Did You Notice?… Six races into 2014, the difference between sixth and 20th in the Cup standings is just 35 points? However, the difference between first and sixth is 90 points, with Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne creating some distance between themselves and the rest of the field.
It’s an important stat to note during the off week because of so many teams off to “poor” starts. Roush Fenway Racing has been awful, for example, but Greg Biffle still sits 20th in points. That means it’s only going to take one, maybe two good runs to put him back in Chase position. Ditto for Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing, sitting 18th and virtually invisible since the Daytona 500. MWR may be in turmoil with its No. 55 team losing Brian Vickers but they’re also close enough to weather the storm.
Other drivers in this range you wouldn’t expect include Casey Mears, Paul Menard, Danica Patrick (who we talked about last week) and David Ragan, currently subbing for Kyle Busch. So in reality, after six races while we’ve learned who’s good on the Cup Series circuit, everyone else is just sitting there in a clump. While we all love writing journalism copy, speculating on what’s to come, it’s hard to figure out who will stand out this year. There’s still plenty of time and any tweaks to the rules in-season could tilt the scales toward one of these fifteen teams “stuck in the muck.”
Did You Notice?… How many drivers have gone through suspensions, injuries, and general off-track issues this season? Kyle Larson missing Martinsville due to a medical concern was the latest add to a list that keeps piling up.
2015 Full-Time Drivers Missing One Or More Starts
Kyle Busch (injury – Daytona)
Kurt Busch (suspension)
Brian Vickers (blood clots)
Kyle Larson (fainting)
That’s four out of the 30 or so fully-funded teams, a ratio of about 15 percent. You have to go back to the mid-1990s, when injuries were far more routine to see a list of problems pile up that quickly. Even then, you had maybe one driver, like Bill Elliott or Kyle Petty out for an extended period of time instead of a good portion of the garage.
The issues have also revealed what a small list of capable subs are out there. Regan Smith has now been tabbed for two different cars with his previous (albeit middling) Cup experience. Ragan, subbing in the No. 18 had to be stolen from a smaller team for Joe Gibbs Racing to grab him. Why the problems? Some of the younger talent, like Erik Jones is just not quite ready enough for Cup cars while older options, like Mike Wallace are far past their prime and not a popular choice for sponsors. Stability at the top, with no new teams breaking through the hierarchy has taken its toll as there’s no “deep bench” of drivers sitting there and in position to switch rides or move up.
Did You Notice?… Quick hits before I take off…
- Ryan Newman’s penalty and subsequent appeal aside, Richard Childress Racing still has some work to do with one team in particular. Even with his 75-point knock, Newman wound up only 14 points behind teammate and Childress grandson Austin Dillon in the standings. RCR has had reasonable cars across the board, putting satellites Truex, Mears and AJ Allmendinger in Chase contention along with Newman and Paul Menard. Dillon’s absence from that equation would be a bit more notable if it wasn’t for the Tony Stewart–Harvick comparison over at Stewart-Haas Racing.
- Who would have guessed at this time last year our top candidate for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year would be… Brett Moffitt? How many people knew who Moffitt even was?
- Kurt Busch, since his return to the circuit has an average finish of 7.3. That’s fourth-best on the Cup circuit behind only Harvick, Logano and Truex. It’s a clip, should he sustain it, that will have him racing by his points competition in no time.