(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: Back to Green

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets back underway this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway after being off last weekend for Easter. The regular season is roughly a quarter of the way finished, as six of the 26 races have been completed. While the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the best-looking car at the track, the performance has not quite lived up to the hype, and thus far the Ford Fusions have been the class of the field, with the usual Toyota Camrys breathing down their spoilers in the title hunt.

Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 after spinning Aric Almirola on the last lap, then Kevin Harvick dominated Atlanta and Las Vegas before winning Phoenix after Kyle Busch encountered trouble on pit road. Martin Truex Jr. crushed the field at Auto Club in California, and Clint Bowyer ran away with Martinsville, ending a 190-race winless streak.

Malfunctioning pit guns have plagued teams at nearly every race so far in 2018, and the series successfully weathered the first snow delay in 25 years.

As expected, William Byron is leading the Rookie of the Year battle so far over Darrell Wallace Jr., and Danica Patrick exited NASCAR following the Daytona 500. 49 drivers have competed in Cup races thus far,  and three – Bryon, Harrison Rhodes and Cole Custer – have made their Cup debuts, with more on the horizon with Daniel Hemric bringing back the No. 8 at Richmond and Chad Finchum planning to start at Bristol.

Jeffrey Earnhardt was fired from the StarCom Racing No. 00, and BK Racing went bankrupt. That’s pretty much everything in a nutshell at this point of the season.

HOT

In their second year with Ford and celebrating their tenth anniversary, Stewart-Haas Racing has been the team to beat so far this season, recording the best-ever overall day in team history at ISM Raceway (Phoenix). Though six races, their four cars have a combined four wins, six top fives, and 11 top 10s. The No. 10 team is getting more consistent results with Aric Almirola behind the wheel, and SHR XFINITY driver Cole Custer finished his Cup Series debut at Las Vegas in one piece.

NOT

The only Hendrick Motorsports driver in the playoffs right now is Alex Bowman, and he would be seeded 14th out of 16 drivers. His best finish is seventh at Martinsville. Chase Elliott has three top-10 results with a best of third at ISM, while Jimmie Johnson‘s top result is ninth at Auto Club. Byron’s best finish so far is 12th at ISM. For a team like HMS, five top-10s across four cars in six races is dreadful. Not helping is the knowledge that Lowe’s is leaving at season’s end.

HOT

Team Penske is almost as hot as SHR so far this season. While the organization hasn’t gotten a win yet, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney have both completed all but one lap, according to NBC. Blaney’s led the most laps of anyone not named Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski is ninth in laps led. When you add in their may-as-well-be-teammate, Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard, Team Penske’s totaled three stage wins, six top-fives and 15 top-10s so far.

NOT

It’s been a tough start for Roush Fenway Racing. Trevor Bayne finished 13th in the Daytona 500, and followed that with results of 35th, 20th, 20th, 37th and 33rd. That averages to a 26.3 finish, slightly behind his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr‘s 22.8 average finish, with a season-best result of 14th. Stenhouse is 21st in the standings, Bayne is 29th. They’re both restrictor-plate specialists, so their playoff hopes aren’t dashed just yet.

HOT

The Joe Gibbs Racing stable is strong again this season. Kyle Busch leads the standings right now with 257 points, while basically-teammate Truex has Toyota’s only win thus far. Denny Hamlin has a stage win, and Erik Jones posted top-10 finishes at all three tracks on the West Coast Swing. Daniel Suarez has struggled to open his sophomore season, with a best finish of ninth. Together they’ve posted a win, four stage wins, 12 top fives and 18 top 10 finishes.

NOT

Front Row Motorsports could be the next underdog team to climb their way up the pecking order, but they’ve had terrible luck in 2018. David Ragan ran into trouble in the Daytona 500, where he could have been a contender, and problems have ruined Michael McDowell‘s day in Las Vegas (last-place 37th) and ISM (32nd).  McDowell did finish ninth in the Daytona 500, and generally the duo are posting top-20 finishes, which is accurate for the team’s resources.

Paint Scheme of the Week

It’s Chris Buescher‘s JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 Bush’s Beans Chevy this week, from last weekend at Martinsville. The Paper Clip is known for its chili dogs, and baked beans go well with hot dogs during barbecues.  And some people prefer their chili with beans in it (they’re wrong). Copper should be used more in sports; it looks great on racecars, as this photo proves, and it was a solid look for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League and the Tulsa Drillers of Double-A baseball’s Texas League.

Predictions

Texas Motor Speedway is where the racing is this weekend, and Joey Logano should do well. He won the spring 2014 race there, and has posted top-10s the last four straight races at the track, and five of the last six. Martin Truex Jr. was runner-up last fall, and he’s finished top-10 each of the last six races here. I’d give Truex a slight edge over Logano. Either would be a good fantasy pick.

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Wesley has been with Fronstretch since October 2017. He loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music and OKC Thunder basketball. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma, where he works as a freelance writer/editor.

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