*Which Chase driver of 2010 has the best chance of getting his first win of the season this weekend?*
It’s been an exciting start to the season thus far, with Trevor Bayne earning his first win in the season-opening Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon snapping a career-long winless drought at Phoenix and Carl Edwards showing why he just may be the man to beat this year with a surprise win at Las Vegas. On cue of course is another wildcard this weekend, when the Cup Series heads to Bristol for what should be an entertaining race on the high-banked half mile.
So will we see another first-time winner this weekend, or will a defending Chase driver get win numero uno?
When it comes to racing at Bristol it would be hard not to pick *Kyle Busch* to get his first win of the season on Sunday. This is a guy who despite finishing 28th and 33rd in the two Bristol races in his first full season in 2005 still has an average finish of just over ninth in 12 starts. He has won 1/3 of his Cup starts at Bristol, with four wins. And despite the track being notorious for accidents – more so in the past – Busch has completed 98 percent of his laps and won three of his last four starts. It’s hard to find any driver more dominant at one track than Busch has been over the past five years, and that’s why it wouldn’t be so bad to have the No. 18 on your fantasy team, bet card, etc. this weekend.
*How long can Menard hang around?*
*Paul Menard* surprised a lot of people early in 2010 when he finished in the top 20 in his first six races and later finished the year with six top 10s in a career-best 23rd spot in points. He’s at it again three races into the 2011 campaign, with a ninth place finish in the Daytona 500, followed by a 17th at Phoenix and 12th at Las Vegas. He now sits a career-best sixth in points and is the highest running driver for a Richard Childress Racing team that had all three of its drivers in the Chase one year ago.
But one can see the similarities between his early surge this year and the one he had to begin last year. He’s a breath of fresh air to see at the top of the points, but the fact of the matter is he’s not going to get the best equipment within his team’s own walls. And with just nine top 10s in a career 150 starts, he doesn’t have the track record to warrant belief he’ll stay in the top 12 in points all season. I’ll give Menard this, however: it’s clear that he’s improved every season and he’s in the best ride of his career. Will he make the Chase? No. But I could easily see him finishing in the top 20 in points for the first time in his career.
*Are there any of the sport’s stars in real danger of missing the top 35?*
As we go to race number four on the schedule, a number of the sport’s stars are on the bubble of falling out of the top 35 in owner points after five races and having to qualify on time. The biggest threats to fall out are Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle (13 points out) and Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray (19 points out), but in all reality it probably won’t happen. Currently the team on the bubble is the No. 13 for Bob Germain, and 36th in points is the No. 71 owned (at least in the owner points) by Richard Petty. But neither of these cars have the capability the stalwarts on the bubble have of top 10 finishes at Bristol or Fontana. Unless something drastic happens, the aforementioned will all be in the top 35 after Fontana, and if for whatever reason they’re not, they’ll qualify on time and get in after race number six at Martinsville.
*How long can Stewart-Haas Racing remain on top?*
Anybody who watches Sprint Cup racing on a regular basis knows that Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are top 10 cars week in and week out, but early in 2011 Stewart sits atop the points and Newman isn’t far behind. What’s just as surprising is the fact that the usually slow starting Stewart was the class of the field two weeks at Las Vegas and should have won the race. The team itself is on the rise, and I see a possible 5-6 wins between the two this season.
That said, Roush Fenway Racing has been just as impressive, RCR is a sleeping giant, Joe Gibbs Racing will most likely have a car in victory lane this weekend, and there’s a team out there with a five-time defending champion and a race winner already this year, too. Stewart-Haas is strong and will remain near the top of the standings this year, but they’re not the team to beat right now.
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