Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What's the story through 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup races

Kyle Busch's last four starts: 30th or worse. No big deal, right?
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a well-deserved weekend off for Father’s Day before returning June 26 for some road course racing at Sonoma Raceway. Then comes some restrictor-plate racing at Daytona on July 2.

So let’s take some time to review a few of the happenings in the series through 15 races where we’ve had 10 different winners.

Kyle Busch has a series-leading three wins, but you have to wonder what’s going on with him lately as he’s finished 30th or worse in his past four races. He finished dead last in 40th-place at Michigan on Sunday.

Yes, the off week couldn’t have come at a better time for Busch. It was at this juncture in the season that he put everything together, starting with a win at Sonoma – the second of his career on the northern California course. Kyle would go on to win four of five races on the schedule and let it be known to all other drivers he was a serious contender to win the championship and he eventually did capture his first title.

There shouldn’t be too much to worry about with Kyle because his only goal right now until the Chase starts is to win races. If you come in 40th, who cares, because points don’t mean anything up until the 10-race Chase starts Sept. 18 at Chicagoland.

Kevin Harvick is leading the series with the meaningless points, but hasn’t won since March 31 at Phoenix. He leads the series with a 7.1 average finish and has led 697 laps. Sunday at Michigan he was fifth for his seventh top-five finish of the season. Only Kyle has more top-fives with nine.

One of the pleasant surprises this season has been Kurt Busch, who leads the series with 13 top-10 finishes and is second behind teammate Harvick with an 8.5 average finish and 496 points. The consistency of Kurt all season is a good enough reason to believe he could win his second Cup title when the Chase starts. The Wynn sportsbook currently has him 12/1.

Points don’t matter now, but in the Chase it’s everything. Ryan Newman almost won a title two years ago without even winning a race all season by just finished well in all 10 Chase races.

Another Chase candidate we should discuss is rookie Chase Elliott, who is sitting at 25/1 odds at the Wynn after opening 65/1. This guy sure doesn’t seem like a rookie and he’s getting better each week. His team is performing flawless pit stops and they’re bringing fast cars right off the hauler weekly. He was runner-up at Michigan last week leading 35 laps, and the week prior at Pocono he finished fourth and led a race-high 51 laps.

Elliott is eventually going to win a race this season and while the road course doesn’t seem to be it, the following week at Daytona might be the place. After that he’ll get a chance with the same low downforce package used so well for him at Michigan at Kentucky Speedway where the teams were testing the new surface on Monday and Tuesday.

Look for Elliott to be a strong contender to win at Kentucky. No rookie has ever won the Sprint Cup title.

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