NASCAR: No Excuses For Carl Edwards in 2016

Carl Edwards has high hopes for 2016.

Carl Edwards has high hopes for 2016.

At the onset of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Carl Edwards made a dramatic career move after ten full seasons with Roush Fenway Racing to join Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) as driver of #19 Toyota Camry in an expanded four car team stable.

Even more striking was Edwards’ brash prediction at the time of the change, as he stepped out (or up, depending on your viewpoint) and made a proclamation that caught everyone’s attention, declaring “I plan on winning ten races and the championship.”

Perhaps Edwards was tempted by the inaugural success that his former Roush teammate Matt Kenseth achieved in 2013 by transferring to JGR, going on to win seven races and finish second in the Sprint Cup Championship in his debut.

Or perhaps Edwards was eager to emulate the domination that Kevin Harvick achieved during 2014 in his initial year with Stewart-Haas Racing by winning the Sprint Cup Championship.

Things don’t always play out as planned, however. In 2015 at JGR, Edwards had a solid season with 2 wins, 7 top 5’s, and 15 top 10’s. Yet, JGR teammate Kyle Busch went on to win the Sprint Cup Championship. Moreover, comparing 2015 with his last season at Roush, Edwards’ 2014 results were virtually identical with 2 wins, 7 top 5’s, and 14 top 10’s.

Edwards has shown that he can “walk the talk” based on past performance. From a career standpoint, he already has an XFINITY Series Championship, and he is probably one of the best wheelmen who has not yet won a Sprint Cup Championship.

Edwards has never bean an average driver, but he and Toyota expected more from 2015. Perhaps with the lower downforce pack for 2016 we'll see 'Cousin Carl' in a better place.

Edwards has never bean an average driver, but he and Toyota expected more from 2015. Perhaps with the lower downforce pack for 2016 we’ll see ‘Cousin Carl’ in a better place.

Edwards has finished second twice in the Championship battle during his eleven year career. In 2008, he fell just short to six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, perhaps letting the pressure get to him in the Chase, given Edwards lost the points lead near the end of the season despite collecting nine race victories. In 2011, he was back in the championship mix through the season finale at Homestead-Miami, where he lost in a tiebreaker to three-time champion Tony Stewart.

So, by Carl Edwards’ noble expectations, 2015 might be considered a lackluster debut with JGR. As a result, JGR shuffled two of their Sprint Cup team crew chiefs with Dave Rogers moving from Denny Hamlin’s #11 Toyota to the #19 Toyota of Carl Edwards, and Mike Wheeler becoming Hamlin’s crew chief, having spent a year as crew chief of JGR’s #20 XFINITY Series ride.

No surprise, as neither Denny Hamlin nor Carl Edwards attained the 2015 Championship title that they covet, given their taste of having finishing second in the Chase in previous years. For JGR to make these leadership changes, both Edwards and Hamlin must be convinced that these new crew chief relationships will give them a higher likelihood of securing the title in 2016. 

Something must not have clicked with Edwards’ former crew chief Darian Grubb, as he is the odd man out left to “explore other opportunities”. No doubt the 2015 season did not start the way Edwards and Grubb envisioned, as the #19 team only recorded one top-10 finish through the first eleven races; as well, for a majority of the regular season, Edwards’ team sat outside of the top 15 in the Championship standings.

What is most curious is that “Cousin Carl” has been fairly mum on the crew chief change, deferring to the deep bench strength that JGR possesses in both their Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series programs, along with trusting that Joe Gibbs is best positioned to undertake the proper leadership actions.

But “chemistry” is the most popular word used to describe the relationship between driver and crew chief when performance is there. As Jimmie Johnson has supremely stated, chemistry is the intersection where the magic happens and bonding occurs between driver and crew chief. When there is perceived room for improvement in team chemistry, crew chief changes will occur.

And make no mistake, any Sprint Cup championship caliber driver will have substantial input into any crew chief decision. So, “Cousin Carl” surely conferred and concurred with the crew chief swap. Edwards is a charming pitchman for his sponsors and always strives to be likeable. Fans savor Edwards’ victory celebrations that include his signature backflip and plunges into the grandstands to mingle with fans.

So, regardless of his low profile behavior in the crew chief situation, Edwards surely interviewed Rogers prior to the change to assess what he could bring to the #19 program and make sure they were on the same page.

From Edwards’ perspective, he must be convinced that this change in team leadership will spur the #19 team to great things in 2016.

