The Sprint Cup Series took a backseat to college basketball this weekend, a rare off week for the NASCAR schedule that stretches nearly 10 months. But the NCAA tournament won't be the only place for Cinderellas this March. With two half-mile short tracks next on the agenda, great racing is virtually guaranteed for a sport looking for "feel good" stories heading into the meat of the regular season schedule.
So let's take this time to reflect and give NASCAR the benefit of the doubt. Putting potholes, faulty caution lights and
It's still early, but there's cautious optimism in the No. 88 camp that things are headed back in the right direction. Four races in, Earnhardt is 13th in points and armed with just one finish outside the top 16 (32nd at California). It's clear a runner-up performance in the Daytona 500 injected the 35-year-old with much-needed confidence, and a pole at Atlanta shows the raw speed is back. But perhaps the biggest change is in the luck department, where bad breaks at both Las Vegas and Atlanta didn't hurt him all that badly (leading to 16th and 15th place finishes, respectively, when they could have been well outside the top 30).
Now, Earnhardt has a chance to shine with his short track specialties of Bristol and Martinsville up next. It's likely he'll head to Easter comfortably inside the top 10 in points ... but don't get too comfy just yet. Remember, the true slump for the No. 88 didn't start last year until early May, and he still has only four laps-led compared to the 367 of teammates
Show of hands: who thought
Instead, Harvick's No. 29 has led a three-car resurgence that sees teammates
Now, the right people are in the right places, with a crew chief change of
It's been a tough few years for rookies, with
But perhaps the biggest surprise is fellow sophomore
It's always fun to look at the standings this early and see surprise names bumping elbows with the stars. Perhaps the biggest shocker is
And who could forget
Honorable mention goes to
So much has been discussed in the wake of the
I know what you're thinking ... what does Johnson have to do with those two? Just humor me for a minute. At tracks like Bristol and Martinsville, Johnson has escaped the dreaded "bump and run" maneuver that can cost a win or mean leaving without your car in one piece. But with aggressive rivals like
Time will tell how much NASCAR's "slap on the wrist" ruling for Edwards opens the floodgates. But their extra push for bumping and banging happened at the right time, when drivers are sick of JJ's dominance and heading to two tracks where payback is the rule, not the exception. I've often heard from insiders the only way to beat Johnson at his best is to rough him up. Competition for the No. 48? It's a novel concept ... but the emergence of a rival by any means possible might be enough to keep the sport on the national radar through the tourney.