Contenders or pretenders? The next dozen races will reveal much

Among the teams that have been hit and miss over the season's first eight races is typically stout Roush Fenway Racing, and particularly drivers Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., our Larry Mac opines.

It has been a challenging season so far for Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle (left) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (right).

Jerry Markland / Getty Images North America

Having the off week and off weekend plus all of this week to prepare for Richmond and the races that come after that were critical to a lot of teams. Overall, this short break was a welcome relief to all teams on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. This gave everyone a chance to take a step back, catch their breath, work on some weak areas, recharge their batteries and head to Richmond a lot fresher.

There are some teams that did the Kansas tire test earlier this week, and naturally that was information gathered not only for the Kansas race but possibly data gathered to help them on the other mile-and-a-half tracks.

If you go down the list of the major organizations in our sport, the one that sticks out in my mind that really needed this break to hopefully make some positive adjustments is Roush Fenway Racing. Now sure, they had the win at Bristol with Carl Edwards but collectively overall they are just off right now.

They just really are hit and miss. They aren't qualifying well. Look at Greg Biffle, for instance. With eight races in the books, he finally got his first top-five finish of the year at Darlington last time out. With the talent behind the wheel that Greg has, we just expect more consistent top performances from that team.

Unfortunately, there isn't a nice way to put it, but his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr is just terrible right now. Ever since he finished second at Bristol, it's like the wheels have come off and he's not had very good runs since. So as an organization, that's the group that has the biggest hurdles to overcome and many areas to improve on.

We've talked about Joe Gbbs Racing in the past couple weeks. We know they are still a little bit behind. Then there is Richard Childress Racing. They are another group that needs to step it up a bit. Of the eight races in the books, the entire organization only has one top-five finish and that was a third-place by Paul Menard clear back at Las Vegas.

Again, this has been a welcome break in the schedule for everyone. When you consider two weeks in Daytona and three West Coast trips, these crews haven't had much of a break since January when you also factor in all the testing that has gone on. It's been a tough stretch and folks simply wear down.

Be that as it may, actually this next stretch is the one I always say separates the men from the boys or, as I also like to say, the contenders from the pretenders. They are facing 12 weeks of racing at every type of track we go to. It's also literally coast to coast and border to border. It simply is a grueling stretch for these teams.

In my book it is these next 12 races that will tell us who to watch and who our championship contenders are.



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