As a confidence boost, NASCAR heads into 2016 with new low downforce aero rules, and Edwards has been an enthusiastic proponent of this rules package. In 2015, Edwards won the Southern 500 at Darlington, where the new package was being tested. He even lobbied to have the low downforce package adopted early for the 2015 Chase playoff, but NASCAR did not wish to change its rules mid-season.

Edwards’ patience is wearing thin, having previously remarked that he is eleven years into his career having yet to win the Sprint Cup title. At JGR, Edwards believes he is learning how to take advantage of the vast JGR resources. Now, if he can hit on the new downforce rules and forge a tight bond with his new crew chief, Edwards just might finally pocket that Sprint Cup title in 2016.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

David Ragan: Corporate Crisis Management 101

David Ragan, JGR's interim replacement driver for Kyle Busch.

David Ragan, JGR’s interim replacement driver for Kyle Busch.

What do you do when your driver, Kyle Busch, who is arguably one of the top three drivers in Sprint Cup, is going to be sidelined for as long as 8 months? That’s a real problem. It isn’t a simple matter of calling up a reserve driver with the skillset to run with Kenseth and Edwards. They don’t exist.

The solution really isn’t a solution. It’s high dollar corporate crisis management. There are a number of drivers, who are journeyman drivers that for whatever reason will never be in the winners circle with any regularity. You have to choose one of them, but which one fits?

Fits what? First the driver has to fit the entity who pays the big dollars and that means M&M Mars. There are a number of drivers who could take that level of equipment and keep it at the lower end of the top twenty, but they need more than that.

M&M cannot afford to be embarrassed by a personality, off the cuff remarks, a possibility of trashing the car every time it goes out or not giving top notch representation to the company.

Hence the selection of David Ragan. Ragan fits all of the criteria that the sponsor needs. He won’t win, though he has every chance now. He can put it into the top twenty and may even do better. Most importantly, he’s calm, speaks very well and can mitigate the damage to the sponsor by doing a good solid journeyman job.

Young Erik Jones, JGR's future star.

Young Erik Jones, JGR’s future star.

If you look at his record with Roush he never came close to Edwards, Kenseth or Biffle, but he represented the sponsor well and didn’t destroy equipment like a Russian dashcam junkie.

M&M Mars has directed the next 6-8 months to be an interim crisis management period where the effort is somewhat like a physician’s first rule: Do No Harm.

Make no mistake, this was not Joe Gibbs decision. If it were, they would have given that ride to Erik Jones. The 18 year old kid is fast, he wins and is part of the future of JGR. It would have been the perfect time to give him the Cup experience needed to go into 2016 as the next Kyle Larson, if not better. But he’s unknown to M&M’s as a corporate representative.

Could he have handled the Sprint Cup pace under the new rules? Most likely yes, even though the cars should prove to be harder to drive. Often you find the new guy hasn’t embedded old habits into his driving style and could have adapted quickly. But this isn’t about an interim driver winning races, it’s about doing the sponsor’s bidding.

Once they ascertain whether or not the young baby faced Erik Jones can actually represent a company as large as M&M’s and Ragan doesn’t perform to an acceptable level, things could change.

For now it’s one of those unforeseen second chances that drivers at this level just don’t get. David Ragan has the opportunity to move from a forever mid-pack runner to a front runner.

He has to take every opportunity that he can to prove his worth as a driver or he will forever be regulated to contracts that are race to race with teams that are admirably capable, but not JGR or Penske level.

Mr. Ragan had better pull up every ounce of competitive ability and talent that he may never have accessed in order to become a driver that other top teams might look at as a high level performer.

And he has to do it with grace and aplomb. He wont get another chance.

Kyle Busch Hopes Slump Ends At His Favorite Track, Bristol

Kyle Busch has been on a string of bad luck lately and he hopes that will change at Bristol. Still, he remains safe as a Chase contender.

Kyle Busch has been on a string of bad luck lately and he hopes that will change at Bristol. Still, he remains safe as a Chase contender.

Lately, Kyle Busch seems to be in the midst of a free fall – or so it seems.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has had a string of uncommon poor finishes as of late and, as a result, he has slipped in the point standings.

It would not appear he’s in any danger of not making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Coming into this weekend’s race at Bristol, he was 15th in points – but seeded eighth in the grid because of a victory.

That aside, what’s happened lately is not Busch’s style, not by a long shot.

Let’s go back to Sonoma in June, eight races ago.

