Five storylines at the Sprint Cup season's quarter pole
This season hasn't left us searching for storylines. With a stubborn pothole, a new meaning to
Racing Fan has sifted through a first three months that's delivered more drama than seven seasons of
The early favorites to contend with
Is it enough to designate Harvick as
Harvick certainly looks the part of a title contender so far, and his stock has definitely increased for when he enters free agency after this season. One piece of advice to whomever signs Happy: demand he only sign a one-year deal.
Driving with a torn ACL, Hamlin failed to finish higher than 17th over the first five weeks of the season. Realizing he couldn't put surgery off any longer, Hamlin announced that he'd be going under the knife, only to win at Martinsville two days before his surgery. But days after the procedure came the race that galvanized he and his team: a 30th-place finish at Phoenix. A week later he won at Fort Worth, and followed that with a fourth-place finish at Talladega and an 11th at Richmond. In three weeks, Hamlin went from a driver facing season-jeopardizing surgery to a revived force with the knowledge that he didn't bail on his team when the chips were down.
As gutsy as Hamlin has been in his return from surgery, he never faced the questions that always surrounded Busch, whose temper has kept him from taking that crucial next step. If Shrub has really risen above his past tendencies, he may finally be a driver capble of winning a title, which should strike fear in every other Cup garage.
He's rekindled a rivalry with
You could call it frustration stemming from his winless drought (more on that later) and his former protégé's dominance, but I think what we've seen is a return of the Gordon of old. Back when he was winning four titles, Gordon's calling card was his ability to drive under control while seeming like he was on the brink of disaster.
Having a car that can rival his Hendrick teammate and coming to the realization that at 38 his chances of winning another championships are dwindling have Gordon pushing the envelope this season. He's recaptured his past style, resulting in four top-three finishes to sit sixth in the points.
It's a stark contrast from the vanilla Gordon we've come accustomed to, which may be why we've made so much of his treating J.J. no different than he treats any other driver on the track. It may be a PR nightmare, but Hendrick should take solace in knowing that Gordon is back.
Someone needs to put Stewart on a milk carton, and I'm not talking about a primary sponsorship. Smoke had three top-10 finishes in the first five races, but since then he's finished 23rd or lower four times and has dropped 10 point positions to stand 15th.
So what's going on over at Stewart-Haas? The fact that
With 16 races left before the Chase field is set, Stewart says he's not worried, and while slow starts are nothing new to Smoke, it's worth noting that this is the lowest Stewart has ranked after 10 races in each of the five seasons he's made the playoff. The time to panic may not be here yet for Smoke and Grubbs, but it's coming.
Harvick has gotten off the snide, and so too has Newman and Busch. But a number of other veterans continue to ride long winless streaks;
While they all remain winless, Junior is the only driver in the group that is currently outside the top 12 in points (Earnhardt is 13th), meaning they're all close to ending their skids, but Gordon may be the closest.
A charter member of the Tough Luck Club, Gordon has finished second eight times since he last won on April 5, 2009 at Texas, and four times this year he's lost the lead late, including last week at Richmond. Gordon has been painstakingly close to a breakthrough and it could come as early as Saturday night at Darlington, where he has a series-best seven wins and 20 top 10s in 29 career starts. Of course, given Gordon's luck, or lack thereof, maybe Burton (three top 10s) or Biffle (top 10s in seven races) will get to Victory Lane first.