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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Cain: Penske, Ganassi battling for early season supremacy

Kyle Larson Joey Logano

BUY TICKETS: See the races at Texas

Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings for the third consecutive week. Roger Penske's driver Brad Keselowski collected his second race trophy of the year on Sunday -- the first multi-time winner of the season.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray is enjoying the best six-race start of his Daytona 500-winning career -- ranked ninth in the standings entering this weekend's race at Texas, despite a crash last week at Martinsville.

Penske driver Joey Logano is fifth in the standings with a pole position at Phoenix and five top-six finishes through six races -- top-five showings in both the last two weeks.

2017 Stats: Logano | Keselowski | Larson | McMurray

While these two great racing organizations -- Chevy's Ganassi and Ford's Penske -- have long settled trophies and championships between themselves in the open-wheel ranks, simultaneously leading the way in NASCAR is a relatively uncommon development.

But certainly not unforeseen.

And what makes this situation even more interesting is that these are two-car teams -- not the four-car mega-organizations like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing, which have more frequently visited winner's circles and hoisted the champion’s hardware. Kurt Busch's dramatic final lap win in the Daytona 500 is the only victory thus far in 2017 for the three four-car teams that have dominated the landscape in recent years. 

Sure it’s early in the season, but the standings look as diverse as they ever have.

Entering Sunday's O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Furniture Row Racing's two drivers -- Martin Truex Jr. and rookie Erik Jones are both ranked among the top-13 and Truex has a win. Wood Brothers Racing driver Ryan Blaney -- a one-car operation with support from Penske -- is ranked seventh.

RELATED: See the full standings | Who's earned the most stage points?

Meanwhile, the larger teams are having an uncharacteristically and decidedly slower start to the year. Second-year driver Chase Elliott, 21, is setting the standard at Hendrick -- winless, but only four points behind the 24-year old Larson in the standings. Elliott's the only driver ranked among the top-five not from a two-car team and his three veteran teammates have ground you'd expect them to make up points-wise. 

Hendrick's Kasey Kahne is ranked 12th, reigning seven-time Monster Energy Series champion Jimmie Johnson is 14th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 25th -- a hefty 169 points behind Larson. No Hendrick driver has won a race in 2017.

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Kyle Busch is leading the way for Joe Gibbs Racing -- ranked sixth, 80 points behind Larson. His teammate Denny Hamlin is 16th  in the standings. Rookie Daniel Suarez is 21st and former champion Matt Kenseth is 22nd  -- with three finishes of 36th or worse. No Gibbs driver has hoisted the hardware in 2017 either.

Stewart-Haas' newest driver Clint Bowyer has been a bright light for Stewart-Haas outside of Busch's Daytona 500 win. Bowyer is ranked eighth -- his highest place atop the standings since he finished seventh in the 2015 season-opening Daytona 500. The last time he was ranked among the top-10 outside of Daytona was in 2014.

Bowyer's teammate, 2014 Monster Energy Series champion Kevin Harvick is 10th in the standings with three finishes of 20th or worse through the opening six races. He was leading the standings at this time the past two seasons.

After winning the Daytona 500 and finishing seventh the next week at Atlanta, Kurt Busch has suffered through four consecutive showings of 24th place or worse and has fallen to 19th in the points standings. His teammate Danica Patrick is ranked 29th. Her 17th place showing at Atlanta last month is the only top-20 for her so far this season.

Yes, it's early in the year. And drivers such as Johnson -- a six-time winner at this week's Texas venue, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Hamlin are traditional trophy sure-bets.

But the Ganassi and Penske organizations know a little something about winning championships too. And so far, they are well-positioned to make a run at the mega-teams who are less accustomed to playing catch-up, even this early in the season. Both Ganassi and Penske are among the most respected, decorated and competitive people in the garage with records and statistics to verify the stature -- in NASCAR and beyond.

Ganassi holds the record for most Rolex 24 at Daytona wins (six), has won the 12 Hours of Sebring and won in class at the 24 Hours of LeMans in addition to his 11 IndyCar season titles and four Indy 500 wins. Penske is the reigning IndyCar champion team owner -- for the 14th time -- and has an incredible 16 Indy 500 wins in addition to his 2012 NASCAR title (Keselowski) and two Daytona 500 wins (Ryan Newman in 2008 and Logano in 2015).

How many people would have predicted that come the second week of April either the Hendrick or Gibbs organizations would be winless?

RELATED: NASCAR executive says more drivers have an opportunity to win

But it's a reflection as much on the other teams -- Ganassi, Penske, Furniture Row, Wood Brothers and Richard Childress -- who have picked up the pace.

The situation shows off NASCAR's talent diversity and speaks volumes about the ever-increasing intrigue and all around competitive level.

Everyone's raising their game. And the big winner is the fan.

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