By Jared Turner
5 Lessons Learned Heading Into September
- Joe Gibbs Racing Is The Team To Beat
After coming out of the box slow in 2015, Joe Gibbs Racing has been hands-down the top Sprint Cup Series organization for most of the season. Now with all four of its drivers locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, JGR has to be considered the odds-on favorite to claim the 2015 title. Will it happen? Well, it’s certainly too early to tell. This much is certain, however: JGR’s Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch have been the sport’s two most dominant drivers over the past two months and have solidified their places as serious championship contenders. Discounting JGR’s other two drivers – Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards – from the championship discussion would also be a big mistake.
2. JoLo is JGR’s Biggest Threat
To find the driver who represents the chief threat to the roll Joe Gibbs Racing has been on in recent times, look no further than a former JGR driver, Joey Logano, who is now in his third season with Team Penske. Logano has finished outside the top 10 just twice in the past 11 races. Over that same stretch Logano has two wins – at Watkins Glen and two weekends at Bristol – and has finished in the top five six other times. What does all this mean for the Chase and Logano’s title hopes? Perhaps not a lot, except that – as it stands now – Logano has the horses to give the Gibbs drivers all they can handle.
3. Hendrick Has Faded
One must go all the way back to late May to find Hendrick Motorsports’ most recent non-restrictor-plate win, which came courtesy of Jimmie Johnson at Dover International Speedway on May 31. Aside from a restrictor-plate victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona in early July, the organization hasn’t won since. Although Johnson, Earnhardt and even winless teammate Jeff Gordon are all in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, no Hendrick driver has been a consistent frontrunner in recent weeks – a fact that has prompted many observers to question the organization’s championship potential. This much is absolutely clear: Hendrick is currently a step or two behind Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, and must quickly narrow the gap to have any hope of a championship this year.
4. Harvick Is A Heavyweight
Although Kevin Harvick has not been to Victory Lane since the fourth race of 2015, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been the Sprint Cup Series points leader after all but the first two of the season’s 24 races. How has he done it? Well, the answer is simple: Consistency. The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion has finished in the top 10 an amazing 21 times. Even more astonishing has been the fact that Harvick has piled up 10 – yes, you read that correctly – second-place finishes. If he continues to run this well in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it’s going to be hard for anyone to deny him a second consecutive title in NASCAR’s premier series.
5. Times Are Changin’
Aside from Jeff Gordon’s bombshell revelation over the winter that this would be his last full season in NASCAR’s top series, the biggest development this year in the way of driver and team changes for 2016 has been the news that Michael Waltrip Racing won’t field Sprint Cup Series cars next year. This decision, of course, leaves MWR’s two drivers – Clint Bowyer and David Ragan – without their respective rides for 2016. So where do they land? While there are multiple possibilities, especially for Bowyer – easily the sport’s top free agent – there simply aren’t many if any rides to be had. It will be interesting to see where both Bowyer and Ragan ultimately end up.