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NASCAR Sprint Cup: Not too soon to talk contenders

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    Ross D. Franklin - AP
    Kevin Harvick, right, gets a hug from Tony Stewart after Harvick won Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race in Avondale, Ariz.
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    Jerry Markland - Getty Images
    Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and and Dale Earnhardt Jr. take part in pre-race ceremonies before Sunday's The Profit On CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

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My two cents

Yes, we are only two weeks into a 36-week NASCAR season and we are already talking about the championship.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I have never been a fan of NASCAR media which have trumpeted “made up” statistics such as “points as they run” or what drivers would make the Chase for the Sprint Cup “if the season ended now.”

For one, such statistics are bogus – all points are awarded at the conclusion of a race and the Chase field isn’t set for certain until the checkered flag waves at the conclusion of the season’s 26th race.

In addition, the perceived need for the use of such manufactured statistics doesn’t speak well for the racing product if it needs such hype to be considered interesting.

Two weeks into the Cup season and we have already seen the storyline landscape vastly changed thanks to the new Chase format, where winning all but guarantees a chance to compete for the series championship.

Given that, wins by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick in the first two races have virtually ensured both of those drivers will be battling at season’s end to win their first championship.

Some may think championship talk in March for a season that doesn’t end until November is premature.

But what is more relevant? Following a team that knows it will compete for the title or watching a myriad of meaningless statistics proffered about who “may” or “could” get in if the race or season “ended now” – which it never does.

I’ll definitely take the former.

Notes

Kurt Busch to double up

Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup Series champion, will join Andretti Autosport for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25. He’ll also seek to become the fourth driver to “do the double” by competing in the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord.

“To add a driver with the résumé of Kurt Busch to the Indianapolis 500 field is a huge gain for IndyCar,” said Derrick Walker, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations. “We want to see the best 33 drivers put their skills to the test on the biggest stage in motorsports, regardless of which series they come from.”

Busch, 35, called the opportunity “a dream come true.”

“It was a talk over dinner one night on ‘what if?’ and now it’s all becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti,” he said.

Football coach turned driver

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 30 STP 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Fedora took over a UNC program in 2012 that was facing NCAA sanctions and a year of bowl ineligibility, but forged ahead with an eight-win inaugural season and a Belk Bowl victory in 2013.

“I’m extremely excited … I really can’t tell you how excited I am,” Fedora said. “I’ve done a ride-along and I plan on driving a race car one day, but this is the biggest thing for me so far.”

Burton to make first start

Part-time Cup driver and NBC Sports TV analyst Jeff Burton will make his first start of the season this weekend at Las Vegas for Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 66 Toyota.

Burton has 16 Cup starts at Las Vegas. He owns two wins (1999 and 2000), five top-five and eight top-10 finishes.

“I am really looking forward to getting back in a race car this weekend,” Burton said. “We spent a lot of time testing this winter. I really like the direction that Michael Waltrip Racing is heading.”

‘The King’ is honored

NASCAR legend Richard “The King” Petty was recently named a recipient of a Winner’s Circle award, given annually since 2004 to people who have made significant and continuing contributions to the growth and success of North Carolina’s tourism industry.

Crew members reinstated

NASCAR reinstated Ryan Hess, a former crew member in the Nationwide Series, and Curtis Martin Jr., a former crew member in the Truck Series, upon their successful completion of the Substance Abuse Policy Road to Recovery Program.

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