The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is 10 races old. Several storylines have developed. Here are the most intriguing of them:
Better racing: The new low-downforce aerodynamic package has worked better than expected. With downforce taken off cars (except at the Cup series’ restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega) drivers are forced to use their skills more than ever. The racing (at the front and throughout the field) has been competitive and compelling.
A cut above: Four drivers have already won two races each – Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Whether that evens out over the 16 remaining races, of course, remains to be seen. But if it doesn’t and those four continue to dominate, then the list of favorites for the title will be a short one.
Who will stop JGR? In addition to Busch and Edwards, Denny Hamlin has also won a race, meaning Joe Gibbs Racing has won half of the season’s races to date. JGR cars have consistently been fast, and the team has edged ahead of Hendrick Motorsports as the premier outfit in the sport. That said …
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What has become of JGR’s Matt Kenseth? One of the sport’s top performers in recent seasons, Kenseth hasn’t been able to catch a break this year. Nowhere was that more apparent than at Talladega last week, when his No. 20 Toyota was clipped by Danica Patrick and flipped on the backstretch. Kenseth remains winless.
Stewart’s return: Tony Stewart missed the first eight races with a fractured spine suffered in a preseason dune buggy injury. He has returned to action now and, after receiving a medical waiver from NASCAR, is eligible to qualify for the Chase, which he would do by winning a race and finishing in the top 30 in the point standings. After two races (the second of which, at Talladega, he only started), he’s 38th in points, 71 points out of 30th.
Top rookie: There are five first-year drivers on the circuit – Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Brian Scott and Jeffrey Earnhardt. It’s looking more and more like Elliott will win rookie of the year – he already has three top-five finishes. But Blaney has shown tons of promise with three top-10s of his own.