Since that time Busch has finished 25th or worse five times.

Remarkably, in the additional three races he has three runnerup finishes, at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis.

But in the last three races, well, he’s hardly been noticed. He finished 42nd at Pocono, 40th at Watkins Glen and 39th at Michigan.

He once stood sixth in points after Indy. Now, as mentioned, he’s 15th.

You understand, of course, that little of what has happened is the fault of Busch or his team – for the most part, anyway.

It’s been a series of unfortunate mishaps, such as at Michigan, where he lasted just five laps before a crash sent him into the garage for repairs and an ultimate 39th-place finish.

These types of things happen to every NASCAR team at some point, perhaps more often to some than others.

Busch has a remarkable record at Bristol in all three Series. Even though he won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race, he cut a tire late and finished well back in the pack.

Busch has a remarkable record at Bristol in all three Series. Even though he won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race, he cut a tire late and finished well back in the pack.

Nevertheless, the timing does not suit Busch, not to mention much of anything else that’s happened.

“We’ve had a tough couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. At Pocono we had an engine deal and then we got behind at the Glen with a fueling issue and crashed.

“Then at Michigan we were good on the first couple of laps on the bottom of the track. I got greedy, took it to the outside and crashed.”

Busch may well think that he can solve his problems at Bristol – as well he should.

At the 0.533-mile track he has 16 NASCAR series victories, five in Sprint Cup, seven in the Nationwide Series and four in the Camping World Truck Series.

In 2010 he became the first driver to sweep all three series races at one track.

But that won’t happen this year. He won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race and led three times for 81 of 200 laps. He suffered a cut tire late in the event and finished 24th.

He had his chance at redemption in the Nationwide Series race on Aug. 22 and has another in the Irwin Tools Night Race on Aug. 23.

“When they changed the track to this current surface in 2007, I just really took to it right away,” Busch said. “I really liked it and I’ve been fast there, but also I’ve had great race cars from Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s just a fun race track no matter what series I’m running there.

“You make one mistake, or someone else makes one mistake, that’s it. We’re hoping things will fall in place this weekend and we get to victory lane.”

That would be a welcome change. Again, although Busch is safely in the Chase, there’s no doubt he would like to see overall performance – not to mention his luck – change.

“I feel like our cars have been mostly competitive,” he said. “They have not been 30th-place cars or anything like that.

“We just haven’t been able to finish.”

So far, through one event at Bristol that seems to remain unchanged.

But it ain’t over yet.









Back On Track, Hamlin Aims To Prove He’s No ‘Weak Link’

Denny Hamlin was injured early in the 2013 season and missed four races. But he returned to racing and won at Homestead in the final event of the year.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When a driver misses part of a NASCAR Sprint Cup season due to injury or illness, when the next year rolls around and he’s healthy, he has one of two things to prove:

First, he intends to prove he’s back in competitive form and hopes to win races.

Second, he’s determined to show he’s fit as a fiddle and can withstand the physical rigors of racing.

Let’s be honest. The returning driver counts BOTH as his season goals. Can’t achieve one without the other.

Much has been said and speculated about Tony Stewart’s return to competition after he suffered a shattered right leg in a Sprint Car race midway through last season.

Now consider Denny Hamlin, driver of Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

In 2013 Hamlin was 10th in points and measured up for the Chase for the Sprint Cup when he crashed at Auto Club Speedway in March. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his back.

If you have ever experienced back pain, you know a bit of what Hamlin was enduring.

Hamlin missed four races and fell to 28th in points. His hopes of making the Chase were over.

He had to take on a relief driver in his first race since his injury, at Talladega.

But the following week at Darlington he drove the entire race and finished second. Hamlin wasn’t fully cured but he was strong enough to race – if not as comfortably as he would have liked.

Hamlin has driven for Joe Gibbs Racing since 2006 and has earned 23 victories. His goals are to win again and make the Chase.

Hamlin won his only race of 2013 at the season’s last race at Homestead-Miami.

He ended the year on a very high note.

And he’s started 2014 on another high note. Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 15. He was No. 1 in NASCAR’s first on-track competition of the year.

“It was great to win,” Hamlin said. “And it’s good for the drivers who are part of the Unlimited to get the race rust off.

“We only do superspeedway racing four to five times a year so it is an art form of racing that the more you do it the better you’ll become at it.

“So I think it is a big advantage for us in the Unlimited being able to get a race under our belts before the 500, which is our biggest race.  It’s hard to go into the 500 cold turkey with no race experience the week before.”

