The 2015 NASCAR season is in full swing. Entering the tenth race of the season this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, there have been a handful of surprises through the first 9 events. With driver injuries, driver swaps, and surprising results, the 2015 season is looking to be a unique one. This weekend at Talladega should add to the already exciting start. Now, lets get down to business, here are my top 3 surprises of the 2015 season thus far.
First, the dominance of Kevin Harvick. Harvick running up front is no shocker, in fact its expected, but the #4 team has done more than stay up front; they have redefined the idea of consistency. Normally the defending Cup champion starts our a little slow. Most people refer to it as a hangover from the last season, but Harvick must have drank plenty of water, because he is firing on all cylinders. In just 9 races Harvick has already scored 2 wins (Las Vegas & Phoenix), 7 top-5 finishes, and 8 top-10 finishes, with his worst run being a 38th place finish at Bristol where he was collected in a wreck. Harvick currently holds a 33-point lead, and is one of only two drivers to have already won multiple races this season (other being Jimmie Johnson).
So why is this surprising? Harvick's recent dominance is un-heard of. In ALL of his 7 top-5 finishes he has finished either 1st or 2nd. To add to that stat, in his last 12 starts (including last 3 from 2014) Harvick has 4 wins, and 10 top-2 finishes. I expected Harvick to run well and have predicted since the off season that he would be a favorite to win this years title, but I did not expect this level of consistency.
Kevin Harvick celebrates after winning the 2015 Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motorspeedway
Two, Martin Truex Jr. and the #78 team becoming relevant. I have always liked Furniture Row Racing since they became a team worth mentioning. The Furniture Row boys have become a team of consistency in 2015. In his second year with the team the 35-year-old veteran from Mayetta, New Jersey, has come to his own. The flat black Chevy started the season with 7 top-10 finishes in a row, but ran into a bit of trouble during the 500-lap enduro race at Bristol. Last week the team bounced back with a 10th place finish, which puts them at a total of 8 top-10's in the first 9 events.
In his tenth full-time season the two-time Xfinity champion has finally started running how fans thought he could. With only 2 wins in his 9 year career Truex has a lot to prove, but has gotten off to a great start. No one expected this kind of performance out of the Colorado based team, especially after scoring only 5 top-10's in all of 2014. Honestly, I don't expect this team to go to victory lane, but if they can keep running up front, look for this team to be a contender to make the Chase this year. Truex Jr. currently sits 3rd in points so it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds.
Martin Truex Jr. in the garage
Third, the continued demise of Tony Stewart. Let's face it, Tony Stewart just hasn't been the same 2012. Missing almost half the season in 2013 due to leg injuries, and choosing to set out 3 events last year after the death of Kevin Ward Jr., Stewart has had a rough couple of year. The 3-time Cup series Champion was looking to bounce back in 2015, but has yet to return to his former level of competition. After 9 races, Stewart has scored only 1 top-10 and has an average finish of 27.7. Sitting 30th in points, Stewart, is the lowest sitting Stewart-Haas driver in the Chase standings.
Most fans believed that this year, Stewart, could bounce back, win, and make the Chase, but yet none of those things are looking to happen. Hopefully the #14 team can turn it around and race up front again, because lord knows we all miss Smoke near the front. It just isn't the same without Tony battling to win races.
It has been a great season thus far, and looks to get even better! This weekend should be a great place to start. Well, there you have it my top 3, but before I go I would like to give some honorable mentions to some drivers that just missed my top 3.
**Kurt Busch: With all the suspension news, Busch could have easily fallen apart, but has embraced it and has already locked himself into this years Chase.
**Kyle Larson: Larson has not ran as expected thus far this season. Most think that first win is coming, but some improvements will have to come before young Kyle takes home his first Cup trophy.