick Hendrick’s armada which is nice, but also brings back memories of 2008 when he started strong and faded ingloriously as the season wore on. Martin Truex Jr., something of a stranger to the top 10, ranks sixth in a car owned by Michael Waltrip – the lovable goof who seems to have figured out how to run an organization. You think Truex is an anomaly and Waltrip doesn’t know what he’s doing? Exhibit B: Clint Bowyer ranks ninth in the standings, giving the aforementioned goof two drivers in playoff spots.
I wouldn’t say panic, but ...: Kyle Busch ranks 16th, but has been bewitched so far. When nothing screwy happens, he’s right up where we’re used to seeing him. Juan Pablo Montoya, trying to get back to the playoffs and currently in 17th, had an ominous start to the season – colliding with a jet engine at Daytona, you might recall – but hasn’t finished higher than eighth. Still, his best tracks are ahead of him. Jeff Gordon is 21st, but has shown speed all season.
Definitely panic, change something now: A.J. Allmendinger in 20th place is eight positions lower than teammate Keselowski, which is never good, but other than lucking into a runner up at Martinsville, the Dinger has been invisible.
Jamie McMurray is 24th with a slight pulse, coming off a forgettable 2011 season – 2010 must seem like 20 years ago. That brings us to Kasey Kahne, the fourth Hendrick driver who many observers figured would explode after several mediocre seasons with B-level teams. Right now, he ranks 31st with two pole positions to his credit. His average start is 7.8. His average finish is 28.5. Baffling.
Retire: Terry Labonte has two Winston Cups displayed at home. He has nothing more to prove. Hermie Sadler has a nice career – not thrilling, but nice – in television. Robby Gordon, once considered one of the great American up-and-comers, should really sell the Cup team and pinch-hit on the road courses.
Just sayin’: John Calipari won an NCAA men’s basketball championship. Maybe the Mayans knew what they were talking about. ... If last week’s IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park proved one thing, it’s the series needs more flowing, natural terrain road courses on the schedule – tracks like, oh, I don’t know, Watkins Glen. ... The Stanley Cup playoffs begin this week. Rejoice. ... Twenty-six more days until “The Avengers” movie hits theaters.
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader in Corning, N.Y., can be reached at email@example.com.