A look back at the season so far as NASCAR readies for the busy summer stretch starting this weekend.
The first dozen races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season have been dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. The powerhouses have combined to win 11 of the opening 12 races, the latest coming with Brad Keselowski’s third victory of the year at Kansas Speedway. While the wins inside each organization have been spread among five different drivers (Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.), there doesn’t appear to be any reason not to think the dynamic duo will keep putting wins on the board.
The lone team to derail the Penske/JGR juggernaut is Hendrick Motorsports, thanks to Chase Elliott’s Talladega win. But that does not to be anywhere near a fluke as both Hendrick and the rest of the Chevrolet camp is beginning to show some life. Kyle Larson’s All-Star Race win for Chip Ganassi Racing came after a pair of points race top-10 finishes. Alex Bowman has finished second in three straight races and Larson’s CGR teammate Kurt Busch has been consistently in the top 10 on a near weekly basis. They are still not at the consistent level of the Penske-Gibbs combo, but optimism is ramping up for the rest of the Chevy teams and rightfully so.
Still with a big goose egg in the win column in Stewart-Haas Racing, an unfathomable statistic given what the team accomplished last year. Kevin Harvick remains the ring leader of the SHR stable and has come the closest to Victory Lane. But despite having one of the fastest cars at Kansas two weeks ago, Harvick’s run for the checkered flag got derailed by a piece of debris on his front grill that caused a tire issue and took him from contention. This past weekend Harvick’s All-Star Race hopes went out of the window after a horrible pit stop that saw him drop seven positions in the process. Teammates Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez have been hovering but SHR continues to find a way over the hump of being just okay and back to its former winning ways.
The entire season has been viewed through the prism of rules discussion including the All-Star Race that featured components being considered for the 2021 debut of the Gen-7 Cup car. It’s understandable given the dynamic move NASCAR made in this year’s package, which features a drastic reduction in horsepower working in concert with aerodynamic modifications. However the rules focus has clouded the on track focus with the majority of the discussion swayed away from the competition. Generally speaking the racing this year has been good and much of it most likely is a by product of the rules. But after 12 races rules talk has grown more than stale.