We’re five races into the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and already there have been some huge moments and some unexpected twists and turns with more doubtless to follow.
Here are the 10 biggest surprises of the first five races of the season:
Gary A. VasquezGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Kurt Busch wins Daytona 500
Without question, Kurt Busch is one of the sport’s elite drivers, but prior to winning the Daytona 500, he was 0-for-63 at restrictor-plate tracks. And he led only the final lap of the 500.
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukRusty Jarrett
Bowyer showing consistency
After two years with teams that were going out of business, Clint Bowyer moved to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2017. Fresh off a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway Bowyer is eighth in points, which puts him ahead of teammates Kevin Harvick (ninth), Kurt Busch (14th) and Danica Patrick (29th).
Hendrick all over the board
Not quite best-of-times/worst-of-times for Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR most successful team over the past two decades, but it’s close. The good news is that Chase Elliott is second in points and is driving like a future champion. The bad news is the team is winless and its other three drivers are outside the top 10 in points, with Kasey Kahne 13th, Jimmie Johnson 17th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 21st.
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukBarry Cantrell
Harvick can't close at Atlanta
Kevin Harvick led 292 of 325 laps at Atlanta, but an uncharacteristic late-race speeding penalty on pit road cost him a victory and allowed Brad Keselowski to win.
Shanna LockwoodShanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Larson’s breakout season has been huge so far, but don’t sleep on his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, who is sixth in points. Clearly, the entire Ganassi squad has found more speed this year and it’s paying off for both drivers.
Five different teams and drivers have won
That five different drivers have won this year isn’t all that surprising. But what is surprising is that five different teams have found Victory Lane: Stewart-Haas Racing (Daytona), Team Penske (Atlanta), Furniture Row Racing (Las Vegas), Richard Childress Racing (Phoenix) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Auto Club).
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Joe Gibbs Racing behind
Joe Gibbs Racing won the 2015 Cup championship and got all four drivers into NASCAR’s playoffs last year. In 2015-16, the team won a whopping 26 races. This year so far? Zero. Kyle Busch is 10th in points, Denny Hamlin 12th, Daniel Suarez 19th and Matt Kenseth 25th. Not where this team expected to be.
Newman wins at Phoenix
When a team goes 112 races without winning, as Richard Childress Racing had, or a driver goes 0-for-127, as Ryan Newman had, doubts creep in. Those doubts were put to rest at Phoenix, where Newman and RCR ended their respective streaks of futility with a stirring late-race victory.
Look, everyone knew Kyle Larson was a phenomenal talent. But one victory and four top-two finishes in five races? Just ridiculous. Now in his fourth Cup Larson clearly had found his mojo and is the hottest driver on the circuit.
Last year at this time, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson already had two victories, three top-five finishes and was second in points. This season, his best finish is ninth and he’s 17th in points. He and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have work to do.