Halfway through, NASCAR probably has what it wanted from the new-look Sprint Cup Series.
The simplified points system has produced a worst-to-first turnaround -- Kevin Harvick went from a blown engine in the season opener at Daytona to leading the points after last week's seventh-place finish at Daytona.
The top six drivers are within 22 points of each other in the standings.
No one knows what to expect from the race for the two wild-card spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, if only because it's the first time it's been tried. But there are plenty of contenders, it looks like.
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And if Jimmie Johnson is going to six-peat as the points champion, it looks as if he may have to fight off more than two contenders. And two of them could be teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The next nine races will set the field for the Chase. Then it's 10 to decide the champion, including a stop at Texas Motor Speedway for the third-to-last "playoff" race.
Is it Cousin Carl's year? Carl Edwards has been the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' most consistent driver. He's won, recorded nine top-5s, a series-best 12 top-10s and has no DNFs. He held the points lead until last week's crash at Daytona sent him to a 37th-place finish. It all sounds good, but he's no sure bet to return as the top driver for Roush Fenway. He and the team haven't re-upped yet.
The "chase" for The Chase. The Chase for the Sprint Cup field will include 12 drivers, but only the top 10 in points are assured of a place. The next two will come from the win leaders who aren't in the top 10, provided they're in the top 20. Right now, that would be Denny Hamlin and David Ragan. But all you need is a win to be in serious contention for a bid -- which is what Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and others are counting on.
Is "Five-Time" going to get it going? Jimmie Johnson has had a quiet season, which isn't the same thing as a bad season. But the five-time defending champion has only one victory -- this time last year he had five. His 20th-place finish at Daytona last week dropped him three spots to sixth in the standings.
Drivers to watch
Kevin Harvick. "The Closer" has picked off three wins by being in the right place at the right time, and that's no accident. Harvick is a skilled racer, and he's consistent on just about any type of track. Consider: he was buried after the first race of the year because of engine trouble at Daytona. Now he's on top, and his three wins will give him nine bonus points when the Chase starts.
Joey Logano. Still only 21, and still yet to break out. The year was pretty forgettable until he grabbed the pole position on Sonoma's road course and finished sixth. He followed that up with a third-place finish last week at Daytona, after starting 37th. This week, he's on a track where he has won from the pole three times as a Nationwide driver.
David Ragan. He redeemed himself for his Daytona 500 mistake by winning the Daytona summer race last week. That was a good example of his strength in restrictor-plate races. The Chase has one such race -- Talladega, the sixth stop in the 10-race playoffs.
Kurt Busch. He started great. Then things went bad. He called out his crew. He sulked. He announced the end of his marriage. And suddenly, he's become one of the best drivers of the last six weeks in the Sprint Cup series. He's fourth in the standings, a climb he began with a fourth-place finish at Charlotte on May 29. He's been ninth, second, 11th, first and 14th since.
Kyle Busch. Don't look now, but he's third in the points standings following a fifth-place finish last week -- his third top-five in four races. And only once has he been worse than 12th since the race at Talladega in April. His two wins will give him a nice six-point bump when it comes Chase time.
Trevor Bayne at the 500. The 19-year-old kid became the media star of the week when he won NASCAR's top race, the Daytona 500. His bright smile and friendliness earned him a big fan base, but he was only a part-time Cup driver, and illness and the limited schedule have since bumped him out of the spotlight.
Junior runs out of gas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be on his way to ending a long victory drought when he led on the final lap of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. But the finish line was a little too far away for his gas tank. He ran out of gas around the final turn and finished seventh.
Jeff Gordon looks like Jeff Gordon again. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, NASCAR's most successful driver not that long ago, burst back onto the contenders' stage with a victory in the second race of the season, at Phoenix. He added a top-five at Martinsville, a short track he used to dominate, then a top-three at Talladega, a restrictor-plate race. In the last five races, he's gotten four top-10s, including a victory at Pocono and a runner-up at Sonoma.
Matt Kenseth floors it at Texas. It had been 76 races since Matt Kenseth had won. But after the Samsung Mobil 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in April, that streak was over. Kenseth won the race by more than eight seconds, the largest margin of victory of the season.
Talladega tight. In a race decided by 0.002 of a second -- mere inches, really -- Jimmie Johnson, pushed by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., crossed the line barely ahead of Clint Bowyer in a three-wide finish on the biggest track in Sprint Cup. It tied for the closest margin of victory (Ricky Craven over Kurt Busch, Darlington, 2003) since NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in 1993.
Reed Sorenson leads the points standings, aiming to hold off Elliott Sadler (nine points back) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (31 points back) over the second half.
Carl Edwards needs one more lap led to reach 5,000 in the Nationwide series.
Kevin Harvick can tie for the Nationwide record for top-10s. Tommy Houston has 198 top-10s in the series.
All-time series victories leader Mark Martin is entered in this weekend's race, his last scheduled start in Nationwide for Turner Motorsports.
Camping Worlds Truck update
Johnny Sauter leads the points standings.
Tonight's UNOH 225 is the first of two Trucks Series races at Kentucky. The next one will be in October.
Frisco's David Starr will make his 275th start tonight, sixth on the all-time list, and Todd Bodine will make his 175th, 11th-all time. The record is 330 by Rick Crawford.
Cup regular Kyle Busch and Nationwide regular Elliott Sadler are entered in tonight's race.
This report contains material from NASCAR and other writers.