Who’s in the headline – In a world where “winning is everything,” Kyle Busch is the name in bold at the top of the charts with three victories in 2016. If points are your thing, then it is Kevin Harvick who has set himself above the rest.
Whatever the case, the last two champions in the series are at the forefront of the story right now in the Cup series. If you want to look a little deeper, the drivers with two wins — Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards — won or tied for the previous eight titles. Proof that the cream always rises to the top.
The new aerodynamic package debuted at Atlanta and the race lived up to expectations while the field was only 39 cars for the first time in a generation. Johnson was the first two-time winner of the season. Kyle Busch and Edwards each followed up with back-to-back victories. Truex set a record at Charlotte by leading 392 of 400 laps. Bristol had 15 cautions, while Atlanta had three. Michigan saw an experimental aero package that took more downforce off of the cars and reduced corner speeds, which most believe is the proper direction for the series to move.
Why you should care – The Cup Series has been battling a loss of attendance and viewership for the better part of a decade. After blaming everything under the Sun, it appears as though the sanctioning body is finally focusing on making the racing better. It took years to slip to where we are, and it is going to take some time to get back.
But the 2016 aero package is definitely a step in the right direction. The experimental package at Michigan is another positive step that will hopefully, coupled with a new approach to getting air under the car, make the racing even better to bring more fans back to the track and the television sets.
What your friends are talking about – Besides the aero package, the topic of discussion this year has been the new charter system. The franchise style program resulted in a reduction in field size to 40 cars and a definition of a full field falling to the 36 charter teams.
The exclusion of the Wood Brothers angered many, but the premise of the system was to reward those teams that had run the full schedule and supported the series for the last three years. The Woods have long run a limited schedule and therefore didn’t qualify for a charter. That hasn’t stopped them from having a fantastic season with rookie driver Ryan Blaney with predominantly Team Penske squad.
Speaking of Blaney, he and Chase Elliott are having tremendous freshman years in the Cup series. Elliott is sixth in points with two poles, six top 5s and 11 top 10s, including a career-best second place finish at Michigan last week. He has an average finish of 11.3 with only one DNF.
Blaney is 16th in points and would qualify for the Chase at this point of the season. He’s scored one top 5, six top 10s and has an average finish of 16.7 and also only has one DNF. It would not be surprising at all to see both of these young drivers score wins in 2016.
On the topic of wins, the talking heads continue to trumpet the idea of win and you’re in the Chase. The odds are that is a true statement since it has been decades since the series has had more than 16 winners in a season. However, at this point in the game, there is still a possibility of having 17 winners before the Chase field is set at Richmond.
There are 10 drivers with victories in 2016 and 11 races left until the cutoff. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray join Blaney and Elliott as people qualified for the Chase who haven’t won races. Add in Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson and you can see why it isn’t out of the question for seven new drivers to win in the next 11 races and add a premium to points again this year.
Tony Stewart has been trying to get his arms around this new package but has not had the results that he would like in his final season in the Cup series. After an off-season back fracture caused him to miss the first eight races the watch has been on to see if he could make it to the top 30 in points and potentially qualify for the Chase. Unfortunately for Stewart, he hasn’t been contending for wins so even if he makes it to the top 30, he would still have to win a race to qualify and that isn’t looking very possible at this point.
Who is mad – Kahne certainly has to be on the mad list after just over a third of the season is in the books with only has two top 5s and five top 10s. Johnson has wins, Earnhardt and Elliott have had many strong finishes, but Kahne has struggled.
Who is happy – Harvick is definitely happy considering he has one finish worse than 15th: a 17th-place run at Martinsville. He only has three worse than 10th with seven top 5s, 12 top 10s and a win. His average finish is 7.1 and he’s finished second twice. The 2014 champion has been one of the dominant drivers in the last few years and has not missed a beat this year.
When the checkered flag flew:
Currently locked into the Chase thanks to multiple wins, and assuming they attempt to run the remaining races before Richmond, are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Joey Logano will be locked in assuming there are fewer than 7 winners in the next 11 races. The remaining drivers who would make the Chase based on points and their point position:
- Chase Elliott
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Jamie McMurray
- Ryan Newman
- Ryan Blaney
What is in the cooler
There have been some strong races this season and some stinkers. One thing is for sure, drivers with cars better than the leader have been able to catch and pass the front car, unlike previous years. The season hasn’t been all record breaking races, but the competition has been better. As a result we’ll give it four cold Budweisers to enjoy from Father’s Day.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The series goes back to action this week at Sonoma for left and right hand turns for the first time this season. The race is schedule for 3:00 Eastern and will be seen on FS1. It can also be heard on local PRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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