Recapping NASCAR’s frantic first half of the 2013 regular season

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series completed its halfway point in the 26-race regular season last weekend at Dover International Speedway. The TV coverage switches from FOX to TNT starting this weekend at Pocono, for its six-race “Summer Stretch” series. And, there’s been more than a few storylines this year:

  • Penalties, penalties, penalties. Three of NASCAR’s biggest names got hit hard and often for infractions, either via mouth or at the track. Denny Hamlin got it started at Phoenix when he claimed NASCAR’s new Generation 6 car “didn’t race as well” as its old one, and got docked $25,000. Then NASCAR dropped the hammer on Penske Racing after Texas, and Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing after Kansas, although in both Penske’s and Gibbs’ cases they were reduced. Penske got hit again just this week.
  • It feels like the 48 is back. Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team from Hendrick Motorsports aren’t doing their usual “win a couple races in the regular season, then dominate the Chase” routine. They’ve amped up even more after two consecutive years without a championship. Johnson leads the points with two wins, including his second and crew chief Chad Knaus’ first Daytona 500. And that’s even with a jumped start penalty last time out at Dover.
  • Toyota. Engine. Failures. There have been too many to count of late for the manufacturer, either via its flagship engine builder TRD (Toyota Racing Development) or the offshoot Triad and Arrington builders that supply other teams. Still, to their credit, Gibbs has five wins – three for Kenseth, and two for Kyle Busch.
  • Blue Oval blues. Ford has only two wins thus far, one of which coming in the crapshoot that is Talladega with the shock Front Row Motorsports 1-2 led by David Ragan. Carl Edwards has been the most consistent, with one win and currently second in points, but the rest of the Ford teams – including defending champions Penske and Brad Keselowski, after switching from Dodge – haven’t quite got the full handle on the Gen-6.
  • Danica? Meh. Once we got past the Daytona 500 pole hoopla, Danica Patrick’s first full year in Sprint Cup has gone about as expected – less than stellar. Qualifying hasn’t been great and outside of the eighth at Daytona and 12th place at Martinsville, she has only two other top-25 finishes. Her boyfriend and fellow rookie-of-the-year competitor, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., hasn’t cracked the top 10 yet, but a consistent string of 11 top-20 finishes in 13 races has him a respectable 15th in points. Patrick is 29th.
  • Some abnormal off-track moments. Away from the Sprint Cup ranks, storylines have included catch fence safety after an accident in the Nationwide Series opener, the Nelson Piquet/Brian Scott groin kick and crewmember fight at Richmond, the Mike Harmon/Jennifer Jo Cobb “He said, she said” transporter theft allegations, and a TV cable falling during the Coca-Cola 600. Additionally, NASCAR lost a legend and short track icon in Dick Trickle, at age 71.

The top 10 in points are below, with other points notables thereafter, and number of wins in parentheses:

  • Top 10: Jimmie Johnson 473 (three wins), Carl Edwards 443 (one), Clint Bowyer 423 (zero), Matt Kenseth 399 (three), Kevin Harvick 399 (two), Dale Earnhardt Jr. 398 (zero), Kasey Kahne 392 (one), Brad Keselowski 375  (zero), Kyle Busch 374 (two), Paul Menard 371 (zero).
  • Other notables: Jeff Gordon (11th, -10 points to 10th, zero wins), Greg Biffle (13th, -18, zero), Tony Stewart (16th, -33, one), Kurt Busch (17th, -34, zero), Ryan Newman (20th, -48, zero), Denny Hamlin (26th, -122, zero).