April 3, 2014 — photo courtesy Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America — FORT WORTH, TX — Kurt Busch set a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup era record the moment he hit the finish line to close last Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway – six different winners in the first six races.
And incredibly, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson – the top two winners from the 2013 season – aren’t among that group.
Neither are marquee winners like Kasey Kahne or Greg Biffle or Jeff Gordon or Denny Hamlin.
In other words, expect that list of different winners to grow, and maybe as soon as this weekend. If that does happen, here are two nuggets to consider.
The last time there were seven different winners in the first seven races was 2003.
The record for different winners to start the season is 10, in 2000.
In neither of those seasons were there more than 16 winners after 26 races. There were 13 different winners after 26 races in 2000, and 16 different winners after 26 races in 2003 (and the points leader at the time, Matt Kenseth, was indeed one of them).
So, historically speaking, it’s a very safe assumption that the six different winners thus far will be safely in the Chase after Richmond.
Who might join that list at Texas? Well, the names above all should contend.
Biffle is a two-time champion, and has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 11 races at Texas. Kenseth has two wins here – though both were while under the Roush Fenway Racing umbrella – and finished fourth in last year’s Texas Chase race. Hamlin swept the 2010 races at Texas, but has finished in the top 10 only once in his last five starts (he missed last spring’s Texas race with a back injury).
And then there’s Six-Time. Johnson dominated the last time the series raced at Texas, and his statistics to open the 2014 season suggest he has won multiple races, is crushing everyone else in points, and maybe set a record for the earliest Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup clinch in the history of the playoff system.
Factually, of course, none of that is true. He’s winless, fifth in points and far from a Chase berth.
You have to expect Johnson’s luck to shift. Check out the numbers. He leads the series in driver rating (115.6), average running position (8.7), laps led (493), fastest laps run (200) and is tied for the lead in top-five finishes with four. He has led more than 100 laps in each of the last two races (including 296 laps at Martinsville).
So, presumably, those types of numbers will lead to a victory sooner than later. Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway might be the time and place. In three of the last four races, Johnson has tallied triple-digit laps led figures – and has finished in the top six in each of the last four races (two of those were wins).
Johnson has an average finish of 8.7 at Texas, second only to Matt Kenseth’s 8.3.
Tony Stewart is an intriguing watch. Owner of two Texas wins, he looks to join teammates (and employees) Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick on the 2014 wins list, and eventually, the Chase.
So who will it be on Sunday? Find out when the Duck Commander 500 takes the green flag at 3 PM Eastern time live on FOX and MRN Radio.
Because after all, everything’s bigger in Texas.