A Summary of the 2015 Sprint Cup season, so far
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is three races short of halfway, which makes this as good a time as any to break down some of the highs, lows, and huh's, so far. The year started with Joey Logano winning his first Daytona 500, in an epic running of the Great American Race. Since, it has been a steady diet of bow ties, particularly the Hendrick-powered Chevrolets of Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, leading many of the laps and taking six of the next 14 races (Johnson - 4, Harvick - 2). Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski, has been solid, winning at Auto Club Speedway, but neither of the Penske Racing duo been particularly dominant. They are 3rd and 6th in the traditional Sprint Cup points.
Johnson's teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not shown the speed in 2015, so far, that he showed with outgoing crew chief Steve Letarte in 2014. But Earnhardt Jr.'s Talladega win in May and his 4th-place spot in points leave him in very safe auspices for the Chase and show that new crew chief Greg Ives is working out any growing pains. The other two full-time Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, are winless and 9th and 10th in points. Gordon had four wins last season, but has led very few laps outside of the restrictor plate tracks in this his final season. Kahne is more consistent than last year, but certainly is a step behind the front-running of team Johnson's.
Martin Truex Jr. has been the comeback toast of 2015, having blossomed in his second year with the one-car Furniture Row Racing organization and under first-year crew chief Cole Pearn. He has led 486 laps this season, the second-most he has ever in an entire season. He led just one lap last year. And he got his third-career win just last Sunday at Pocono Raceway. Pearn is pushing the right buttons on both the team and the driver to resurrect both.
Joe Gibbs Racing has been off this season. Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards have struggled, though each have won one race in different fashions. Matt Kenseth win Bristol, was winless last season, after winning a bunch in 2013, and he has been the most consistent of the bunch at 8th in points. Hamlin and Edwards are 13th and 14th, with Edwards in his first year with JGR and hoping to take his career to the next level. Kyle Busch's serious leg injury in the Daytona Xfinity Series race led to Matt Crafton, Erik Jones, and mainly David Ragan taking the wheel of the No. 18 up until the All-Star Race. Busch returned in the Coca-Cola 600 and has had two decent finishes and two wrecks since. Busch does have a waiver to become Chase eligible, if he can get into the top 30 in points and win a race. Busch is 39th right now and needed to average 16th or better to feasibly hit 30th. His average finish after four races is 24th. That entire JGR four-car team is also still looking for speed, so Busch and the No. 18 team still have work to do.
Chip Ganassi Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Germain Racing, and Richard Childress Racing are each in different levels of the SCS's middle class, but none looks that close to outright winning a race. Roush-Fenway Racing has only had one or two good races at all this season and is sliding further from relevance.
Tony Stewart has struggled with the new rules package and his past traumas and increasing age seem to have taken their toll on him, as he pilots the No. 14 team he owns. His drivers Harvick and Kurt Busch (despite Busch having missed three races because of domestic violence allegations) are winners and are running up front. Another of Stewart's drivers, Danica Patrick, doesn't have a sponsor for next year, yet is in her best position ever to make the Chase (19th in points).
And the lower class of the Sprint Cup Series soldiers on, struggling. Tommy Baldwin Racing and its shrinking to one team and driver Alex Bowman, HScott Motorsports and its expansion to two teams with Michael Annett (and fellow second-year driver Justin Allgaier), the black hole that is the three-team BK Racing organization, and the expanded and upheaved Front Row Motorsports are all grasping at straws and hoping a race comes together. Top 20s are top 5s on that side of the garage. And the current rules package does not allow them much room to move either.
The biggest story of the year has been the third version of the said rules package that has morphed since the inception of NASCAR's Gen-6 racecar. As car speeds have increased, tire compounds have gotten harder, and the ability of drivers to apply their skills to any variance in the cars has decreased. This has given the lead cars too much of an advantage in clean air, while other, oftentimes faster cars cannot overcome the disadvantage in dirty air in traffic and try and contend for the lead. NASCAR has talked to drivers and teams and reportedly is hoping to have a better package with less downforce (smaller spoiler and radiator pan) by the July 11th Kentucky race.
NASCAR has also taken heat over the inspection process and NASCAR, likewise, has penalized several teams for taking too many times going through inspection. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, several drivers missed qualifying (including Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart), because their teams could not get their cars through inspection. Team owner Jack Roush says that he and others think the new laser-operated inspection tools have some variance within them, so NASCAR allows the teams tolerances with the rules. Then the teams push those tolerances to the limits to gain more speed and then they fail inspection.
In a nutshell, Harvick, Johnson, Ku. Busch, and Truex Jr. have been the most dominant entries week in and week out. Roush-Fenway Racing and Tony Stewart have been huge disappointments. The racing action on the track has been lukewarm, at best and new rules packages have been discussed. And driver safety particularly the extension of SAFER Barrier soft walls) in wake of Kyle Busch's bad Daytona injury has taken a front seat. The battle for the final spots in the Chase has about nine drivers gunning for five spots - thank parity for that. Strap in and see how this whole thing unfolds.