With the all-star race and the Coca-Cola 600 in the rear view mirror, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule enters a new phase. That will be welcome news for some big names that have struggled thus far, and could mean a more crowded field of front-runners in a season where so far, no real clear leader has emerged. The races we have coming up may not be at tracks that have historically produced great racing, but it will be quite interesting to see who the comers and goers are.
Back when he rocked the black and orange of Home Depot on his firesuit at Joe Gibbs Racing, your truly referred to Smoke as The Great Pumpkin. These days, the three-time champion has been more like The Invisible Man. Summer is always when Stewart has tended to heat up and make his move, with a track of success at Indianapolis, Daytona, Watkins Glen, Pocono and New Hampshire. One can’t help but speculate that there are lingering effects from his 2013 injuries. NASCAR’s new Chase qualification format can either be a blessing or a curse with Stewart winless in 22nd place. There are numerous chances for Team 14 to right the ship…but will they???
Is a “Drive For Five” brewing? Gordon sure seems rejuvenated with his points leading performance almost halfway to the Chase. Almost every week, the 24 appears to be in a position to win. Whether its Dover, Pocono, Michigan, Sonoma, Daytona- you name it- Gordon’s name is ubiquitous on track leaderboards. Instead of a summer swoon, it could be a separation summer for the four-time champ as he looks to break away from a front pack that includes everyone from Kevin Harvick to Joey Logano.
They call him “Mr. Pocono,” with a track of success at the Tricky Triangle that would make Tim Richmond proud. No doubt Hamlin has the two summer dates at Pocono circled as opportunity races to truly establish himself as a true contender. Hambone has a win and a wild card if the Chase started today, but his season has been filled with potholes that have slowed his march to the front. A flat track stud, Hamlin is also sure to be looking forward to stops at Indianapolis and New Hampshire.
You know who could be a beneficiary of the new playoff format? This guy! The Thunder From Down Under must be licking his chops when thinking of the opportunity that lies ahead at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The former V8 Super Car stallion has demonstrated his mastery of the track in the Finger Lakes region of New York. While he’s knocked on the door at Sonoma, Ambrose has not yet recorded a victory there, and will no doubt look to change that June 22nd. Something else to keep in mind is Ambrose also has a solid rating at Bristol. Ranked 21st, Ambrose could conceivably crack the code this summer if everything breaks right.
Here’s a driver eager to put the past behind himself. His 2014 schedule has been littered with two finishes worse than 40th, and Kansas Clint finds himself languishing in 20th. Some potential bright spots lie ahead. He’s won at Sonoma before, and Bowyer has been strong at such summer venues as Michigan, Kentucky, Bristol and Watkins Glen. The trick here is to steer clear of the maddening mechanical breakdowns that have dogged him in 2014.
Others to watch are Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, who can add to their win totals this summer, as there are tracks such as Michigan and Dover, where both have run well. Jimmie Johnson runs well darn near anywhere, making the events at Dover intriguing. Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers are also known to go on summer streaks, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is another name that shows up on a lot of leaderboards when it comes to top driver ratings at a number of upcoming tracks. Will he score a season sweep at Daytona? It would really bolster his seeding for the Chase, no doubt about that.