With his 28th-place finish in points last year, compared to second for teammate Matt Kenseth and fourth for Kyle Busch, it would appear to be easy to call the driver from Chesterfield, Va., the “weak link” at Gibbs.

Hamlin thinks that would be wrong.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “At least not through the testing that I’ve seen. I’m up to speed, to say the least, within our race team.”

Hamlin does admit he might have a difficult go of it early in the season – and for reasons you might not ever suspect.

“Last year we were a little bit off of our teammates and we’re going to have a little bit of a struggle at the beginning of the year,” Hamlin said. “That’s because ultimately we have a bad parking spot in the garage and we’re going to miss the first 10 minutes of practice every week.

“Yes, you’re still going to be parked in the garage.  Not the haulers, but the cars.  We were so far back in points we would miss the first 10 minutes of practice every single week.

“So, until we get ourselves back up in points where we should be I think the first few races will be tough for us. Other than that I think we’ll be fine.

“I think we’re going to start as strong as JGR starts.”

Hamlin, who has won 23 races in his career – all with Gibbs – said he took something positive away from his experience last year. Namely, a driver just can’t rely on being competitive every season. Anything can happen.

“Last season was a dead one in a lot of ways,” Hamlin said. “What I take from it the most would be just the appreciation of when you do run well.

“I took for granted just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year.  Just like it was easy and I really didn’t have to prepare for it.  I just showed up and we did it.

“And now, I think with the competition and how we ran at the end of last year, you’ve got to think about preparing for more weeks and preparing to be good.  You can’t just rely on talent to do it.”

Asked if Stewart faced tougher challenges than he in 2014, Hamlin laughingly said:

“I think Tony has less challenges because he’s more talented.”

Of course, that is a matter of opinion.

—- Hamlin continued to make it very clear he’s fully returned – and is no Gibbs “weak link” – with his victory in a Budweiser Duel qualifying race on Feb. 20. Hamlin took the lead after pit stops midway through the 60-lap race and was never challenged. Impressively, he has now won two of two races at Daytona.


Kyle Busch Confident As Hectic Day For Cup Cars At Indy Moves In

Kyle Busch was the fastest driver in final practice for the Nationwide Series race, which is part of a hectic Saturday schedule at Indianapolis.

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It was kind of surreal.

On a Friday, just two days before the Brickyard 400, there wasn’t a single NASCAR Sprint Cup car on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There was no practice, no qualifying – nothing.

This was unlike anything in the past. Normally, a Friday before what is generally accepted as NASCAR’s second-most prestigious race would be a day swarming with activity.

The garage area would be teeming with crewmen scattering in every direction as they went about their tasks. Whistles would be shrilling constantly, warning everyone that a rumbling car was on it way to the track – or coming back to the garage.

But on this Friday, there was none of that.

That’s because NASCAR’s weekend schedule at the Brickyard has changed radically. The Sprint Cup race is still the highlight event on Sunday, of course, but it is now accompanied by companion events in the Grand-Am Series and the Nationwide Series.

The new schedule had practice for the Nationwide cars on Thursday and Friday was turned over completely to the Grand-Am sports cars.

Then, well, talk about a busy day – on Saturday Sprint Cup cars would have two practice sessions, followed by qualifying for the Nationwide Series, then Cup qualifying. Finally, at 4:30 p.m., the inaugural Indiana 250 Nationwide race would get the green flag.

That’s a packed schedule …

Most Cup drivers were not at the track on Friday. Those that were either had personal appearances or chose to watch the Grand-Am events.

A few, such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray, competed in the Grand-Am races.

Many more Cup drivers were active on Thursday as part of two (and only) practice sessions for the Nationwide event, which will be conducted at the Brickyard for the first time after years at nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Busch is in his fifth season with Joe Gibbs Racing and hopes to be the third driver from the team, along with Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, to win at Indy.

Seven of the 10 fastest cars in the final practice session were driven by Cup regulars – which should come as no surprise, given that they are far more familiar with Indy’s 2.5-mile oval.

The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, posted the two fastest speeds of the day. Kyle led the way with a speed of 175.838 mph, over a mile per hour quicker than his sibling.

“It felt good for the first time here,” Kyle said. “We’ve just been trying to make the car snug to make it better in the long run. You’ve got to be snug here because the place is so flat.

“Hopefully the car will stay with us all day Saturday.”

