NASCAR’s push to make up races at a rapid rate is slowing.
Sunday’s race at Homestead won by Denny Hamlin was the eighth Cup Series race since NASCAR resumed its season on May 17 at Darlington. In addition to five Sunday races in that timeframe, NASCAR held weeknight races at Darlington, Charlotte and Martinsville to make up the races it had missed in the 10 weeks it was on hiatus because of the coronavirus.
There aren’t any midweek points races coming up over the next month. NASCAR is racing exclusively on the weekend through July 19, outside of the July 15 All-Star Race. So we figured the resumption of NASCAR’s “normal” schedule for the upcoming weeks was a good time to take stock at what’s happened since it returned.
Kevin Harvick is still the points leader
Harvick held the points lead by a point over Joey Logano when the season was halted in March after four races. Eight races later, Harvick is still the points leader. But there’s a new driver in second place. Chase Elliott is eight points behind Harvick. Logano, who finished 27th on Sunday night because of pit road damage, is third in the standings and 29 points behind Harvick.
Harvick has kept the points lead despite having his two worst finishes of the season over the past five days. He was 15th at Martinsville and 26th at Homestead after he too had some damage from pit road contact.
As an aside: The sooner Cup Series cars are more durable, the better. Slight contact on pit road shouldn’t make a fast car a slow one.
Elliott may be the hottest driver in the series
Chase Elliott could be looking at six straight top 10s if it wasn’t for his late-race incident with Joey Logano while racing for the win at Bristol.
Elliott ended up 22nd after he and Logano collided and went into the wall. That’s his only finish worse than eighth in each of the last six races. That includes a win at Charlotte during the middle of the week, a second-place finish after an ill-fated pit call in the Coca-Cola 600, and a second on Sunday night at Homestead.
Elliott has led laps in each of the past seven races and has moved from fifth to second in the standings over the past six races.
It’s a cluster outside the top 10
Kurt Busch is 10th in the points standings, 125 points behind Harvick. After Busch, it’s kind of a mess.
Jimmie Johnson is 11th and 16 points behind Busch. Erik Jones is in 19th and 49 points behind Johnson. Yeah, that means the first eight drivers outside the top 10 are all separated by less than a race’s worth of points.
With 16 drivers making the playoffs, this area of the points standings will key to watch over the next 14 races. All seven of the winners so far in 2020 are in the top eight of the standings. A bad finish or two over the summer could cripple a winless driver’s hopes.
10 drivers have 6 or more top 10s
There’s a reason that the drivers outside the top 10 are so clustered together. They’re scrapping for the leftover top 10s the guys ahead of them are racking up. Ten drivers have finished in the top 10 in six or more of the 12 races so far in 2020. Nine of those 10 are in the top 10 in the points standings
Only Alex Bowman in eighth has fewer than six top-10 finishes. He has just three, the same number of top 10s as Christopher Bell in 24th and the same number of top-10 finishes that Kyle Larson had in four races before he was fired from his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Kenseth passes Larson
Matt Kenseth finally has more points than Kyle Larson. Kenseth scored 12 points on Sunday night and is now nine points ahead of Larson in the standings. Kenseth has raced in eight races for CGR after Larson’s firing and has just one top 10 and an average finish of 21st.
It was understandable that Kenseth would be rusty driving a car for the first time since 2018 and a configuration of Cup Series car that he’d never raced before. But the chances of him making the playoffs are looking extremely slim at the moment. Just seven drivers who have competed in all 12 races have a worse average finish than he does.
Larson, meanwhile, is still ahead of Daniel Suarez (11 of 12 races), Brennan Poole and Quin Houff in the standings.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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