Two of the biggest potential sleepers for the 2013 Sprint Cup championship, Mark Martin (left) and Matt Kenseth.
Yes, Sunday's race in Las Vegas is only the third of the season. There are still 33 races remaining. Still, it's not too early to start thinking about potential sleeper candidates to not only make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but also to go all the way to the championship.
Let's face it, how many people picked Brad Keselowski to win last year's championship? He was the ultimate sleeper, the ultimate underdog—and yet he did what few expected.
It's the same case with our five candidates for this year's early-season sleepers. Some have gotten off to a great start, while others have struggled. Still, each member of this select quintet has something, some intangible, that makes him a worthy choice to perhaps be this year's Keselowski.
Do you agree? Is there another driver you feel should make this list? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.
So, without further ado, here are five sleeper candidates to steal the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship (in no particular order).
Ever since he came up to the Sprint Cup level a decade ago, Greg Biffle has always been the guy who had the potential to win a Cup crown, but has invariably fallen short each time he came close.
Remember 2008, when he won the first two races of the Chase only to fade to a third-place finish?
Or how about 2005, when he won six races, yet still lost the championship to Tony Stewart.
We firmly believe that, sooner or later, Biffle will become a Sprint Cup champion—perhaps this year. And when—not if—he does it, Biffle will become the first driver in history to win NASCAR's trifecta: championships in the Camping World Truck Series (2000), the Nationwide Series (2002) and the Sprint Cup (TBD) series.
By the way, keep your eye on Biffle in Sunday's race in Las Vegas. Let's just say I have a hunch that something good will happen.
No, we're not picking Cousin Carl because he won this past Sunday at Phoenix. Rather, after what he went through in 2012—not to mention losing the Sprint Cup championship by a one-point tie-breaker to Tony Stewart in 2011—we believe the driver of the No. 99 Ford is due for a big bounce-back in 2013.
Edwards' career has now gone through the high-low spectrum three times: he finished third in 2005, only to drop to 12th in 2006; he won a series-high nine races and finished second in 2008, only to fade to 11th (and no wins) in 2009; and then the aforementioned so-close finish in 2011, followed by an embarrassing turnabout in 2012.
In fact, we wouldn't be surprised to see Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle fight it out for this year's championship.
It's been a long time (2004, to be precise) since a Ford won the Cup championship. It's time for the Blue Oval to win another crown. And if that happens, it's likely going to come down to the drivers of the 99 and the 16.
This is the sleeper of all sleepers. It's not that Mark Martin isn't worthy to win the Sprint Cup championship. After all, he's come close five times in his career, finishing second each of those times.
But if Martin is to have a shot at the championship, he'll have to win at least two races and then adjust his race schedule. Right now, he has plans to compete in just 24 of the 36 races this season—and just seven races in the Chase.
However, Martin has the potential to win at least two or three of the 17 races he plans on completing during the first 26 races. That should be enough for him to earn one of the two wild-card spots to make the 12-driver Chase field.
The key is that Martin will have to agree to run all 10 Chase races. But if he makes NASCAR's 10-race marquis event, I don't think he'll turn down the chance to go for that elusive first-ever Cup championship.
Since NASCAR implemented the wild-card system three years ago, no part-time driver has come close to making the Chase. But if there's anyone who can, it's Martin.
And what a storyline that would be: a 54-year-old, part-time driver who not only makes the Chase, he goes on to win the championship. It would be one of the greatest achievements in NASCAR history.
In the true sense of the word, Matt Kenseth isn't a sleeper, per se. But the fact that he's with a new team, a new manufacturer, has a new pit crew and is driving a new style of car is enough to put Kenseth into the sleeper category.
Of course, given that he's already a former Cup champion (2003), has won two Daytona 500s and is always a threat to win no matter what track he competes on, Kenseth may have a leg up on some of the other sleepers.
It sure would make for a great story, though, if he were to win the Cup crown this season given all the changes he's gone through in moving from Roush Fenway Racing's Fords to Joe Gibbs Racing's Toyotas.
Winning Sunday's race in Las Vegas was certainly a step in the right direction.
We'd love to see the championship to come down to Mark Martin vs. Kenseth—two former teammates and two former Ford drivers trying to become the first Toyota driver to win a Cup championship.
Kevin Harvick is much like Matt Kenseth, as he's not necessarily a bona fide sleeper in the true sense of the word.
However, with this being his final season with Richard Childress Racing before moving to Stewart Haas Racing next season, what better way for Harvick to go out at RCR than by winning his first Sprint Cup championship?
That would be a pretty cool way to go forward to his next team as well. It's not every day that a defending Cup champ moves to another team the year after winning the Cup.
Harvick has had an up-and-down career at RCR, but like Kenseth and Mark Martin, he's always a threat to win, no matter what race track he's on.
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