Who's Hot, Who's Not in NASCAR, After the 2015 All-Star Break
As we reach the midway point of the non-Chase part of the season, it's time to take stock of what has happened so far in NASCAR.
Eight drivers have won races already this year, with only two (very familiar names) taking home multiple trophies. "One Very Important Person" has yet to clinch a spot in the Chase, though his struggles don't even begin to compare to those of some of his peers.
Some drivers are experiencing overwhelming life highlights off the track, while others are searching for any way to make an impression on the track.
Am I being vague? Of course I am. You'll have to keep reading to get the specifics. Here's a rundown of who is hot and who is not at NASCAR's All-Star break.
Hot: Penske Drivers
There's one team that doesn't have to worry about postseason qualification anymore: Team Penske.
Both of Penske's Sprint Cup drivers, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, have already won a race this year and are safely into the Chase. Keselowski is trying to win his second championship this year, while Logano is trying to win his first, after coming in fourth last year.
Logano, 24, got off to a hot start, winning the Daytona 500 right off the bat. He has since nabbed five other top fives and is currently No. 4 in the standings. Keselowski got a win at the fifth race of the season, the Auto Club 400 in California. He's currently sixth in the standings.
Both Logano and Keselowski would like to win a lot more this season, and they likely will seeing as last year they combined for 11 victories. However, it's certainly nice for them both to be safely into the Chase with time to spare.
Not: Tony Stewart
Unfortunately for Tony Stewart, 2015 picked up where 2014 left off. Smoke has not been a factor on the track this season, and it's now been over two years since his last Sprint Cup win.
Despite the fact that Stewart was presumably in a good place mentally and physically headed into this season, he's been unable to translate that to the track. He is currently 30th in the standings, with only one top-10 finish on the season.
Stewart's friend, 80-year-old four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, thinks that Stewarts rough two years—a span that includes a broken leg and the accident that resulted in the death of Kevin Ward Jr.—has taken its toll on Stewart.
"We talk quite a bit, off and on," Foyt said, as reported by Brant James of USA Today. "I think that accident he had is really bugging Tony a lot more than people know. Where he got hurt, too, and that other accident. I don’t care who you are. Stuff like that bothers you a lot more, and I think Tony is really soft-hearted."
Hot: Kevin Harvick
There is no slump for Kevin Harvick. A year after winning the first championship of his career, he looks better than ever.
Harvick won two of the first four races of the season and didn't finish below second in six of the first seven races. Overall, he has a ridiculous eight top-two finishes out of 11 points races this season. His other three finishes were an eighth at Talladega and Martinsville and a 38th at Bristol.
Basically, if No. 3 can make it through a race unscathed, he's more than likely going to finish in the top two. That's absolutely ridiculous.
Not: Ryan Newman's Team
Last year, Ryan Newman finished as runner-up to Harvick in the championship race, but this year the two drivers feel worlds apart.
Newman has yet to get to Victory Lane in 2015, and although he does have seven top 10s and four top fives, he is only 15th in the standings.
Newman is that low in the standings because he was docked 50 points when his team was caught poking holes in their tires to alleviate air pressure during the Auto Club 400 in California. (Originally, he was docked 75 points, but it was reduced after appeal.)
In addition to Newman's points detraction, his Richard Childress Racing owners were docked owner's points, and his crew chief Luke Lambert, tire tech James Bender and engineer Philip Surgen were suspended for six races.
Needless to say, Newman is hoping that the second half of his season is much better than the first.
Hot: First-Time Parents
Believe it or not, the hottest trend in NASCAR this season might be happening off the track. That's right—first-time parenthood is all the rage in NASCAR circles these days!
Before the season began, it was Kyle Larson who joined the ranks of fatherhood, when his first child Owen was born. In just the past week, two fellow drivers have become fathers as well—both Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski had children in the days following the All-Star Race.
Kyle and his wife Samantha have been sharing photos on social media of their son, Brexton Busch. He even has a Twitter account already. Keselowski—whose girlfriend Paige White gave birth to a girl—is keeping things a bit more private, but he's still excited about his "dad status."
While most of the focus is understandably on the track when it comes to these Sprint Cup superstars, it's nice to take a moment to recognize the more important life milestones. And hey, if we're lucky, maybe some NASCAR babies will take to the podium someday soon, Riley Curry-style.
Not: Fresh Faces
Nobody is going to deny that the future of NASCAR looks bright, with drivers such as Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson ready to battle it out in the future. But so far in 2015, the Sprint Cup circuit veterans have been hogging all of the glory.
Every one of the eight drivers who have already won this season—Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.—are all drivers who have won often in their Sprint Cup careers.
Meanwhile Larson, who was expected to have a breakout year in 2015 after eight top fives and 17 top 10s in his rookie season, has yet to notch a top five this year and only has three top 10s. Other young drivers, such as Austin and Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Trevor Bayne, have also failed to make a big-time impression.
Even older drivers still searching for their first Sprint Cup win, such as Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., haven't been able to get to Victory Lane.
While it's certainly good for the sport to have recognizable names leading the way, NASCAR and its fans would enjoy some fresh faces making a splash on the weekends as well.
Hot: Jimmie Johnson
Another season, another Jimmie Johnson masterclass.
After a rare slow start to the season in 2014, Johnson's 2015 has looked more familiar. In 11 points races, he has a series-high three victories and seven top fives.
Johnson trails Kevin Harvick and winless Martin Truex Jr. in the points, but he is the top Hendrick Motorsports driver and looks poised to challenge for his seventh championship this fall. It's No. 48's world, the rest of us are just lucky to get to watch him go.
Not: Jeff Gordon
Look, whether he wins or not, this entire NASCAR season is about celebrating Jeff Gordon. And rightly so. Gordon is a legend of the sport, with 92 Sprint Cup wins and four championships.
In his final year behind the driver's wheel, Gordon is having a very solid season, with seven top 10s and two top fives. He currently sits at 11th in the Sprint Cup standings.
However, Gordon is still without a victory, which means he's still not locked into the Chase this year. A series of silly mistakes, some from his pit crew and some from Gordon himself, who has been caught speeding on pit road multiple times, have doomed him late in races.
Gordon has been a staple in NASCAR's postseason throughout his career, and it would be awful if he didn't qualify in his swan-song year. Hopefully Gordon will get to Victory Lane soon and go from "not" to "hot."