Speaking of Saturday, the younger Busch knows – as do all other Cup drivers – that it is going to be very hectic, which means there will be precious little time to make any needed adjustments.

“It’s going to be tight for the crews,” Kyle said. “Their time to relax for a little bit in the garage is not going to happen because they will be swapping back and forth between practice, qualifying and races. There’s a lot to do.

“It is a tight schedule. It’s a good thing I’m not a rookie and I’ve been here a few times in the Cup cars, so the limited time shouldn’t be a problem.”

Regardless of where he qualifies, Kyle will be considered a victory contender in the Nationwide race. He hasn’t won in 2012, but it’s hard to ignore the fact he has 51 series wins, including 13 in 2010.

As for the Sprint Cup circuit, Kyle is 13th in points with one victory. He is currently ranked as the No. 2, and final, candidate for a “wildcard” spot, behind Kasey Kahne.

That’s good, but it could be better.

Even though it is the Brickyard 400, Kyle, whose best finish was a fourth in 2007, maintains there is no real change in his strategy to make the Chase.

“You have to approach the races leading up to the Chase the way you have all the other races all season,” he said. “You go there and try to do the best job you can.

“You want to win on any weekend, so all through practice you try to figure out what you need in you car to make it the fastest you can.

“If the car handles and drives well, you can try a little harder to make speed out of it.”

Now in his fifth season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle hopes to join two former Gibbs drivers – Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte – as a winner at the Brickyard.

“I’m wishing I can put my name on that list by getting a win and running up front,” Kyle said. “You always want to win the big races, the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400, before your career is over.”

For Kyle, like it will be for every other driver, the opportunity to win at Indy will be greater if, on Saturday, total preparation is complete – and the sooner the better.




For Kyle Busch It’s The Same Old Chase – Unfortunately


Kyle Busch started the Chase tied for No. 1 in the points standings. But as he did last year, he's stumbled in the first four races and is now ranked eighth, 20 points back. He can still win the title, but it won't be easy.

CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch has been in this position before. I’m thinking he wishes he wasn’t.

Once more he’s begun NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup in an excellent position to win his first career championship. And, once more, he’s lost the edge and now has to claw his way back into contention.

The 26-year-old driver for Joe Gibbs Racing started the Chase tied with Kevin Harvick for first place in the point standings.

Both drivers benefited from the way the 12-car field was re-seeded. It provided 10 bonus points for each victory, thus Busch and Harvick were propelled to No. 1 with four wins each, prior to the start of the Chase at Chicago.

By the way, each had won more races than any other competitor.

Busch has proven he has no difficulty winning races. In a Cup career that spans eight seasons, Busch has made 252 starts and won 23 times. He also has 79 top-five finishes and 120 among the top 10.

He also has a record 51 Nationwide Series victories and was that circuit’s champion in 2009.

And he has 30 wins on the Craftsman Truck Series.

Busch has established a well-deserved reputation as a driver who can win in just about everything he drives.

But when it comes to a Cup championship, it appears he just can’t win at the right time. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he can’t avoid problems in the Chase – and they usually strike fast.

This year, Busch quickly fell out of his No. 1 slot. He finished 22nd in the Chase-opening race at Chicago. He was 11th at New Hampshire, sixth at Dover – his only top-10 finish in the Chase – and 11th again at Kansas.

Busch’s lack of consistency has put him eighth in points, 20 behind leader Carl Edwards – who has been a model of consistency, by the way.

The way Busch has started the Chase is nothing new for him. He did virtually the same thing last year and wound up eighth in the final rankings.

Asked how frustrating it was to struggle after being the top seed in the Chase for the second time, Busch said:

It’s not the second time, it’s every time.”
It certainly seems that way.

Trust me,” said Busch, whose highest finish in points was fifth in 2007, “if I knew I’d love to fix it. I have no idea.

You know, in years past we may have had wrecks or mechanical failures or something in that respect. This year it’s not anything in particular, it’s just that we haven’t been finishing where we’ve been running.”

Indeed, Busch’s problems aren’t as dramatic as wrecks or mechanical maladies. They are much more subtle – yet just as damaging.

We had a fuel issue at Chicago,” Busch said. “At Loudon, I wasn’t the best and the car wasn’t the best. We kinda missed it on the last run at Dover and at Kansas we kind of got back in traffic a little bit when we came in for two tires and some other guys stayed out because they thought they could make it the rest of the way.

