We're only four races into the season, with more than 20 to go before the Chase even arrives. There's a lot of time for change, both positive and negative. Even so, with at least 18 guys good enough to make the Chase, there's no such thing as a waste-able week any longer.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year's darling has become this year's 2009-model Richard Childress Racing. Tony Stewart has two top-10 finishes, but has only led seven of more than 1,000 laps this season, and currently sits 8th in points. Ryan Newman has been much worse, posting no finish higher than 17th, and currently sitting in 29th position.
It's quite a shift from 2009, when both Stewart and Newman stunned the entire NASCAR world by making the Chase and, in Stewart's case, running in first place all season prior to the Chase.
Still, there's no reason yet to panic. 2009 was a miracle first season, and while 2010 hasn't yet measured up, that could be a case of early-season shakeouts moreso than a reversion to the predicted mean, as they say in statistics. Plus, as Newman points out, he didn't exactly run lights-out the first part of last year, either: "If you look at 2009, when we rebounded, we didn't keep that performance going," he said at a press conference last week. "We had I think four or five top fives in a row, then we fell off. We maintained an 8th- to 10th-place position for the next 10 races or so, which was not ideal."
For what it's worth, Newman went on an early-season run in which he posted top-10s at eight of 10 races last year, a run that began at Bristol. And guess where we're heading next?
As for Stewart? His run began one week later. Starting at Martinsville, he notched top-10 finishes in 15 of 17 races, including two wins. Thus, yes, there is precedent.
"I know there's plenty of potential and there's a lot of season left," Newman said. "The law of averages works out for everybody except for Jimmie Johnson."
So how about it, SHR fans? Concerned yet, or are you playing it cool for now?