Where has the time gone?
Already, we are 10 races down in the 36-race schedule of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. With seven different winners in those races, fans and drivers have already experienced the ups and downs that go along with the early portion of the season.
With points seemingly being more important than ever and team strategy being ever so critical, some teams have gotten that crucial early edge, some are treading water, and some should have worn floaties into pool.
No more beating around the bush. Here are your winners and losers so far in this 2012 season.
Tony Stewart: After the way “Smoke” finished the 2011 season, starting off strong was expected. But maybe not in this fashion. A crew chief change in the off-season after winning the title, Stewart and his No.14 team haven’t missed a beat after winning two of the first five races of the season.
And it’s not like he’s fallen off since the wins either.
With strong runs at Martinsville, Richmond and this past Sunday at Talladega, there’s no reason to think that Smoke can’t bring home his fourth Cup championship come season’s end.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I know he hasn’t won yet—and yes, I really do mean yet—but he’s close and off to a great start so far this season. By far, Earnhardt has been the most consistent driver on the tour as his eight top-tens in ten races are tops in the Cup Series.
With everything from superspeedways to short tracks in the first ten races, Earnhardt Jr. is showing that he’s not a one trick pony.
And to add to all of that, Earnhardt Jr. is the highest placing Hendrick Motorsports driver in the standings.
The question will be; Can he keep this strong start up?
Brad Keselowski: Like Stewart, Keselowski has won two of the first ten races of the season. Although he sits 12th in the standings, that’s in no way an indication of how his No.2 team have been running this season.
When Keselowski hasn’t been involved in a wreck or plagued by mechanical failures, he’s been either consistently in the top-ten or contending for a race win.
We all know what he can do when luck is on his side, and we may just be watching that again come Chase time.
Roush-Fenway Racing: Quick question; How many times has there been a Roush-Fenway car in contention for a win this season?
Pretty easy question.You can pretty much point to all ten races and say that RFR had cars that could contend for the win.
Now, here’s another question; How many times have RFR cars not at least had a chance at contending for a win?
That one is a little more difficult to answer.
So far, RFR has all three cars (Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth) in the top-ten in the standings, with Biffle and Kenseth in the top-two spots.
Winning the season opening Daytona 500 and the win at Texas, RFR will be a team to reckon with as we head deeper into the season.
Michael Waltrip Racing: If you expected that Michael Waltrip Racing would be one of the best teams in the Sprint Cup Series after ten races, people may have thought you were joking.
Jokes on them it looks like.
After placing all three cars in the top-five at Bristol, MWR has remained one of the most consistent teams in NASCAR with both of their full-time drivers (Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.) in the top-ten in points.
Their non-full-time car, which is mainly driven by Mark Martin with Michael Waltrip and Brian Vickers taking turns behind the wheel, is 9th in owner points. That’s ahead of two Hendrick Motorsports and two Richard Childress Racing cars.
The verdict is still out whether this team can contend for the championship, but contending for Chase spots is well within the team’s reach.
Jeff Gordon: 23rd in points and off to the worst start of his 20-year NASCAR career, 2012 has been a struggle for Jeff Gordon.
If Gordon and his No.24 team want to take pride in anything this season, they can at least say they’ve had speed. But gremlins and things outside of their control have really hampered this team’s performances.
Take the race at Martinsville for example.
Gordon lead over half of the race, only to be taken out on a late-race restart.
We all know this team will eventually get these gremlins sorted out. They just have too good of a history of doing so. But, will they figure them out in time to make the Chase?
Hendrick Motorsports: It’s not that Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t been good this season, it’s how puzzling their season so far has been.
Through ten races, HMS hasn’t visited victory lane in any of them. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you realize that their last win was at Kansas in October 2011, you start to wonder about the team.
Their cars are good, the stat sheet certainly shows that. Earnhardt Jr. with his eight top-tens and Kasey Kahne with his two poles, have just added to the confusion.
With win 200 eluding this team, at trip to victory lane could give this entire organization their spark back for down the road.
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing: If this team didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all it seems.
Take this year’s Daytona 500 for example.
Both Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya had rear suspension issues plaguing their nights. Montoya, who wound up hitting a jet dryer of all things, and McMurray’s car broke while running in the middle of the back, causing him to spin.
And it’s not like this team hasn’t had good runs. But each time they are looking like their on the way to a good finish, something happens that ruins everything they worked for.
The team has the speed, but needs to make putting entire races together a top priority before they can be ready to win.
Electronic Fuel Injection: This may seem like an odd thing to put in this list, but it’s really not.
We’re only ten races into the electronic fuel injection era in the Sprint Cup Series and already, fingers are being pointed at it as a source of blame for some on-track problems this year.
Hold on. After only ten races, the verdict is reached? No, not even close.
With new technology comes issues, and with issues comes frustration. That frustration turns into anger, then boils over to an unnecessary level.
As the engineers and teams begin to grasp the EFI system more and more, surely these issues will go away.
Until then, be patient.