5 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Contenders Flying Under the Radar in 2013

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IJuly 3, 2013

5 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Contenders Flying Under the Radar in 2013

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    It's tough to remain under the radar in the Chase for the Sprint Cup hunt. Any driver who wins a race or strings together a bunch of solid runs has an opportunity to make it in, which means additional attention and a ton of pressure through the summer months.

    The good news, though, is that media attention inevitably shifts in July and August to the big names who are about to miss the Chase, not the little names that might make it. That should help the following five names remain focused on their way towards potential playoff spots.

Martin Truex Jr.

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    Truex isn't quite under the radar anymore after having won his first race in six years at Sonoma two weekends ago, but until then, he had been very quiet in the quest to make his third career Chase and second in a row.

    A six-time runner-up finisher since his previous victory at Dover in June 2007, Truex has at times been only the third-best driver at Michael Waltrip Racing, with Clint Bowyer the No. 1 and the revolving door of drivers in the No. 55 car usually running well. But thanks to the chemistry he has with crew chief Chad Johnston, the two-time Nationwide Series champion has climbed to eighth in points and asserted himself as a viable front-runner.

Aric Almirola

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    For the first time in a long time, the No. 43 car has been a viable and respectable contender in Sprint Cup events. With Aric Almirola behind the wheel and Todd Parrott atop the pit box, the team has hung on to a Chase-worthy spot in the standings for much of the season.

    Though he hasn't yet scored a top-five run, Almirola's four top 10s and slew of consistent finishes have him 17th in points. That ranks him directly ahead of 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman, 2009 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray and defending Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.—a talented group of drivers to say the least.

Paul Menard

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    Every year it seems like Menard is primed to break out based on a handful of fantastic early runs, and every year he eventually slides down the standings. But at the risk of making the same judgmental mistake as people make every year, 2013 could finally be the season that he breaks out.

    Menard's results have gradually improved every season for the past few years, especially as his equipment has risen in quality. He finished a career-best 16th in points last season, and he ranks 15th now.

Joey Logano

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    It's hard to stay under the radar when you've injured one driver and drawn the ire of others, but Logano's squabbles have outshined his performance so far this year. At 10th in points through 17 races, he's 13 spots higher than A.J. Allmendinger was at this time last year, with three more top fives and four more top 10s.

    And while Logano hasn't found Victory Lane yet this year, as he did with Joe Gibbs Racing in Pocono last June, he's already on pace to produce his best results ever. He already has as many top fives as he did in any season except for 2010, and his average finish of 14.7 so far is a career best. One victory and continued consistency could mean a Chase run for the polarizing young talent.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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    The lesser media darling of the Stenica relationship, two-time Nationwide Series champion Stenhouse Jr. has fewer poles and top 10s than his starlet girlfriend. In fact, he hasn't finished better than 11th all season.

    But he's only 46 points—or about one race victory's worth—out of the 10th spot in the standings.

    How? In a learning year, Stenhouse has made a point of keeping his cars clean. Save for trouble at Texas, he's either finished in the top 20 or stayed on the lead lap, if not both, in every race. And with all the learning he's done in the first half of the season, don't be shocked if he begins to light it up in the second half.

    For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.


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