Key questions as the NASCAR Cup Series kicks off this weekend

As the Cup series draws to a close this off-season weekend, many questions remain.

Among those: How would I describe what happened in the first 16 races?

Unpredictability quickly comes to mind. Twelve different winners – including four first-time winners – have revitalized the talk that all 16 cut-off points drivers can fill with a win.

But is unexpected really the right word? Martin Truex Jr. Predict in January how upside this season could be in a chat with NBC Sports.

“There will be a lot of crazy storylines at the beginning of the year,” he said. “There will be a lot of surprises, and there will be a lot of guys who have a good week, a bad week, a good week, a bad week, worse and failure.

“I just feel that until we get some time under our belt and find some kind of baseline for what you (the next generation car) wants on certain tracks, we’re all going to do the research. We’re all going to gamble on what we take to the racetrack in terms of setup.”

There is no example that highlights the nature of success and failure this season as a week Joey Logano It was in May.

He struggled at Dover, crossed the finish line 29 and four laps behind the leader. A week later, Lugano won the pole, leading 107 laps in the race and He won in Darlington.

“It’s crazy to go from where we were last weekend in Dover, where we were out … we qualified in the mid-20s and really run in the mid-20s and fall into shipwrecks and all of that,” Lugano said after his Darlington win. “Then you come back the next weekend, quickly out of the truck, put it on the shaft, drive a bunch of laps, win a stage, another third stage, and that’s a great day for us.

“I don’t know, but it’s just showing some kind of this next-gen car right now that no one has really discovered yet.”

No team has shown the ability to put together a streak of Top 10 Finals that has lasted more than five races this season. Last year, four drivers finished in the top ten in at least five consecutive races, led by William Byron11 races.

Chris Jabhardt, Chief of Staff Denny HamlinAnd the For NBC Sports in May. “It is defined as getting a high temperature at the right time and taking control when it’s time to take control.”

2. Is Trackhouse Racing an underdog or a favorite?

Trackhouse drivers Daniel Suarez And the Ross Chastain Both entered the season without winning the cup. Now, Chastain has two wins. Suarez has one.

The Trackhouse win total is equal to what both Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have done this year. Only Hendrick Motorsports – with five wins – has won more races than Trackhouse this year.

So does that make the team owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull among the favorites to win the championship? Or does the Trackhouse remain vulnerable because the organization has never competed for a cup title?

Ty Norris, president of Trackhouse Racing, said this week at MotorMouths on Peacock that the organization is careful not to look too far ahead.

“We have two things still to say,” Norris said. “We have to stay hungry, we have to stay humble. If we start thinking about qualifying and talking about qualifying, we will lose sight of the next 10 weeks that we need to keep getting ready to run.”

The key will also be how to operate the Chastain, and if it continues to bother drivers. Martin Truex, Jr. spoke to Chastain in Dover After he crashed while battling Chastain for third place. Chastain had confrontations with Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, among others earlier this month at World Wide Technology Raceway. Hamlin suggested that payoff is coming.

‘” Marks told NBC Sports after that race Chastity does not need to change.

“This is a very competitive sport, and you are fighting for every inch,” Marks said. “The thing is that he’s a newcomer in the top five and the top five don’t like having a newcomer out there. I’m very proud of him.

“He’s very aggressive. That’s what’s needed to win races, and ultimately it will lead him to where he’s going to be a NASCAR Champion – his aggressiveness matches his talent.”

3. Will the strategies change over the last 10 races before the qualifiers?

One of the cool elements about parity this season is how it can affect the playoffs.

No driver has more than 13 break points. Twelve drivers have at least six break points. Last year at this time, there was an 18-point gap between first and fourth place in supplement points scored.

With how close match points are, this could lead to more drivers heading to stage points, especially on road courses. Three laps remain on the road until the playoffs begin – Road America (July 3), Indianapolis (July 31) and Watkins Glen (August 21).

It is not uncommon on road courses for teams to dig before a stage break, giving up stage points to position themselves at the end of the race. Will it happen among potential competitors?

Strategy calls during each of the following 10 races can have an impact on teams in the qualifiers based on how many qualifier points they gain or fail to do so.

Also, the top 10 after the regular season earns playoff points. While the term points racing is seen as pejorative by many racing fans, the focus on points could lead to more dramatic moments over the next 10 Cup races, starting with the June 26 race at Nashville Superspeedway (5 p.m. ET, NBC).

4. Is there a favorite tournament?

are you kidding? Who would it be?

Last year, it was easy to list Martin Truex Jr. as the favorite because he won the tracks that will host major playoff races: Phoenix (the championship race host), Martinsville (the third-round final race host) and Darlington (the playoff opener).

This year, Phoenix saw Chase Briscoe Winning his first race in the cup. The Martinsville race, won by William Byron, was a lackluster event that drove Drivers to demand changes before the series returns. With tire and regulatory testing this summer in Martinsville, changes are likely. Darlington saw Logano knock Byron out of the lead at the end to win.

Of the six point races at the racetracks that will host a playoff this year – not including Bristol since the spring race was on dirt and won’t be a qualifying race – there has been a different winner each time. Alex Bowman He won in Las Vegas, Briscoe in Phoenix, Byron in Martinsville, Ross Chastain in Talladega, Lugano in Darlington and Kurt Bosch in Kansas.

This year’s playoffs could be just about surviving each round.

Choose favourite? Very difficult now.

5. What would happen in a silly season?

The key to the absurd season may be Martin Truex Jr, who has said he will make a decision soon on whether to return for another season.

Truex turns 42 years old on June 29. The 2017 Cup champion has struggled this year. With seven games in the top 10, he’s on track for his fewest top 10 games in a season since 2014 – the last time he missed the playoffs. Truex has no win and has yet to secure a playoff.

If he doesn’t return after this season, Joe Gibbs Racing will have multiple options. Ty Gibbs It appears to be a natural move to take although JGR appears more intent on keeping the 19-year-old at Xfinity for another season. If Gibbs isn’t high, does JGR find someone to drive the number 19 car for one season before Gibbs climbs, or does it go after a quality driver who could be there for years to come?

Joe Gibbs Racing has also not announced sponsorship and contract extension for Kyle Bush. Since hidden comments in late April On his status for next year – And the response of a Toyota CEO – Bush said a little about next year. Signs indicate he is staying at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Stewart Haas Racing has a chance for next season. Eric Almerola He will retire from full-time competition after this season. The team has not announced a replacement.

Provided Truex stays another year at JGR and the team completes their long-awaited Busch deal, the best ride available will be the Almirola ride.

Hendrick Motorsports has Its four drivers have signed for at least the next season. Penske’s team has no chance. Trackhouse Racing President Ty Norris said this week on MotorMuths that Team Daniel Suarez will sign a contract extension.

team owner Richard Childress said in March that Tyler Riddick is under contract for next year. Team owner Matt Collig told NBC Sports this month that he would be “torn” if he continues to have a rotating driver lineup in the team’s second car next year or put one driver 16th for the full season.