NASCAR drivers head for tough stretch

Published Apr. 5, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

With six races in the books and now an off weekend for Easter, the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams are all gearing up for a grueling run of 14 consecutive weeks. Really, the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. We are seeing some quality competition early on in our 2012 season.

Look at Clint Bowyer. He is in a brand-new ride with Michael Waltrip Racing. He’s also got a brand-new sponsor. He’s already enjoying early-season success with one top five and three top 10’s in the first six races. He sits ninth in the points. That’s pretty impressive.

His new teammate and veteran in the organization, Martin Truex Jr., is enjoying the same type of success. He is currently sixth in points and only 12 points out of the lead. When you factor in how well the No. 55 team -- which Mark Martin and Brian Vickers share in points races -- is also running, you can clearly see this revamped organization at MWR is already making some noise in 2012.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up to second in the points last week after Martinsville. Sure he hasn’t won yet, but I am telling you if that team keeps running the way it is, the wins will come. Junior is only six points behind leader Greg Biffle. That No. 88 team has racked up three top fives and four top 10’s.

The other great storyline has to be Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s been well-documented by now that of the six races we’ve run this year, Stewart-Haas Racing has won three of them. Tony Stewart moved up to third in the points after last Sunday’s race. Martinsville race-winner Ryan Newman moved up two spots to eighth in the points and is now only 24 points back of Greg Biffle.

On the other side of the coin, there are teams and drivers out there that better pick up the pace or they will be onlookers in the 2012 Chase. Leading that list has to be Kasey Kahne. I would challenge you to find anyone who would have predicted with his ability and Hendrick resources that that team would have struggled so badly this year.

Having his engine blow up at Martinsville Speedway cost him four more spots in the points and the No. 5 car has fallen all the way to 31st in the points. Who would have ever thought that was possible? Teammate Jeff Gordon has  also had his fair share of struggles this year. He was in position to possibly win Sunday at Martinsville when the late-race wreck happened. Despite that, Jeff was able to move up four positions in the points but even then he is only 21st.


I am really excited to see who the comers and goers will be in this next 14-race stretch. It all starts next Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. How can you not be excited about racing under the lights at Texas? It should give us a glimpse of what we might expect in the Sprint All-Star Race, also on a Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

Following Texas is another 1.5-track at Kansas Speedway and then the series heads to the short track at Richmond. Early May takes us to our biggest track – Talladega Superspeedway. That race is always wide open and out of control. The Daytona 500 was exceptionally good, but I believe Talladega will be even that much better. The reason I say that is because the teams should be even better prepared than they were in February. I just think the racing overall will continue, continue, continue to get better.

If you talk to any of the teams, people will tell you any off weekend like the one they are enjoying now is precious. It gives everyone a chance to recharge, take a deep breath and clear their minds. It also gives them a chance to get things somewhat caught up both at the shop and at home.

Trust me, you will never understand what these guys and girls go through unless you have walked in their shoes completely. You are never ever totally caught up. You try playing catch-up all season long. Things begin to wear you down and so when you get a weekend off, it really is special.


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