It’s not been the usual start to the season and we have the schedule makers at NASCAR to thank for it.
The season opened up with the Daytona 500 held on the track’s high-banked two and a half mile tri-oval and the following week saw the series return for a go at the track’s legendary road course.
Instead of loading the haulers and beginning the usual west coast swing, the series stayed in Florida over the weekend at Homestead-Miami and competed on the first 1.5-mile track of the season.
There couldn’t be three more different tracks to kick off the season and the three races produced winners that would have been considered long shots to ever make it to victory lane this early in the season.
Michael McDowell shocked the sport with his Daytona 500 win and the following weekend at Daytona Christopher Bell driving in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing took the checkered flag in the first road course race of the season. Hendrick Motorsports William Bryon keep the streak of surprises winners going to begin the season over the weekend at Homestead when he crossed the finish line first in the Dixie Vodka 400.
Driving the legendary No. 24 Chevrolet made famous by Jeff Gordon, he now joins McDowell and Bell as drivers who are already in the 16-driver field that will make up the Chase over the last ten races of the season.
The three surprise winners has no doubt jacked up the pressure for the rest of the field as you can’t help but believe the drivers that have been so dominate in recent seasons will once again find their way to victory lane. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Brad Kezelowski, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are always a threat to win on any given race day and each time one of them make it to victory lane, the available spots in the playoff field will continue to dwindle.
The schedule with the addition of new tracks including road courses along with a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway will provide more opportunities for surprise winners like we have witnessed in the first three weeks of the season.
Veterans no longer have the advantage in the sport as younger drivers are making their way up to the Cup level at an earlier age and because of their cheaper price tag, they are finding themselves in some great equipment that gives them the opportunity to be competitive at such an early age.
The 23-year old Byron’s win Sunday was the second of his career and this one comes after being reunited with Rudy Fugle who was his crew chief when he was in the Truck Series. He now becomes only the eighth driver at the Cup level to win multiple races before turning 24.
The list of drivers on this list includes several drivers that went on to win series titles including last year’s champion Chase Elliott. His win led a great day for his teammates at Hendrick Motorpsorts as it put two cars in the top-five and three in the top-10.
Kyle Larson driving in his first year for HMS finished fourth and Alex Bowman finished ninth. The days of getting off to a slow start and working your way back into the playoff picture may be coming to an end as the series is just now leaving the sunshine state and some drivers have already dug themselves a hole in the points.
Aric Almirola trails Denny Hamlin who sits in first by 99 points and Ryan Blaney is 83 behind the leader. Matt DiBenedetto who has to be the happiest guy in the series to finally be leaving Florida has only earned 14 points in three races and trails the leader by 125 points.
It’s only a three-race sample but it is clear that there isn’t going to be much time for a driver and his team to get up to speed. Making the playoff field this season may be as tough as it has ever been and grabbing a checkered flag along the way even tougher.