Brian Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, meet Matt Kenseth. The driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota has joined Keselowski and Johnson at the top of the Sprint Cup Championship contender list. Kenseth held off second place finisher, Kasey Kahne, to win the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. Kenseth’s car was at or near the lead for the entire race Sunday and was clearly the car to beat. It did look for a while that the #5 Chevy driven by Kahne would overtake Kenseth, but Kenseth was able to hold off Kahne for his second victory of the year.
We are now eight races into the season, so let’s take a look at the contenders, those on the cusp, and the pretenders.
- Brad Keselowski – Despite a 25-point penalty given in Texas for an unapproved rear end housing and driving a good portion of the Kansas race with much of his car missing pieces, Keselowski still managed a solid 6th place finish. This team is going to be tough to beat.
- Jimmie Johnson – It seems even when Johnson does not have a top 10 car he still finishes in the top ten. He had a so-so car on Sunday at Kansas but he still found a way to race up-front. He’s not going away anytime soon.
- Matt Kenseth – Welcome to the party Matt. With his second victory of the year Kenseth joins Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson as repeat winners. In his first year with Joe Gibbs racing, Kenseth has quickly found comfort in his new garage. He’s for real.
- Kyle Busch – Had an accident that caused his poor finish in Kansas, but as a repeat winner in 2013 his spot in the Chase is all but sewn up. This guy knows how to win races and he’ll win again before the year is out.
On the Cusp:
- Martin Truex Jr. – Truex has 2 top 5’s and 3 top 10’s this year and has been at the front of the field most races this season. He’s close to breaking into the win column.
- Greg Biffle – Biffle is another driver who seems to always get the most out of his car. A disappointing 19th place finish Sunday but still we find Biffle sitting 4th in points. He needs to start leading some laps and winning a race or two before he’s considered a serious contender.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Junior is another driver who has had consistent finishes this season but does not lead enough laps nor win races to join the contender party. NASCAR Nation would love nothing more for that to happen.
- Carl Edwards – Consistency is holding Edwards back from being a strong contender. Although he has one victory this season and is a solid 6th in Sprint Cup Points, his finishes of 33, 1, 5, 18, 4, 15, 3, and a 17th place finish at Kansas, keep him from the top echelon.
- Clint Bowyer – Another driver who has looked like a serious threat some Sunday’s and then other Sunday’s he looks like a pretender. Until Bowyer wins a race or two he sits outside of the elite looking in.
- Jeff Gordon – Gordon seems to have a problem figuring out the new Generation 6 car. He has come to the track with a less then competitive car on way to many occasions to be considered a contender for the Spring Cup Championship. Could we be witnessing the end of a great racing career?
- Tony Stewart – Like Gordon, Stewart seems to be having issues with the new Generation 6 car. He has yet to come to the track with a top car ready to race for the win. His best finish, 8th place finish, is his only top 10 finish of the year. He currently sits 21st in points, 130 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. It looks like Stewart will need to win a couple races to sneak in as a wild card.
- Ryan Newman – The top point producer for Stewart Haas racing still sits in 17th place, well off the point pace. When Newman is bad he’s very bad. A 40th, 38th and a 31st finishes have kept him from being in the top 10 in points. More consistency and a win or two is needed for him to jump up.
- Joey Logano – The good news is Joey is in his first year racing for Penske Racing and may need some time to become comfortable with a new team. The bad news is that his former teammate and new enemy, Denny Hamlin is due back in the #11 Fed Ex car at Richmond. A little pay back NASCAR style? Maybe.
Off to Richmond we go. A little Saturday night short track beating and banging. Should be fun!
My picks for Richmond:
- Kyle Busch
- Kasey Kahne
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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