The NASCAR Sprint Cup season has put three races in the books and now we head back to the east coast for some wild short track action. We saw 5-time hold off a hard charging Dale Jr. at Daytona, Carl Edwards snap his long winless streak at Phoenix and Matt Kenseth prevailing in the battle against Kasey Kahne for the Las Vegas victory. After last August’s race at Bristol, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when we revisit the notorious short track but one thing we do know is that there are some drivers that are on top of the world right now while there are some others that are scrambling to find their footing.
Matt Kenseth: Matt would of most likely won his 3rd Daytona 500 this past February had his TRD engine survived but he shook it off and posted a solid 7th place result at Phoenix. At Las Vegas, he wasn’t a factor at all until the very end of the race when his team made the risky move to not take tires on the final stop putting him out front. Matt kept his cool and made no mistakes even with the dominate driver in the race, Kasey Kahne breathing down his neck for the final 20 laps. The birthday boy held on to win in just his 3rd start for JGR and in doing so, giving Toyota their first victory in the new Gen-6 car. The 2003 champion seems much faster than his new teammates and stronger than he was when he drove for Roush which is a very bad sign for the competition. In an age where every single point counts, a calm racer who quietly always gets the job done like Matt Kenseth is exactly what a team needs to prevail as the NSCS champions at Homestead.
Jimmie Johnson: Last time JJ won the Daytona 500, he went on to win 5 straight championships. He hasn’t relinquished the points lead since that race and has a worst finish so far of 6th. He has led laps in every race and has been a player towards the end too. 5-time currently holds a 5pt advantage over his 2012 title rival and defending NSCS champion, Brad Keselowski. The 48 definitely has a handle on this new car showing lots of speed at a plate track, a flat track, a banked intermediate and I expect them to run the same this weekend at the half-mile concert jungle that is Bristol Motor Speedway.
Brad Keselowski: Brad has kicked of 2013 a lot like Jimmie Johnson running up front everywhere he has gone but he has done it in a different way. In the 500, he was covered in tape after being involved in a crash but shocked the world when he found himself battling door-to-door with the 5-time champion for the win late in the race before settling for 4th. At Phoenix and Las Vegas, he was okay but did not have a winning car, yet he found himself battling for the victory thanks to some awesome strategy. They look just like they did last year when they either dominated the race or put themselves in the top 5 thanks to some great calls from Paul Wolfe.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: When Jr returned from his concussion last October, he was so-so but wasn’t the Jr we saw before his Talladega wreck. In the off-season, he had plenty of time to heal and get fitter as well losing 15lbs in preparation for 2013. It looks like all his hard work has payed off ripping off finishes of 2nd, 5th and 7th to kick off the new year. He has also been running a couple NNS races which is unusual for him but I think it’s a good idea. This is statistically the best start to a season Dale has ever had as he looks to finally capture that illusive NSCS championship.
Ryan Newman: “The Rocket Man” had a solid top 5 finish in the Daytona 500 but it’s been downhill since then but the issues have been out of his control. At Phoenix, he suffered two blown tires that ended his day and while running just outside the top 15 at Las Vegas, his engine detonated. Ryan is way back in 31st in the standings and already has two DNF’s going into the 4th race of the season. He is nearly 40pts outside the top 10 and has amassed just 50pts total through the first three races. He needs to turn things around fast before he finds himself in a hole too deep to dig out of.
Kurt Busch: Sitting 29th in points with a best finish of 20th is not where most people thought Kurt would be after Las Vegas. He ended 2012 with three straight top 10 finishes but has followed them up with lackluster results in 2013. The #78 was fast at Daytona and Phoenix but didn’t end up where they should of due to wrecks. At Las Vegas, Kurt was simply slow which should worry them a little bit considering tracks like Vegas make up most of the schedule. I think that they could get it turned around but Kurt and his temper worry me. When times get rough, the driver should be the strong one that boosts team morale but the only thing I’ve heard the eldest Busch boost recently is his f-bomb tally.
Joey Logano: At first glance, 15th in points isn’t too shabby but his best finish so far is 12th while his teammate has posted three straight top four finishes. Joey has to prove himself in 2013 and so far, he hasn’t shown much strength although he has been plagued by some issues out of his control. Logano has a solid team now that is fully behind him so if he can’t get the job done this year, his career might be in trouble but it is early. Not to mention how he must of felt seeing his former ride that he only won two races with in a period of 4 years wining Las Vegas in it’s 3rd race with new driver, Matt Kenseth.
Danica Patrick: I am surprised with this one…Danica did an awesome job holding her own at Daytona but she was awful at the next two races. Take away the vicious wreck at Phoenix and smacking the wall when Kvapil blew his engine at Vegas and she still would of wound up with a finish in the mid-30’s. She qualified 40th at PIR and the highest I remember seeing her is 30th before she had that terrible crash that relegated her to a 39th place finish. At Vegas, she was very slow again unable to keep up with drivers such as David Streeme and Scott Speed even with Hendrick backed SHR equipment. She better find her footing real soon because mid 30’s is not where that car should be running at all. It baffles me too because she was putting that car inside the top 20 in races at the end of 2012. One thing I do have to give her a lot of credit for is that on the radio, she remained positive saying things like “we’re in this together” and “we’ll keep working on it.” You can only be optimistic so long though before the bad days start to get to you…