The NASCAR Cup season is three races old and three drivers have won, but a few trends have emerged as the series heads to Phoenix International Raceway this week:
3 to the good
Kevin Harvick has led 342 of the season’s 590 laps. He hasn’t won yet, something that could change Sunday at Phoenix, where he has had tons of success (eight victories, including last season’s March race). He had the Atlanta race in the bag until an inexplicable speeding penalty on pit road, then wrecked at Las Vegas, where he finished 38th. When the tires on his No. 4 Ford don’t go down and he’s not making mental errors, he’s been the best out there so far.
Brad Keselowski appeared to be heading for a second consecutive victory Sunday at Las Vegas, but a major mechanical failure ended his day with two laps remaining. Overall, he’s shown that he will be a factor in the championship race with two consecutive impressive performances.
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Martin Truex Jr. has been perhaps the most consistent performer over the past two seasons, and he got in the win column at Las Vegas. The addition of Erik Jones to Furniture Row Racing’s team hasn’t seemed to slow Truex in the least.
3 to the … not so good
Jimmie Johnson will be a factor in the championship race before it’s over. It’s just that he’s taking a little while to get warmed up. Johnson, who is pursuing a record eighth Cup title, doesn’t have a top-10 finish yet, although he’s gradually improved each week from 34th at Dayton to 19th at Atlanta and 11th at Las Vegas.
A variety of problems cost him at Las Vegas and he seemed perplexed. “We somehow finished 11th. I’m not really sure.”
“We had just about everything go wrong that could,” Johnson said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also been underwhelming in his much-ballyhooed return to racing after he missed 18 races in 2016 with a concussion. His best finish is 16th at Las Vegas.
Earnhardt cautioned at the start of the season not to expect too much, too early.
“(If) we just can put a few races together and try to climb our way back into the points …,” he said. Earnhardt is in 26th place in the standings.
Kyle Busch’s season has started miserably (average finish 25.3), with a wreck at Daytona and now a fight with Joey Logano after the Las Vegas race. The latter is something he’s going to have to continue to explain for the next weeks, and that’s not the type of distraction a driver needs to get back on track.