It may be an off-weekend for Sprint Cup, but there’s still plenty to keep fans from going into withdrawal

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While the big boys of NASCAR are enjoying their last off-weekend of the Sprint Cup season, it’s likely many fans are going through withdrawal this weekend, as well.

Sure, there’s the Nationwide Series race Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway. There’s even two Cup regulars that will be competing: Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson.

And for the first time in family history, three generations of Gillilands – father Butch, son David and grandson Todd – will drive against each other Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway in suburban Los Angeles.

Butch will be racing for the first time in over a decade, while Todd has been nothing short of outstanding in his first season of racing Late Models – as a 13-year-old, no less.

There’s also Sunday’s Whelen Euro Series race across the pond in Germany.

But if you’re really, in desperate need of a NASCAR fix, while we can’t give you drivers, we do give you next best thing: stats!

And thanks to the kind statisticians at NASCAR, we have a handful of numbers about the first 19 races of the season that should satiate your appetite until next Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Thus far in the 2014 Sprint Cup season:

* There have been 11 different race winners.

* There have been 12 different Coors Light Pole winners; 13 track qualifying records have been broken.

* An average of 11.1 leaders per race through 19 races, compared to 8.8 at this point last year.

* An average of 24.1 lead changes per race, compared to 16.6 at this point last year last year.

* Average margin of victory is .717 seconds, the lowest through 19 races since the inception of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.

* Through race No. 19, there have been 76,570 green flag passes, the most at this point of the season since the inception of passing stats in 2005.

* In addition, there have been 771 green flag passes for the lead, the second highest figure through 19 races since 2005.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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