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Jay Busbee

The season's one-third finished; what do we know now?

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We're just over a third of the way through the season with 13 of 36 races in the books. And it's time to start some educated speculation. This far into the season, here's what we know:

Kurt Busch is a legitimate championship contender. He and bro Kyle have two wins apiece. The only other guys with more? The heavyweight duo of Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin with three apiece.

• Two other potential Cup contenders are lurking. Kevin Harvick is running the season like he runs his races — below the radar until it's go time. And Jeff Gordon has had a well-documented run of bad luck that's probably cost him a couple wins.

• Beyond that, who have we got? The only drivers to win races outside of those named above are Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, and neither one ranks as a legit championship threat. Tony Stewart? Juan Pablo Montoya? Kasey Kahne? Barring an immediate turnaround, it ain't happening for any of them.

• The potential championship contenders have been running well right from the start. Kyle has four top-10 finishes, and five guys lead NASCAR with five: Johnson, Hamlin, Kurt, Gordon and, strangely enough, Mark Martin.

• What else do we know? Rivalries are alive and well among the top echelon. Just among the crew named, you've had Kyle vs. Denny, Jeff vs. Jimmie, Denny vs. Jimmie, Kyle vs. Kevin, Kurt vs. Jimmie ... need we go on?

• Oh, and Jimmie Johnson isn't invincible any more. Three DNFs, other poor finishes ... if you think that this kind of stuff doesn't get under the 48 team's skin, you haven't been paying attention. They're prepping for the Chase, sure, but it's been proven time after time — you can't stumble your way through the regular season and expect to turn it on for the playoffs.

So, yeah, we're looking at the potential for the most wide-open NASCAR season in years. If you know somebody who's not watching, now might be the time to encourage 'em to tune in.

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