NASCAR gives the top-tier series two weekends off each season, one to celebrate Easter, the other during the mid-summer stretch to get ready for the run to the Chase. It gives every team a chance to look at the remaining races before the title hunt begins to see where their strengths are, and where their weaknesses lie.
For teams with multiple wins like Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, they know their performances have already assured them a berth in the title battle come Chicago.
Teams that have one win, like Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin, want to get one more win before the reset since the season is running short, and winning is what matters now in the new Chase format.
Then there are the teams that have yet to win, and some of them have been surprising.
Last year’s team that won the most, the No. 20 group of Matt Kenseth, has yet to find victory lane. Despite being consistently in the running, they have not finished the deal, and with limited opportunities to go before the reset, no wins leading into the Chase is bad, but if they make it and don’t win one of those first three races, it could mean their quest for a title ends before it really begins.
Then you have Tony Stewart, who realistically had higher expectations than he deserved entering the season. When he broke his leg last year, we all knew that his title hunt was over. But at the same time, there’s a thought that he wasn’t really fully healed by the time the season began.
However, the fact of the matter is that the team just has not gelled like expected entering the season, and not having him test leading into the year set them behind right away. Now, with only a few races remaining, the opportunity to win a race is slimming. Stewart has a few opportunities that are strong opportunities for him to win a race. When Sprint Cup returns to action next week, it’s at what he considers his home track, a place he’s won at before but wants to win at again, especially with his own team. Indianapolis is just one race he could win at, there’s Watkins Glen, Michigan, Atlanta and Richmond as well.
Teams that want in the Chase have very few opportunities left. Starting at Indy on Sunday, there are just seven races remaining before the 16-driver field is set for the title hunt, and the elimination rounds begin.
Two drivers have three wins thus far, then another four have two victories. Five other drivers have won a race this year, meaning of the 16-driver format, 11 of them enter the Chase with a win. With the new format in the initial three rounds being that a win by a Chase driver moves them on, wins are at a premium.
But, we’re not at that point yet. There’s seven more races to see if the field of Chase drivers will include all winners, or if there’s more multi-win drivers yet to come.
Strap in, because we have 17 races remaining on the year. It’s time to hit the stretch run to the Chase, and ultimately determine a champion.