These days, it’s incredibly easy to find out who’s among the hottest of the hot inNASCAR — and that’s not just because of our lovely Who’s Hot and Who’s Not feature every Tuesday. With the Internet (and its “Google machine“… thanks, Darrell Waltrip) at their fingertips, fans can log into various websites that’ll throw out stats for the taking, particularly for parameters such as top average finish over the last five races, or something to that effect.
However, it’s not as easy — though still relatively simple — to look past the wins one’s received to look at the bigger picture: points and the overall standings. A guy’s leading the “pre-Chase” now? That’s cool, but where was he ten races ago? He’s won three times? Awesome, but how does that compare to his peers in the grand scheme of things, when we look at the season as a whole?
The 2014 Sprint Cup Series is now ten races old and quickly approaching its one-third-of-a-season birthday, having passed the one-fourth spot before Talladega Superspeedway. Halving that number is simple; it makes five, generally a number at which many teams are finally gaining some solid footing and a better idea of their progression is starting to take hold. At this point, we’re getting into the meat of the regular season, where the sample size isn’t just a small three-race span during which a driver could have won a race and finished 43rd the other two, creating quite the bipolar average finish.
So from races six to ten, a good chunk of the regular season let’s compare the racers competing for points in the series full-time. That clocked in at either 38 or 39 at race five, depending on whether or not one counts Travis Kvapil’s tenure with Go FASRacing, and stands now at 37 or 38, after Parker Kligerman found himself sans a ride.
Last week, Joey Logano’s recent triumphs were touched on, which of course is well-deserved; he’s been one of the series’ best competitors and is finally living up to the promise many thought he showed when first joining NASCAR. And true to that column, Logano certainly ranks among the best when it comes to the season’s first five events versus its second five. He’s won twice — the most of anyone in that span — and added an additional top five.
But he’s not exactly the driver who’s sped up the standings the most in the last five races. That distinction belongs to Greg Biffle.
After Auto Club Speedway a few months ago, the driver of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 was way, way down on his luck, sitting 21st in points with a single top 10 despite teammate Carl Edwards leading the points and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. being far more consistent. Biffle’s never been some immaculate superstar, but even this year was a slow start that seemed to point to one of his most lackluster seasons.
Five races later? The dude is in the top 10 in points. Seriously!
Ever since Auto Club, he’s been of the series’ best, racking up two top 5s and three top 10s. Biffle’s also jumped to eighth in the standings, a 13-spot upgrade — best in Sprint Cup by far. Interestingly, meanwhile, teammate Stenhouse has had the opposite occur (more on that shortly).
Another driver with a big jump in the last five races is AJ Allmendinger, whose JTG-Daugherty Racing team has gone from being an also-ran to an actual competitor for top 10s and 15s. After sitting one spot behind Biffle, 22nd in points, Allmendinger now holds down 15th with an additional top 5 and two more top 10s, good for a seven-spot increase.
Others on the upswing include Kevin Harvick’s move of six spots to 19th — still iffy, but it’s a start — and Clint Bowyer’s five-spot leap to 18th that includes a top 5 and three top 10s, his first stats in those columns on the year.
On the other side of the coin sits Stenhouse, who wasn’t exactly lighting the racing world on fire races one through five but was at least showing signs of life, slotting in 15th with one top 5 and two top-10 finishes. Since then, he’s been in a freefall, losing ten positions to 25th with only one top 10 to show for it.
He’s not even the worst. While Kyle Larson has had modest successes and gains, rising three spots in the standings to 13th, teammate Jamie McMurray has gone from 12th all the way to 24th, a 12-position decrease. That’s nearly comparable to Biffle’s rise, just on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Brad Keselowski hasn’t been equally bad, but he has still been fairly dreadful in the company of his surging teammate Logano at Penske Racing. He sat fourth in points leaving Fontana with a win, three top 5s and top 10s each, but he has only one top 5 and 10 since to show for his toils and owns the 11th-place position in points, a seven-spot drop.
Otherwise, the standings are made up of little gains and losses, something one would normally expect from the series — especially given the volatile nature of the first few races versus now, which tends to find statures a bit more solidified. There’s even two drivers who hold on to the exact same point positions from then to now: Michael Annett in 31st and Josh Wise, who runs 36th.
But if Biffle’s surge is any indication, vaulting from the depths to prominence can happen to anyone — and it can happen just like that. A 10-spot jump in the standings isn’t necessarily something that has to happen over a long stretch of races, though being earlier in the season helps. The same can be said for a decrease; like, where Jeff Gordon sits now. It’s crazy to envision him outside the top 10 in points after Michigan, but it’s not out of the question. More bad luck like the kind he had at Talladega will see him plummet down the charts.
To that end, I guess we could keep an eye on Denny Hamlin over the next five races, particularly after his win last weekend. A 12-spot leap to the top of the standings? Unlikely, but stranger things have occurred.
(Also: Keep an eye on this column in the future — like, say, five races from now? Chances are a look into the past versus the present might become a bit more of a commonplace thing, albeit tacked on more as an afterthought than an entire piece. There’s certainly a good possibility that someone like Greg Biffle will come through and go on a tear, despite not receiving a whole lot of coverage for it, while the new Jamie McMurray plummets a dozen spots in a disheartening few races.)