Matthew Becherer

As we head into the summer months, we’re already more than halfway through the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season. So far, a number of intriguing storylines and events have unfolded regarding NASCAR’s drivers and teams.

At this time last season, all the talk was about NASCAR’s “Big Three” – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – and how they had dominated the first half of the schedule. Well this year, it’s all about NASCAR’s “Big Two,” and this time around it’s not about two drivers, but rather two teams.

Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing have been flat out dominant on the track since the green flag kicked off the season at Daytona International Speedway back in February. Joe Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin took home the DAYTONA 500 and Penske wheelman Brad Keselowski followed Hamlin with a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, starting the theme for the 2019 season.

In all, the two teams have set NASCAR’s gold standard by combining to win 13-of-14 races thus far, a historic pace. Drivers of both teams also lead NASCAR in a myriad of categories including top-5s, top-10s and laps led. Perhaps most importantly, they also are atop of the Cup series points standings where Kyle Busch and reigning champion Joey Logano find themselves first and second, respectively. If the first half of the season was any indication, Penske and Gibbs will undoubtedly be a factor in the battle for an MENCS title during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Another driver looking to throw his name in the mix for a championship is Chase Elliott. Elliott – the only driver not from Team Penske or Joe Gibbs to win a race this season – locked himself into the MENCS playoffs with a victory at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this year. After a strong showing in the second half of 2018, Elliott has really emerged as a consistent performer this season and is currently on a run of five consecutive top-5s.

Elliott’s teammates at Hendrick Motorsports have also shown speed of late, and it seems like only a matter of time until one of them joins Elliott in the playoffs by driving to Victory Lane. Alex Bowman, No. 88, and William Byron, No. 24, drive two of the most iconic numbers in NASCAR history and have started to bring their cars back to the spotlight recently.

Byron has become one of the best qualifiers in auto racing this season, starting half of the races this season in the top-3, including grabbing pole position each of the last two weeks. Bowman, meanwhile, put together a string of races at Talladega, Dover and Kansas in which he finished runner-up three times in a row.

Of course, last but not least, seven-time Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson is the final piece of the Hendrick Motorsports resurgence. He has quietly put

together two top-10s in the last three races, to keep pace with his younger teammates.

It’s been encouraging to watch Jimmie of late as he has been so vocal about his pursuit of an eighth championship. Currently he is tied with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty for the most titles in NASCAR history, and it would truly be one of the greatest feats in all of sports if he were able to take sole possession of this record before he retires.

While Hendrick has surprised some with their strong performances lately, Stewart-Haas Racing has been an even bigger surprise. After winning 12 races in 2018, the quartet of drivers have yet to find Victory Lane this season. Kevin Harvick was predicted by many as a championship favorite, but he hasn’t been able to rack up wins like Busch, Hamlin and Keselowski have. Meanwhile, Harvick’s teammates – Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez – could find themselves in jeopardy of missing the playoffs just a year removed from four Stewart-Haas drivers representing the team in the Round of 8.

As the regular season continues, there’s only 10 coveted playoff spots still up for grabs and you never know when we might see a surprise winner come along and bump someone like Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Larson out of the playoffs. I expect the intensity to ramp up as drivers feel the urgency to get locked into the playoffs as the regular season winds down. So as things on the track heat up as we enter the summer, keep an eye on the standings as it begins to become more telling who we might see hoisting that championship trophy here in Homestead come November.

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, June 9 at 2:00 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, June 8 at 1:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250 at Michigan International Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Friday, June 7 at 9:00 PM (ET)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series SpeedyCash.com 400 at Texas Motor Speedway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

June 14 Fast Lane Friday

June 15 Performance Driving Group

June 16 Miami Exotic Auto Racing

June 22-23 Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)

June 29-30 Formula & Automobile Racing Association (FARA)

2019 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 15

Ford EcoBoost 200 Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 16

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 17

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship

2020 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Mar. 20

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Race

Mar. 21

NASCAR XFINITY Series Race

Mar. 22

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race

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