With most of the “usual suspects” finishing in the top 12 in the Kobalt Tools 400 Sunday, the early-season Sprint Cup points took on a more familiar tone.
Points After Vegas
Some of the sport’s top guns started the season in a points hole, but the climbing began in earnest Sunday.
Race winner Matt Kenseth jumped 11 places to seventh, and second-place Kasey Kahne gave a new shine to his season by zooming up 17 point spots to 14th.
Carl Edwards, whose Daytona Speedweeks was a circus of crashes, suddenly appears in fifth in points after two strong weeks.
Kyle Busch gained 16 positions to sit 17th, Kevin Harvick jumped 11 spots to 19th, and Joey Logano improved six positions to 15th.
“The Rheem guys battled hard today,” Harvick said, “and we were able to pick up our first top-10 finish of the season. Our car was fast, but we had a few issues with the handling during the race. The No. 29 team kept at it all day making changes that allowed us to leave here with a good finish (ninth)."
The early-season surprises in the top dozen are in 10th through 12th – Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard, Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing teammate.
The positions in the second half of the top 12 are somewhat out of sync because of the early success of Mark Martin, who now sits sixth in points but will fall rapidly because of his decision to run another part-time schedule. Martin’s first “off” day will be Sunday, as Brian Vickers is scheduled to drive the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The first 13 in the point standings – Jeff Gordon is unlucky 13th – are already separated by more than a full race. Gordon is 50 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. And the series’ top three drivers – Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – have built a cushion near the top, with fourth-place Denny Hamlin 27 behind Johnson.
Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. have scored top-10 runs in all three races. Keselowski is the only driver with three top-five finishes.
Drivers suffering big point drops Sunday were Danica Patrick, who fell eight spots to 30th, and teammate Ryan Newman, who dropped 11 to 31st.
The season has begun in shadows for the Stewart-Haas Racing team. Team co-owner Tony Stewart rallied for an 11th-place finish Sunday but is the best SHR driver in points at 18th.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.