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Sunday, May 31, 2015

NASCAR at the Halfway Mark

The NASCAR circuit wrapped up festivities in Dover, DE this weekend and is heading north to Pocono, PA.  As NASCAR continues its northern swing, it is time to check in on NASCAR at the halfway mark.

The NASCAR season consists of 26 regular season races followed by a 10 race Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Sixteen drivers qualify for the Chase.  There are some nuances to the qualification rules, but the basic idea is that any driver who wins a regular season race will qualify for the Chase.  If fewer than 16 drivers win a race, then the remaining Chase slots are filled based on points earned throughout the season.  If more than 16 drivers win a race then the slots are determined amongst those drivers based on the number of wins.  Ties amongst winners will broken based on points.

Preseason Points:  Banshee Sports was a little slow on the draw and didn't post a preview column until after the spectacle of the Daytona 500.  The Stewart-Haas team continues to be messy but has secured one Chase spot with Kurt Busch's win at Richmond in April.  Joe Gibbs Racing had a lot of shakeups during the off-season, but they are primed to get all 4 teams into the Chase if Kyle Busch can win a race in the second half of the season.  Dale Jr.'s win at Talladega combined with his 7 top 5 finishes have him in strong position for a run at the title..  Banshee Sports' preseason dark horses are still in the dark but have been knocking on the door of victory lane.

Martin Truex, Jr.
What We've Seen So Far:  Thirteen races are in the books.  At the halfway point of the season, 9 different drivers have already won a race.  In 2014, 10 different drivers had posted a win by the halfway point, and only 13 total drivers earned a win by the end of the regular season.  So, there is no reason to believe that there will be more than 16 different winners by the end of the season.  The list of drivers who have won a race includes all the usual suspects.  Jimmie Johnson and defending champion Kevin Harvick have both won multiple races.  Martin Truex, Jr. has notched 11 top 10 finishes and has accumulated the second most points, but he has yet to get into win a race.  In his final season, Jeff Gordon has also put together a lot of solid finishes without visiting victory lane.  Due to injury keeping him out of the first 11 races of the year, Kyle Busch is miles back in the points standings and will absolutely need a win to qualify for the Chase.

Second Half Predictions:  Out of the 13 races remaining in the regular season, 2 of those are road courses and one is the July restrictor plate race at Daytona.  Those 3 races often provide surprise winners.  Last season, Aric Almirola and A.J. Almendinger both qualified for the Chase by getting victories in these races despite both drivers being well off the pace in terms of points performance.
Of the big names on the outside looking, Jeff Gordon has an excellent chance to qualify for the Chase at one of the road races.  Since Kyle Busch's injuries make it impossible for him to qualify on points, Wild Thing will be running every race like it's checkers or wreckers.  With Kyle's talent and JGR's equipment, look for Busch to win a race and qualify for the Chase.  Martin Truex, Jr. has been great all season long.  Sooner or later, he is bound to end up in victory lane.  Even if Truex fails to win a race, his consistency will likely earn him a Chase spot based on points.

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