Though the 10-race playoff format makes it increasingly like that power teams use the "regular" season as a 26-week testing session, being in contention halfway to the Chase is important. Since the format was instituted in its original form in 2004, just six drivers in the Chase boundary after the 13th race of the season at Dover have failed to qualify for the playoffs. And Mark Martin did so last year in large part because he was racing a partial schedule.
So, 13 races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and halfway to the Chase for the Championship, let's take a look at how things stand.
Kahne: He'd started to look like a television commercial actor who also raced. But the ladies love him anyway.
Gibbs up, Hendrick down: This is a bit tough on both, because Gibbs is a quality organization, having won three titles since '00, but to have claimed five Cup wins without Stewart getting one of them is impressive. Its Nationwide program has been a juggernaut. And there was no way Hendrick could have maintained the dominance it established in winning 10 of the first 14 races and half of the 36-race schedule last season. Their edge with the so-called "Car of Tomorrow" was negated when the rest of the field was able to focus on it.
The open wheel invasion: So far it's not made it off the beach and is in danger of being driven back into the sea. Indianapolis 500 winners