NASCAR & Auto Racing

Three NASCAR drivers have early-season stories to tell

Denny Hamlin (11) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) take the lead from Matt Kenseth, top, in Turn 4 on the final lap during the Daytona 500 on Feb. 21.
Denny Hamlin (11) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) take the lead from Matt Kenseth, top, in Turn 4 on the final lap during the Daytona 500 on Feb. 21. AP

NASCAR’s season is just three races old, so it’s difficult to draw any conclusions of where things are headed. Nobody is dominating, but here are three drivers who have made for interesting storylines so far:

Matt Kenseth: Perhaps the circuit’s most consistent driver has gotten off to a tough start, finishing 14th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta and 27th at Las Vegas. His move to block Denny Hamlin at Daytona backfired and even Kenseth was mystified about why he spun late at Las Vegas and was hit from behind by Chase Elliott.

“I have no idea, honestly,” Kenseth said. “I went into Turn 1 and I wasn’t really hardly turning yet and just spun out before I had any idea what happened. I don’t know, after that I was just trying to save our Toyota and got ran into from behind.”

Kyle Busch: Last season’s champion has been in position to win all three races — and has come up empty each time. He showed his skills with a memorable pass of five cars — going outside, then inside — at Las Vegas, but then he couldn’t seal the deal.

“If I were to grade our weekend [at Las Vegas], for progress it’s an A-plus, but for being as bad as we were and ending up right there it would probably be a B or B-minus,” Busch said.

Jimmie Johnson: He achieved a significant milestone at Atlanta, where he won his 76th career race, tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. on NASCAR’s all-time list. He nearly won again at Las Vegas, where he led a race-high 76 laps before finishing third on a day where it rained and a sudden sand storm also blew in.

“It was gusty and problematic, but I expected it to be a lot worse,” Johnson said. “I guess when you are going 200 mph, a 30 or 40 mph wind doesn’t bother it too much.”

On the grid

Good Sam 500

2:30 p.m., Sunday, Phoenix

Track: Phoenix International Raceway, a 1-mile asphalt oval in Avondale, Ariz.

Distance: 312 laps, or 500 kilometers

TV: KDFW/4. (Today: Practice, 11 a.m., FS1; Qualifying, 5:35 p.m., FS2; Saturday: Practice, 9:30 a.m. and noon, FS1).

Last year’s winner: Kevin Harvick

Other races

Axalta 200: Xfinity Series, Phoenix International Raceway, 1:30 p.m., Saturday, KDFW/4

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: IndyCar, Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., 11:30 a.m., Sunday, WFAA/8

David Scott’s Power 16

1. Jimmie Johnson (3rd last week): Has been consistently strong, with win at Atlanta to prove it.

2. Kyle Busch (1): Top-fives in all three races, but hasn’t won yet.

3. Kevin Harvick (5): Headed to Phoenix, where he’s been dominant.

4. Brad Keselowski (11): Breaks 50-week victory drought at Las Vegas.

5. Joey Logano (9): Part of 1-2 Team Penske sweep at Las Vegas.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (2): Wasn’t really a factor at Las Vegas.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7): Didn’t hear his name much at Las Vegas, but finished eighth.

8. Kurt Busch (8): Hasn’t been able to capitalize on two straight poles.

9. Denny Hamlin (4): What happened to the Daytona magic?

10. Austin Dillon (10): That first win might be just around the corner.

11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (14): Is quietly putting together a solid season for Roush Fenway.

12. Carl Edwards (6): Was ultimately unable to overcome having to start at rear of field at Las Vegas, finishing 18th.

13. Ryan Blaney (NR): Rookie finished sixth at Las Vegas.

14. Kasey Kahne (NR): Might be turning the corner after encouraging 10th at Las Vegas.

15. Aric Almirola (NR): Also 15th in points, but slipped to a 27th-place finish at Las Vegas.

16. Matt Kenseth (12): He’s going to straighten things out sometime soon.

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