Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Party in the Poconos 400 marks the start of the second half of the 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season. And with each passing week, the pressure to win and try to get a slot in the 10-race, season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup intensifies.
Last weekend at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart took a big step toward earning one of the two Chase wild-card spots by winning his first race of the season.
So far, there have been eight different winners in the first 13 Sprint Cup races. Here are the 10 drivers most likely to become the next first-time winners of the 2013 season.
1. KURT BUSCH — Of all the drivers looking to break into Victory Lane this season, Busch is the one who’s been consistently fast lately. He won the pole at Darlington Raceway, led two segments in the Sprint All-Star Race, finished third in the Coca-Cola 600 and has led laps in each of the past five points races. It’s only a matter of time.
2. DENNY HAMLIN — The Joe Gibbs Toyotas have been fast all year, though they haven’t always been reliable. Hamlin has top-five finishes in two of his last three starts and has four victories in just 14 career starts at Pocono.
3. JUAN PABLO MONTOYA — Not only did Montoya finish second at Dover, he has the Brickyard 400 and both road-course races ahead this summer, giving him three excellent chances at victory.
4. CLINT BOWYER — A model of consistency, Bowyer has finished outside the top 15 just once in the last eight races. And he’s already run second at Martinsville and Richmond.
5. BRAD KESELOWSKI — The reigning Sprint Cup champ opened the season with four straight top-four finishes. After a brief slump, his fifth-place result at Dover showed that Keselowski might be on his way back.
6. JEFF GORDON — Although he was caught in a hard crash in the Coca-Cola 600, Gordon came home third at Darlington and third again at Dover. He got hot last summer and made the Chase and could do it again.
7. JOEY LOGANO — The still-young Logano is the defending event winner at Pocono and seems to have made a good transition to Penske Racing, where Keselowski is a much more sympatico teammate for him than Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch.
8. DALE EARNHARDT JR. — Why not? Michigan International Speedway is next after Pocono and it’s where Earnhardt has his two most recent points-race victories.
9. MARTIN TRUEX JR. — In several races this year, Truex has had cars fast enough to win had things gone his way. Eventually, they will.
10. GREG BIFFLE — Roush Fenway Racing is too good a team to stay down for long. Sooner or later, they’ll turn things around.