With 10 races now in the books for the Sprint Cup season, a handful of teams have emerged as favorites while a few drivers are still in search of that elusive first win of the season.
Both Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing combined to take six of the first 10 checkered flags, but not all is perfect for the to teams.
Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart are putting together befuddling seasons, with neither driver in the top 20 in points standings. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick may have two wins, but he is barely holding onto 19th place in points, with just as many DNFs as top-fives.
For Penske, Brad Keselowski is making more enemies each week with his irrational driving at times. His most recent brush up was with Patrick in Talladega, which resulted in him going six laps down and provoked these comments from Matt Kenseth, per Fox Sports: NASCAR:
As the NASCAR season nears its halfway point, here's a look at the current standings, team news and top drivers to watch in Kansas this Saturday night.
Site: Kansas Speedway, Kansas City
Date: Saturday, May 10
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Latest Team News
Following a week where not just one, but two "Big Ones" resulted in a wild finish, the Sprint Cup circuit now turns back to another 1.5-mile track in Kansas.
What NASCAR fans came away with was an outstanding race concluding with another first-time winner this season. Joe Gibbs Racing also took its second win for the former Washington Redskins coach, who now has two drivers, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, virtually locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Hamlin showed his excitement following his first restrictor-plate win at Talladega, per Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press:
Hamlin gave out a sigh before he spoke. "Superspeedway win. With points! With points!"— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) May 4, 2014
JGR came into the season with three drivers who all had a chance to compete in the Chase, but Kenseth surprisingly still hasn't driven to Victory Lane this year, along with myriad other notable contenders.
Another driver that hasn't experienced a great amount of prosperity this season is Clint Bowyer. The 34-year-old finished last season seventh overall in the points standings but sits at 18th this year after the first 10 races.
Despite his struggles this year, Bowyer did receive good news this week that his contract with Michael Waltrip Racing had been extended. The No. 5 driver spoke about the opportunity to continue driving with the team, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
This is big news for all of us. It creates great stability and excitement about what the next few years can bring. MWR is my racing home and continuing this relationship with 5-hour Energy was a high priority. It's time to put the paperwork in a drawer and focus on winning.
That wasn't the only good news for Bowyer that came this week. Bowyer made the announcement on Twitter that he and his wife are expecting a child, and apparently it's a boy:
So the Mrs @LorraBowyer and I went in to get one of those picture thingies...WHEW, good news! It's got a dingy!!! 👶👍😁🎉🍻— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) May 5, 2014
Is there any other way Bowyer would make that announcement?
As every team gears up for the next race at Kansas, both MWR and Joe Gibbs head into the race with confidence about where the team stands for the rest of the season. But only one team can come away notching another win at the 1.5-mile track.
Drivers to Watch
It's this simple: Jimmie Johnson has experienced a great amount of success on nearly every track on the NASCAR circuit. That's why he's a six-time champion, and that's why he's consistently a driver to watch.
One of the best drivers to ever grace the highest level in NASCAR, Johnson hasn't quite experienced the triumph he is used to early in the season. And with emphasis put on wins in the new Chase format, Jerry Bonkowski of Bleacher Report and NBC Sports explains why this year's start should startle fans:
Johnson went the first 11 races of 2003 without winning before cashing in at Charlotte in the 12th race of the season.
He went 10 winless races before winning in the 11th race of 2012 at Darlington.
And he went nine races in 2002 before winning his first of three races that season.
(Coincidentally, Johnson failed to go on to win any of his six Sprint Cup championships in those seasons)
So while 16 races remain before the Chase officially starts, there should be growing concern for the JJ fanbase.
Luckily, Kansas is a place where Johnson has dominated in the past. Johnson has two wins, six top-fives and a record 13 top-10 finishes at the track, all while holding an average finish of 7.53—highest among current NASCAR drivers.
Needless to say, Mr. Six-Time looks like the heavy favorite heading to Kansas. But with a lack of success finishing races at the top this season, JJ could solidify a spot in the Chase with a win on Saturday night.
For as powerful of a team as Hendrick Motorsports has been over the past decade, the team has just one win this season with Dale Earnhardt Jr. taking the Daytona 500 to start the year.
But it has hardly been a down year for the top team, with three drivers inside the top 10 in points standings, including Jeff Gordon at the top.
The No. 24 car was undone in Talladega by getting involved in the Big One, but he's put together a great year on the track. Gordon spoke about his consistency thus far this season, per Brant James of ESPN.com:
As good as we're running, I definitely feel like we can win races just about anywhere that we go, and if we continue to perform like this, we are going to win. That's how you win.
There's sometimes when you just pick the right pit strategy. There's other times you get a good restart, and then there's times when you just go and outrun them. I'll take outrunning them more times than any because I think that's when the multiple wins are going to come.
Poor restarts and some unlucky finishes have hampered the No. 24 driver this season. But his experience and greatness at Kansas makes him a driver to watch this Saturday night.
Coming in with an average finish of 10.63, two wins and a record nine top-fives at Kansas, Gordon is one of the strongest drivers in the 16-race history of the track. If he can lock up with Hendrick teammate Johnson near the end of the race, watch for either to visit Victory Lane for the first time this season.
Which driver will win in Kansas?
Win or a poor finish. There's really no in between for Kevin Harvick.
But in his last running at Kansas Speedway, Harvick was in control throughout the race, leading 138 of 267 laps in a decisive win. While one win certainly doesn't make a driver superior at a track, Harvick is one of just 11 drivers ever to win in the Sprint Cup circuit at Kansas.
The lone win for the Stewart-Haas driver came after six top-10 finishes at the track, making it one his most successful throughout his career.
With two wins to his name already this season and several other great starts that were undone by malfunctions, Harvick is once again at a track where he's won recently. After stifling the entire field of drivers at Phoenix, expect him to once again run near the top in Kansas once again.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: