*Results of Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 not reflected in this article
It’s mid-March, and four NASCAR Cup Series races are already in the books. In typical NASCAR fashion, this season has already been full of chaos, with three different race winners and multiple headlines which have shaken the sport.
Most notably, NASCAR darling Chase Elliott is currently on the sidelines for six weeks, recovering from a leg injury sustained in a snowboarding accident that he suffered on March 3. Chase is the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott and has been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver for five years in a row.
Ironically, Elliott’s misfortune could save him in the long run, as his teammates and fill-in driver at Hendrick Motorsports were penalized at Phoenix for unapproved adjustments to the car during practice. Each team faced a $100,000 fine and was docked 100 regular season points and ten playoff points.
While this is a huge penalty, it has barely put a scratch on Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron’s championship hopes. Byron was the race winner at both the Pennzoil 400 in Las Vegas, and the Ruoff Mortgage 500 in Phoenix. He is already locked into a playoff spot due to NASCAR’s win-and-in format.
Two other drivers have already secured their spots in the playoff. NASCAR legend Kyle Busch was the victor at Auto Club Speedway, proving he can thrive independently of Joe Gibbs Racing, the team he won two series championships with.
In his new number eight car with Richard Childress Racing, Busch sits at fifth in the points standings and has spent plenty of time running in the top five this season. It’s only a matter of time before NASCAR’s favorite villain-turned-hero strikes again for another win.
At this year’s first crown jewel racing event, the Daytona 500, underdog Ricky Stenhouse Jr. emerged from the pack to secure a very memorable victory. Stenhouse breaks an incredible winless streak of 199 races to secure his third career victory on the biggest of NASCAR stages.
Stenhouse has officially locked himself into the playoffs for the first time since 2017. He currently sits in 11th place in the points standings.
At the top of the standings currently is 47-year-old Kevin Harvick. In his final season of competition, Harvick is one of the last remaining titans from one of NASCAR’s most memorable eras. Harvick has secured one Cup Series championship, but looks to contend for one more this year before his driving days are done.
As a sport battling for viewers’ eyes, NASCAR has been trying desperately to increase viewership. Track changes, schedule shifts and new-generation racecars show that NASCAR has gone all-in on cementing itself as a major force in the sporting world.
So far, this season’s races have been mostly engaging and entertaining according to most fans on social media. However, some criticisms remain, mostly about NASCAR’s overuse of the “cookie cutter” racetracks that comprise so much of NASCAR’s regular-season schedule.
There’s a long season ahead for the NASCAR fan community, and a lot of exciting storylines that are worth following going forward.