You know, we definitely lost a lot of points at Chicago. We gave up a couple of points at Dover and a few points at Kansas. If we could have some of those points back, we’d be a lot closer.”

Of course, Busch realizes he’s not going to get any points back.

A lot of other guys probably say the same thing,” he said. “It’s all relative. It’s just a matter of where we are right now.”

Busch is satisfied with other facets of the Gibbs team performance. For example, there are no issues with the pit crew.

Well, we did have some pit stop issues at Chicago, but we haven’t had any in the last few races,” Busch said. “The guys have really worked hard and dug in deep and they’ve been able to pump out some pretty good pit stops lately. So we’ve been fine the last three races.”

It goes without saying that Busch is going to have to raise his performance level over the last six races of the Chase if he’s going to have any shot at the title.

And it would help a bit if some of the guys ahead of him in the standings would experience some of the problems he has.

I’d love to have a perfect day for the next few weeks and all of a sudden be the one everyone is worried about,” Busch said. “We haven’t had that perfect day yet.

It’s the little things that can take you out of the running. It’s been every single season I’ve been in the Chase that this stuff has happened. It’s just that we are still able to fight back and come back from where we are. Years past, we would have been knocked out by now.

At least we still have a fighting shot. We could have that perfect day at Charlotte. We’ll play it one week at a time.”

Numbers Tell Us The Competition Ain’t Bad, For Now

As the 2011 season heads into Texas Motor Speedway for the running of the Samsung Mobile 500 tonight it is interesting to note how, competition-wise, the preceding six races have provided excellent storylines.

This is NASCAR’s opinion, you understand, not mine – but I must say that I agree with it.

“Storylines” might be the wrong word here. Let’s just say that what has transpired so far are simply facts that deserve our attention.

Why, you might ask. It’s because some of what we might have expected so far this season has not happened – and some of what we did not, in many ways, has.

I use as evidence of all this information provided by NASCAR; information that puts its competition in a good light. But when it comes to competition, the sanctioning body is all about promoting the quality therein whenever possible – which is its job, after all.

The facts and figures are accurate. They are not manipulated. They are what they are, and, to be honest, they are intriguing.

We’re told that two of last year’s top winners, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, remain winless going into Texas. I’m not sure about you, but I’m one of those who thought either one of them would have been victorious by now. Heck, if nothing else, they were the hands-down favorites at Martinsville.

And you knew that, didn’t you?

Interestingly, lead-change records have fallen in three of the six Sprint Cup races so far, at Daytona, Phoenix and Martinsville.

There has been, NASCAR tells us, an average of 31.5 lead changes per race, the most after six events in series history.

Now I would be one of the first to say this is nothing but the result of racing circumstances. But I would quickly add that races that have produced record lead changes at such a high average are, if not great, certainly compelling.

After all, which race is better – one in which several drivers swap the lead or one in which a driver dominates to the point of boredom? I think you know.

NASCAR tells us that, through six races, there has been an average of 13 leaders per race, the most in series history.

Again I would say this is the result of circumstances. But I would also say that, as far as fan and media appeal, it beats the hell out of anything else.

We know that prior to Kevin Harvick’s win at Martinsville, his second in a row, there were five different winners in the first five races of the season. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2005.

Once more, it’s all about circumstances.

But then, given what has happened so far, consider this: You tell me, if you like real competition, what is more appealing – that one or two drivers dominate or that several win – and in some cases we are ultimately greatly surprised when they do?

Case in point: Face it, when Trevor Bayne and Wood Brothers Racing won the Daytona 500 was that not a big, pleasant surprise that ultimately captured national attention?

Headed into Texas, seven different teams occupied the top seven positions in the point standings. They were Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Stewart Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Hey, I like it. To me it’s a more intriguing scenario than oh, say, for Roush to have four teams among the top seven and Hendrick the other three – unless you’re a big fan of either team, or both.

Finally, NASCAR pointed out that the top four drivers in the point standings all run different manufacturers.

If I had to guess, the sanctioning body revels in this statistic more than any other. It’s proof, somewhat, that its ongoing efforts to create a level playing field for all its participating manufacturers are paying off – for now, anyway.

I know all of this is NASCAR tooting its own horn. But why not? There have been seasons in the past when it didn’t have a horn to toot.

Tooting aside, the numbers do tell us the competition in NASCAR, so far, ain’t been bad at all.

Starting at Texas tonight, we’ll see if stays the same, gets better or gets worse.


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