NASCAR hits the end of the first quarter of the Sprint Cup season on Saturday night in Richmond with Greg Biffle still holding his lead and surprising Martin Truex moving up to second place, 15 points back. Truex is still looking for his first win of the young season, but a strong second-place finish to Denny Hamlin in Kansas last week moved him up to second.
Truex isn’t the only surprise in the early returns of this year. When I called TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill, I asked him not only about Truex, but about the 12th-place standing of traditional contender Kyle Busch. “I was just talking about that with a friend who’s a NASCAR fan,” Bill told me. “We’re both shocked at how poorly he’s doing. It’s just a year of surprises so far.”
Of course there are still three-quarters of the season to go, plus Saturday’s race and the Richmond track is one that’s been kind to Busch, who has won two of the four races run there over the last two years. “It’s a short track with high banks, very unique,” Bill pointed out. That sort of track creates an environment where a multi-car pileup is a little more likely and—aside from the obvious human concerns of such a circumstance—a driver involved in a race-ending wreck will get hit hard in the point standings. Thus we have to see this Saturday night as having the potential for a little shakeup in the standings, and perhaps that, combined with recent history means it’s time for Busch to make his move.
Three other big names, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, are still perched in the Top 10, but unable to make a serious push towards leader Greg Biffle. Stewart in particular, has been remarkably inconsistent, winning two races, but only finishing in the Top 10 three times. He stands in contrast to Truex, Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Junior, who have six Top 10s, and third-place Matt Kenseth has been in the Top 5 on all five occasions he’s made the Top 10.
The Sprint Cup Standings may be full of surprises, but in a spring that’s seen the baseball teams closest to Richmond—the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles—move into first place, maybe it’s appropriate. Of course what’s true in baseball is true in NASCAR and it’s that there’s a long way to go and you can’t write off the big names to quickly.