It’s not very often when there is a crystal clear favorite in the title picture in NASCAR. Maybe when it was 2011 and Tony Stewart was making history by winning half of the Chase races, and even needed the tie-breaker to determine the champion, but never this early.
We are only three races into the 2016 Chase, one round complete, and there is a clear picture of the one driver who is on track to be the one to beat.
Let’s look at this for a second. Early in the season, Martin Truex Jr. came so close to winning the Daytona 500, inches close, and then it seemed like every chance he had to run well and finish strong, something happened.
Then came Charlotte, the race where of the 400 laps ran, Truex led 392 of them. That began the turnaround.
The new alliance Furniture Row Racing has with Joe Gibbs Racing has shown a major difference in this organization. Last year, they made it to the final round of the Chase, and made a showing of how strong they were. Now there is a lot of potential of not just making it to the final round, but flat out winning it.
In the last five weeks, Truex and his team have been to victory lane three times. His four wins this season are more wins than he had his entire career combined when he raced for Dale Earnhardt, Inc, Michael Waltrip Racing, and Furniture Row Racing beginning last season.
He is a true championship contender. When he won Sunday, he took two of three wins in the first round, putting him at the top of the standings. Even after the reset, he is at the top. The other 11 drivers in the Contender Round know that despite each of them having 3000 points, the car to beat is the 78.
What makes it harder, next week to start the Contender Round is Charlotte, and Truex’s team is bringing the car that won Chicagoland two weeks ago, which is also the car that was practically unbeatable the first time at Charlotte.
If I were the other 11 drivers, I would be really worried. Truex is rolling. He’s got the same car that won Charlotte the first time, he should have won at Kansas earlier in the year, and the only true toss-up is Talladega because everyone is a favorite there. The Sprint Cup this year is going to have to be ripped from Truex’s grasp, because otherwise that trophy is heading to Colorado come November.
RESULTS: 1-Truex Jr. 2-Kyle Busch 3-Elliott 4-Keselowski 5-Kenseth 6-Logano 7-Johnson 8-Dillon 9-Hamlin 10-Gordon
NOTABLE FINISHES: 13-Stewart 14-Edwards 15-Kurt Busch 23-Buescher 25-Larson 37-Harvick 40-McMurray
CAUTIONS: 4 for 22 laps. Lap 35-39 (Debris from #4); 106-110 (#21 accident-T2); 183-189 (#42 accident-T3); 194-198 (Oil on track from #1).
LEAD CHANGES: 14 among 6 drivers. B. Keselowski 1-5; M. Truex Jr. 6-20; Kyle Busch 21-35; M. Truex Jr. 36; Kyle Busch 37-105; M. Truex Jr. 106; Kyle Busch 107-124; M. Truex Jr. 125-188; J. Johnson 189-277; B. Keselowski 278-279; G. Biffle 280-286; M. Truex Jr. 287-365; J. Johnson 366; J. Gordon 367-373; M. Truex Jr. 374-400.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 15 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 130.969 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 7.527 Seconds
CHASE GRID (Positions 1-12 move to Contender Round): 1. Truex Jr, 3000 (Points); 2. Kyle Busch, 3000; 3. Keselowski, 3000; 4. Kenseth, 3000; 5. Logano, 3000; 6. Elliott, 3000; 7. Johnson, 3000; 8. Hamlin, 3000; 9. Edwards, 3000; 10. Kurt Busch, 3000; 11. Dillon, 3000; 12. Harvick, 3000; 13. Stewart, -926; 14. Larson, -927; 15. McMurray, -946; 16. Buescher, -954.