News & Media

Menzer: Many highlights at regular-season halfway point

June 05, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Shhhh. There is a driver who works for a top race organization who won another race Sunday, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the all-time victories mark at Dover International Speedway.

*Video: Johnson holds off Harvick for Monster win

There have been a slew of complaints via e-mail and Twitter lately, complaining that some columnists and venerable journalists who cover stock-car racing have been favoring this driver and his employer, writing and talking about him and them too much. Shame on all of us for writing about the team and organization that have been capturing all of the races lately. It must be some kind of conspiracy.

Winner, winner

Victors so far in 2012*
Las VegasStewartChevrolet
RichmondKy. BuschToyota

But this is not about him.

So, with that in mind, it's time to celebrate the fact that last Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover marked the halfway point in the 26-race regular season that determines which 12 drivers qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. We'll do that by exploring the top storylines of the first half of the regular season for each of the four manufacturers who field teams in NASCAR's top series.

Let's start at the top, and right now that does not mean starting with The Driver and Organization Who Shall Not Be Named.

It means starting with Ford and a couple of drivers from Roush Fenway Racing. Greg Biffle, who was 11th Sunday in his No. 16 Ford and earlier in the season won at Texas, has been the points leader since leaving Las Vegas. That said, he had his lead cut to one point Sunday by RFR teammate Matt Kenseth, who began the year spectacularly by winning his second Daytona 500.

*Video: Kenseth holds off Junior for second 500 win

Unfortunately for RFR, part of it and Ford's story this season also includes last year's Sprint Cup runner-up, Carl Edwards. He fell to 12th in points after finishing 26th at Dover and has yet to come close to winning a single race.

Toyota and Dodge

Which of the manufacturers currently would place four drivers in the Chase? That would be Toyota. The manufacturer has been led by Denny Hamlin all season, driving his No. 11 from Joe Gibbs Racing to Victory Lane in both Phoenix and Kansas to virtually lock himself into the Chase no matter what happens from here on out. Besides, he's up to fourth in the points -- well inside the top-10 points cutoff for Chase qualifiers.

*Video: Hamlin passes Truex late to win Kansas

The bigger surprise for the Toyota teams is Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing. He's been solid if not necessarily spectacular all season and sits sixth in points at the halfway mark to the Chase cutoff. His seventh-place run Sunday at Dover, one of his favorite tracks, was his eighth finish of eighth or better in the season's first 13 races -- indicating he has staying power in the race to get to the Chase despite having yet to win an event (something he's done only once at the Cup level, and not since 2007).

The other Toyota drivers currently residing in the top 10 in points are Kyle Busch, who is ninth and won at Richmond; and Clint Bowyer, who is 10th in his first season after switching over from Richard Childress Racing to MWR. Expect both to be even stronger during the second half of the regular season than they've been in the first.

That brings us to Dodge -- the manufacturer trying not to be counted out. Dodge actually has done more with less than any of the other manufacturers over the last couple of seasons -- only to get cast aside earlier this year by Penske Racing, which announced it would be switching to Fords beginning next season.

That move, apparently motivated by money, has made the two race wins already registered by Brad Keselowski in his No. 2 Dodge for Penske two of the more impressive feats of the first half of the season.

*Video: Keselowksi holds off Kyle Busch at 'Dega

Despite the manufacturer's lame-duck status -- or maybe because of it (and the need to show to potential suitors that it can still get it done even against all odds) -- Keselowski sits 11th in points and is virtually guaranteed consecutive Chase appearances via a wild-card spot even if he can't crack the top 10 in points.

And then there is ...

The final manufacturer and top producer of race highlights over the first half of the regular season is indisputably Chevrolet. Until a certain driver won at Darlington less than a month ago, it might have appeared Chevy was lagging behind the rest.

That hardly seems to be the case now. After yet another victory Sunday by The Driver Who Shall Not Be Named, Chevy drivers and race teams have graced Victory Lane in six of the first 13 points races and seven events overall (including the Sprint All-Star Race).

*Video: Sprint All-Star Race

And we all know who won that, right? Some pundits even had the audacity to write about it.

Furthermore, if the Chase were to begin tomorrow, nearly half the playoff field would be comprised of Chevy drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is third in points despite having not won a race since June of 2008. TDWSNBN, in search of his sixth championship in the last seven seasons, sits fifth. Kevin Harvick, from Richard Childress Racing, is seventh despite still seeking his first win of 2012. Tony Stewart is eighth, and has banked wins at Las Vegas and California to virtually lock him into the Chase -- and Stewart's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Newman, currently would get in via the wild-card scenario by virtue of his win at Martinsville (he's presently 13th in points).

*Video: Smoke-ing in Vegas

And Kasey Kahne, winner of the Coca-Cola 600 two weeks ago, lurks in 14th and no doubt will be stronger in the second half of the season than he's been in the first.

*Video: Kahne scores third 600 win

So when it's all added up, each of the four manufacturers has manufactured its own share of highlights this season. And, within the manufacturer stables, each race organization and several race teams within those have carved out separate highlight niches.

But ... truthfully?

One driver and one team and one race organization clearly stands above the rest over the first half of this regular season.

And no one needs to tell anyone who that is. Everyone knows.