Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a better second half than Jimmie Johnson.
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is in its early stages, but now is a good time to take a look at what lies ahead for the remainder of the season. With a week off, the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will be well rested and ready to go when they enter the Richmond International Raceway this Friday.
Richmond is a great jumping-off point for the rest of the season since it will also be the track where the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase competitors will be determined. The rest of the season will include drivers going up and drivers falling out of the standings as the larger tracks will come into play during the summer months.
Some drivers, like Tony Stewart, thrive in the hot, slippery conditions of summer, and other drivers fade when it comes down to the crew chiefs with the best-handling cars and the drivers with the best car control.
Tracks like Michigan and Pocono will bore NASCAR fans in the next few months, but the drivers who master those tracks will have the inside track to make the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.
Kyle Busch is dominant in NASCAR's lower division but he will win five more races in Cup this year.
Kyle Busch is the most-hated driver in NASCAR's three most-elite divisions, and with good reason. Busch dominates the two lower divisions with increased regularity.
Busch has his own NASCAR Camping World Truck team and he has one win in his No. 18 truck, and he currently owns four wins in the NASCAR Nationwide series. Busch has only won one race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
With just seven wins to his credit, Kyle Busch will have to win 13 more races in the three divisions by late November to win 20. That is an easy task for the active driver, but he is behind his pace set last year.
Jeff Gordon already has one win and will take down two more including one restrictor plate win.
Jeff Gordon has already notched one win at the Phoenix International Raceway and it will be no surprise if he adds two more wins to his career win total.
Where will Gordon win? Daytona and Talladega are solid possibilities, but Gordon could also score a win on one of the big tracks, such as Michigan or Pocono.
Other possible tracks that will suit Jeff Gordon are: Dover, Martinsville, Kansas and Chicagoland. Gordon is comfortable on most tracks and it is not beyond him to score a road race win this summer.
Kurt Busch received attention for being the pusher when several accidents occurred in Talladega but no drivers blamed him.
Kurt Busch has always run well at the restrictor-plate tracks and this year he did everything but win a race at Daytona and Talladega.
Busch was most comfortable pushing at Talladega and it led to several cars spinning off his bumper. Although no drivers blamed Busch after the incidents, there were several comments that Busch was to blame.
Pushing in the new form of restrictor-plate racing tandems is the toughest job, and Busch handled the thankless task well at Talladega. He will work on being out front for the restrictor-plate races later this year, and it will pay off with a long overdue win at a restrictor-plate track.
Johnson's only win this season came with the help of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. has had a rough 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. He has suffered some rough crashes and been subjected to some below-average finishes.
Truex has several opportunities, aside from the obvious restrictor-plate tracks, for his first win in the 2011 season. He runs well on some of the larger tracks and Dover could be a wild-card race for him this year.
Charlotte is another possible track where Truex could score a win as well. The Michael Waltrip Racing team has a win in the Memorial Day race with David Reutimann and Truex is considered the best driver in the MWR garage.
The under performer in the RCR barn has been Jeff Burton.
Jeff Burton has been a disappointment the last few seasons for Richard Childress Racing and the summer will be his opportunity to right the ship.
Burton has several tracks coming up that he has performed well on in the past, and if he can find his previous magic on intermediate tracks, he can be a force once again.
The RCR garage has emphasized teamwork and now that they are once again a four-team organization, many are looking to see if Burton can notch a win this season.
Burton is currently 22nd and the lowest-ranked driver on the team. He must make his way into the top 15 by the end of summer or it will be a tough last 10 races for Burton and his team.
Paul Menard has been a pleasant surprise for the RCR team.
Paul Menard has jumped out to an incredible start, but the summer months are approaching and the cream will rise to the top. Maybe I am being too hard on Menard, but his team is not a top 10 team and Menard is a top 15 driver at his best.
Bowyer and his fellow RCR drivers have meshed well with Menard, but as the season wears on, the team will be stretched and Menard will fall down the standings steadily.
One way Menard can keep up his impressive points performance is by just finishing races. That is something he has been successful in achieving all season long.
Another possible plus for Menard may be his ability on the road-race tracks this summer. Menard always manages to get up front in most of the road races and that will help him maintain his position in the points.
Watkins Glen is one of Tony Stewart's favorite tracks to visit.
Summer time is Stewart time. He inevitably gets hot in the summer months and although he has been inconsistent in the last few years, there are still tracks that work well for the veteran during the summer.
Stewart is strong on Watkins Glen and Infineon Raceway. Stewart loves to road race and he wants to take the diversification of NASCAR to another level by adding a dirt track to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
A dirt track is not in the immediate future for Smoke, but he does do well on the other tracks frequented by NASCAR in summer months. Stewart runs well at Pocono, Michigan and Dover, all tracks NASCAR will visit later this season.
Mark Martin had a good run with Rick Hendrick but it will end this year.
Mark Martin will cap his short run with Hendrick Motorsports by notching two more wins by the end of 2011. Martin is the greatest NASCAR Cup driver to not win the championship and his move to Hendrick was expected to give him a chance to check that box off his list.
Martin came close to winning a title with Hendrick, but he fell just short to teammate Jimmie Johnson. Martin had some dominant runs in his Hendrick Motorsports career and it will be a focus of both Hendrick and Martin for the team to go out on top as Martin makes way for Kasey Kahne.
What tracks will be best for Martin? Look for Martin to win two races on intermediate tracks. Kansas and Chicagoland are candidates as well as Charlotte and maybe a late win at Texas.
Juan Pablo Montoya has suffered bitter diappointment at the Brickyard 400.
Juan Pablo Montoya and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have a love-hate relationship. Montoya loves the track and the track always seems to bite Montoya and deny him a win on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
The truth is, Montoya has let victory slip through his fingers on several occasions when he was well within striking distance of a victory on the historic two-and-a-half mile oval.
This will be JPM's year to kiss the bricks and take home his first Brickyard 400 trophy. Chip Ganassi focuses on performing well in the Brickyard 400 and his cars are always well prepared for this summer classic.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has learned in his new home with the No. 48 team and he is ready to assume the mantle as a champ.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not sniffed a championship in several years, but now he is in the middle of the NASCAR Race to the Chase. Dale Jr. is running up front in most races this year and with his new garage mates, he has learned how to go about winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
Dale Jr. has yet to win a race in the 2011 season and Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe's team just crossed the finish line first in the last cup race. It does not reflect on either team when you look at the 2011 point standings.
Both teams have finished races and both teams are in the top five as summer approaches. Jimmie Johnson is second in the points, closely followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Many of the Junior Nation haters are already predicting the demise of the No. 88 team, but as an impartial observer, it is apparent this is a new Dale Earnhardt Jr. It does not hurt Dale Jr. that he now has Steve Latarte as his crew chief this season.