The hot streak for Smoke continues. A calmer and more controlled Tony Stewart is still carrying momentum from last year, already collecting a couple of trophies for himself in 2012. His two wins so far likely guarantees him at least a wild-card spot in this year’s Chase. Ryan Newman, Stewart’s teammate and employee who is looking for a long-term contract, has also claimed a piece of hardware with a somewhat surprising win at Martinsville. Stewart-Haas Racing has consumed eight wins since the beginning of last year’s Chase and there’s still a hunger for the organizations newest driver to join into the feast. Danica Patrick has been introduced as somewhat of a seasonal menu item this year, with a full-course schedule baked into her 2013 plans. Stewart appears a little bland as an owner, but he has set the table very well so far for his entire organization. He may also possess a key ingredient towards the recipe for another championship this season as well.
NASCAR’s modern era began in 1972, and since then, each season the eventual champion has usually won a race within the first six events. There have been some exceptions to this rule. Firstly, Tony Stewart didn’t win last year until the initial Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway. During his 2005 championship year, it took him until Sonoma, race 16, before he found victory lane.
Terry Labonte was also a somewhat of a late bloomer during his two championship seasons, not winning until the 13th race in 1984 and the seventh race in 1996. Darrell Waltrip in 1985 and Dale Jarrett during 1999 are two other champions who didn’t have a win within the first six races, with both waiting until race eleven before celebrating in victory lane.
Benny Parsons won the 1973 championship by only winning one race all year. Parsons’ win at Bristol in July was the 18th race of the season.
The only other driver who waited until after the sixth race to collect a win was Jimmie Johnson in 2008. Mr. Five-Time grabbed the checkered flag in Phoenix, which was then the eighth race on the schedule.
If winners of the first half-dozen races are indeed a good indicator for a potential champion, we are in-line for some sort of history this season.
Tony Stewart can become the first driver/owner to win back-to-back championships. Ryan Newman could also make history for Stewart-Haas racing by becoming the first teammates since Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte to win consecutive titles.
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth could become the first multi-championship winning driver under Jack Roush. A championship this season would also mark only the ninth instance a Daytona 500 winner went on to win the title.
Phoenix winner, Denny Hamlin, could help aide NASCAR’s first championship for a foreign nameplate if he can hoist the Cup trophy with his Joe Gibbs racing Toyota.
Roger Penske is still waiting for a reserved seat at the head-table during the season ending awards banquet. Brad Keselowski hopes to deliver The Captain his first NASCAR championship and what could be the last for Dodge, unless the auto-manufacturer finds a new team beginning in 2013, with Penske reuniting with Ford.
Statistically speaking, those are the five driver’s in-line to win it all this year. There are other hungry teams in the garage who are still starving for a win. If they do not get moving soon though, they may not even have a table for the post-season awards banquet.
Kasey Kahne dreamed of joining Hendrick but is now in the middle of a nightmare. He and crew chief Kenny Francis couldn’t’ have envisioned a 31st place showing in the standings going into the Easter off-weekend. They will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat if they want to turn this season around.
Michael Waltrip Racing has shown early they may have some staying power this year in the standings. Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer are both currently residing within the top-ten spots. Truex has already posted two top-five finishes after only accumulating three last year. Bowyer almost had a win at Martinsville before the mêlée in turn one began. Waltrip’s shared ride has seen the consistency of Mark Martin and the resurgence of Brian Vickers at Bristol.
Speaking of another Bristol makeover, if Bruton Smith had his way, he would add ramps with fire-rings and an obstacle course in hopes of seeing more fans enter the gate. Hopefully the changes he intends to make won’t result in a circus when they race under the lights in August.