While it is most certainly early in the NASCAR season, with just two races under their collective belts, a few unusual names are present in the top ten in points.
With Kyle Busch, his brother Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart forming the familiar trio at the top, AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports, sits in the fourth position in points. Other relatively unfamiliar drivers, at least in the top ten standings, are Bobby Labonte who currently sits in the seventh spot, and David Gilliland, who rounds out the top ten.
[media-credit id=41 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Of all the drivers new to the top ten, AJ Allmendinger seemed most surprised about being so high in the points this season. When Kerry Tharp of NASCAR introduced Allmendinger as fourth in the point standings, Allmendinger quickly asked “I am?”
“I vote we just start the Chase right now,” Allmendinger said. “Right now. Starting now. Starting here.”
Allmendinger was visibly excited to be so high in the points. But he also recognized that there is a great deal of racing left to do before he can truly celebrate.
“It is still really early, just two races in,” Allmendinger noted. “But I feel like between Daytona and Phoenix we have had a good race car.”
“We got through all the wrecks and have been a little bit lucky there,”Allmendinger continued. “This is definitely a lot better start than where we were last year at this point, but it is only two races in. We have to stay calm about that and can’t get too excited.”
“I am happy with where our race team has started and if we can stay focused on getting through this weekend, which is a big one for us because we have really struggled here in Vegas,” Allmendinger said. “If we can get through this weekend we will have something to really build on.”
Another surprising driver in the top ten is Bobby Labonte. While Labonte is a familiar name in the sport, he most certainly is another driver who is finding himself in unfamiliar territory in the point standings.
Labonte, piloting the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing, currently is in the seventh position in points and is quietly celebrating that feat.
“Well a lot of hard work by the boys at the shop and we have had a good start to the season,” Labonte said. “It always builds confidence when you run good, have good finishes and get a good start to the season.”
“I hope we can continue that,” Labonte continued. “I just know that watching the hard work that everyone puts into it and all the resources we have to work with, we are not leaving many stones unturned. It gives me confidence when you get to the race track that you should have all the stuff to put together when you get here.”
Labonte noted that his good start to the season has already paid dividends when it comes to sponsorship and other support.
“When you have a couple good weeks and things are starting off good, it helps out,” Labonte said. “Obviously when you get your name out there and your sponsor’s name out there, it definitely helps out. All of our sponsors are happy about that.”
“I think we are doing a lot of the right things and hopefully we can just continue that.”
Another fairly unfamiliar name in the top ten in standings is David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 for Front Row Motorsports.
“Yeah, it is so far so good this year,” Gilliland said of his season beginning. “Front Row Motorsports is definitely off to a better start than last year. I am really excited with everything we have accomplished so far.”
Because of his performance to date, Gilliland has also been able to capitalize with additional sponsorship on the race car.
“We have TM1 back as an associate sponsor for the second week and they are going to be a co-primary in two weeks at Bristol,” Gilliland announced. “We are excited to have those guys on board. They are one of the fastest growing companies in the heartland and they do a great job and we are happy to have them on board.”
Gilliland is very much looking forward to the upcoming race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I feel real good about this weekend,” Gilliland said. “Before we went to Daytona, this was the race that I was really looking forward to as far as our cars and motors and everything else. I feel like this can be a really good weekend for us.”
While Allmendinger, Labonte and Gilliland may be relative strangers to the top of the heap in the points, they will have their work cut out for them to stay there. In the first practice for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Allmendinger finished 16th, Labonte practiced 26th and Gilliland was in 42nd.