It seems like after the fifth race, you start to get a solid perspective of who has the hot hand and who is currently falling flat. Although we haven’t had a driver win twice yet, there are a few drivers whose consistency has rewarded them. On the contrary, some of the sport’s top drivers have been falling flat due to their lackluster performances of 2014.
With that said, here are three drivers to keep an eye on, and three that need to pick it up a little.
Hot: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
After winning the Daytona 500 for the second time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been on a hot streak like no other. He nearly won two of the first three races, and has not finished outside the top 24. His three top-fives and three top-10s, coupled with an average finish of 8.2, all but cement Earnhardt as a very consistent driver in 2014.
Not: Kevin Harvick
Despite dominating the race at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick’s average finish has been plummeting faster than a comet. Harvick placed 41st at Las Vegas, struggled to a 39th place finish at Bristol, and last week at Auto Club Speedway, he came home 36th after continuously suffering tire problems. Even though Harvick’s not so hot streak isn’t good for his average finish (which currently stands at 26.0), he has already virtually made the chase thanks to NASCAR’s new rules. If he performs like this during the chase, though, you can be sure he’ll be eliminated in the first round.
Hot: Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards has ridden the consistency train all the way in 2014, gathering a win at Bristol, two top-fives, and four top-10s. Edwards seemed to fly under the radar, silently gathering top-10 after top-10, until his win at Bristol bought him to the forefront of the discussion. After finishing 17th in the Great American Race, Edwards hasn’t had a finish outside of the top ten. His under the radar consistency will make him Roush Fenway Racing’s best chance to win the title.
Not: Kurt Busch
The elder Busch brother seemed to finally get back on track in 2014, after pit strategy allowed him to take a third place finish at Auto Club for his first top-five of the year. Before that however, Busch’s performance has been mediocre at best. A 21st at Daytona, 39th at Phoenix, 26th at Las Vegas, and 35th place finish at Bristol mirror that of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. At this point in time, it seems as if all four Stewart-Haas cars have been struggling this season. The good news for Kurt Busch is that he could finish poorly in the next 15 races, then finally break out and win and be in the chase.
Hot: Brad Keselowski
If you’re still wondering if Brad Keselowski is a one hit wonder, you haven’t watched a single lap of the 2014 season. Keselowski started off the season with a bang, finishing third in the Daytona 500. Afterwards, he’s finished in the top-five three times, which leads all drivers. He also ranks fifth in laps led with 147, and he seems to be the first driver to perfect the new knockout qualifying system. As a matter of fact, Keselowski is one of just three drivers to make the final round every week, and he hasn’t qualified outside of the first row since the format started in Phoenix. Keselowski’s solid consistency, coupled with his willingness to win, make him an early threat for the championship.
Not: Greg Biffle
While Carl Edwards looks to be a championship hopeful for Roush Fenway Racing, you can’t say the same for his teammate Greg Biffle. Biffle has finished outside the top 15 in three of the last four races, including a 40th place showing at Auto Club. Fortunately for Biffle, he could always win at Michigan to cement his spot in the 16-driver chase.
As with any sport, you’re always going to have guys on hot streaks and guys on cold streaks. And although it is interesting to dissect a driver’s recent performance, the new chase rules mean that any one of the “not hot” drivers on this list could make the chase. As a matter of fact, one already has. This is just one of the reasons why fans aren’t very happy with the new chase, even though they’ve said time and time again that they want winning to mean more. Early on this season looking at the new format, they’ve definitely got what they asked for.