NASCAR Cup Series
Nine up, nine down at NASCAR season's midway point
NASCAR Cup Series

Nine up, nine down at NASCAR season's midway point

Published Jun. 24, 2024 11:19 a.m. ET

LOUDON, N.H. — NASCAR has hit the midway point of its season. 

Some drivers are hitting on all cylinders after 18 points races. Others not so much.

Lots can change over the next 18 races, and there are some who hope nothing changes and others who need a whole lot of change.

So in the spirit of 18 races completed (the exhibition Clash and all-star events don't count), here are nine people in NASCAR who are up and nine who are down.


Who's Up

Chase Elliott

Elliott is tied for the top spot in the point standings with teammate Kyle Larson and entered New Hampshire with an average finish of 9.12. He has completed all but one lap this year. And he has a win. Life is good. And great when compared to a year ago when he missed six races because of injury and one because of suspension.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin continues to be the driver who is a threat pretty much each week and has seven top-5s this year. His 650 laps led is second to only Kyle Larson. Plus, the two cars he owns, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, are racing quite respectable, although Wallace is currently on the outside looking in of the playoff bubble.

Corey Heim

Heim, who has a series-best four wins in the truck series this year, remains the top prospect in Xfinity and trucks and made his Cup debut earlier this year, substituting for Erik Jones. He will get his first Cup race for 23XI Racing next weekend at Nashville.

Denny Hamlin on expectations for Corey Heim driving the 23XI Racing No. 50 car next week

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski ended a winless streak of 110 races by capturing the victory at Darlington. He sits 10th in the standings and while it took some time with the new Ford body, he seems to be finding his groove (his struggles at New Hampshire this past weekend an exception).

Chase Briscoe

Briscoe has a lot to feel good about as he will be announced Tuesday as joining Joe Gibbs Racing for next season. Few question his potential but with only one Cup win amid the roller-coaster Stewart-Haas Racing life of the last four years, it would have been reasonable for teams to also sour on him. He currently sits 16th in the Cup standings, 25 points behind the playoff cutoff.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex has decided to retire from full-time racing after this season. He seems to be more relaxed, and that is good for him. He knows he has had a Hall of Fame career and his fishing boat will get even more use next year than it does now. At fourth in the standings, he has a chance to go out on top.

Josh Berry

After no top-10s in his first 12 Cup starts at Stewart-Haas Racing, Berry has four top-10s in his last six races, including a third Sunday at New Hampshire. In the other two races, he was involved in accidents. He is the top rookie at the moment at 19th in the standings.

Justin Haley

Haley entered New Hampshire coming off a strong previous six races where he has been 19th in average lap time ranking. Over the first 11 races, he was 29th. That type of improvement is stunning, and he had another good run before fading on the final lap Sunday.

Steve Phelps

The NASCAR president has plenty of reasons to smile. NASCAR ratings were up over the FOX/FS1 portion of the season despite a rain-delayed Daytona 500. The season has produced a couple of the closest finishes in NASCAR history and racing on the intermediates has been awesome. 

Who's Down

Kyle Busch

Busch is a driver who hates to lose more than he likes to win. So winless and 17th in the standings is not a happy time. Even when it appears he is having some good luck — such as the time Sunday when he got the free pass to get back on the lead lap — another thing goes wrong, such as the incident that ended his day. He has 35th-place finishes in three of his last four races. This Richard Childress Racing team just needs something good to happen. 

Kyle Busch explains his mindset on better finishes and being on the playoff bubble

Joey Logano

Same as Busch, he hates to lose. For the 2022 Cup champion to be on the bubble of making the playoffs has to be tough. And now both of his Penske teammates have won races. If there's a bright side, in addition to winning the all-star race and the $1 million that goes with it, he moved back to the "good side" of the bubble Sunday as he is 13 points ahead of Bubba Wallace for the final spot on points.

Chris Buescher

Buescher is on the "down" list only because he came oh-so-close in some races he possibly could have won against Kyle Larson at Kansas (the closest in NASCAR history) and then after contact with Tyler Reddick at Darlington.

Jimmie Johnson

It is hard to know which has been worse for the seven-time Cup champion, his Cup races (best finish of 28th in five starts) or that his two drivers rank 26th and 27th in the standings. They knew it could be a rough year without an alliance but hope there are brighter days ahead as they learn the Toyota and the accompaning manufacturer support.

Corey LaJoie

With Spire expanding to three Cup teams and moving into a new shop along with LaJoie's steady improvement, this appeared as if it could be a breakout year for him. But so far it hasn't gone that way as he sits 29th in the standings. He has had too many days to forget this year.

Zane Smith

A driver who has a home but no home. Smith is signed by Trackhouse but racing for Spire in what hasn't seemed to be a solid situation of a mix of Trackhouse and Spire personnel. He is 34th in the standings and wondering where/if he will have a ride next year.

Matt Kaulig

Kaulig knew that racing in the Cup Series would be hard but he probably wasn't counting on sitting 31st and 32nd in the owner points. And the Xfinity program hasn't been as dominant as it used to be except for Shane van Gisbergen winning twice on road courses.

Mother Nature

NASCAR has had to move the day of the Cup race twice this year — two major events with the Clash going a day early in Los Angeles as a state of emergency for flooding was coming for the next day and then postponing the Daytona 500 for a day because of rain. Rain also resulted in the Cup race at Charlotte being shortened to 249 of the 400 laps. Richmond started on wet-weather tires and New Hampshire ended on wet-weather tires. And Kansas was delayed three hours because of rain.

Steve Phelps

The NASCAR president has plenty of reason to be frustrated. As noted earlier, Phelps has had many things go his way. But the racing on short tracks continues to be a challenge and the lack of much progress in getting a charter agreement done with the teams probably means he doesn't sleep well at night.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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