After 8 races it’s clear who the favorites are to win the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship: anyone driving for Joe Gibbs or Rick Hendrick. Combined, the two teams have won 7 of the races so far, with the only exception being Carl Edwards at Phoenix.
Joe Gibbs is still chasing his first Championship since transition to Toyota, after winning 3 while driving GM vehicles (Pontiac 2000, 2002 – Chevrolet 2005). He boosted his chances this off-season with the signing of veteran champion Matt Kenseth to replace Joey Logano and the combination has proved incredibly successful. Kenseth’s 2 wins and strong performances at Daytona and Bristol before incidents have made him a top contender. Add to that the 2 dominating wins by Kyle Busch and JGR is in prime position to challenge for the the title. The only hiccup for the team is the #11, where Denny Hamlin will have some work to do once he returns from injury if he is to make the Chase.
Rick Hendrick on the other hand has won 10 titles in the sports highest division, most recently with Jimmie Johnson in 2010, the last of his 5 straight. There is nothing to prove over in the Hendrick camp, yet every driver over there feels it is their obligation to win the championship. Sitting atop the standings, Johnson has a top 10 average finish and 2 wins already this season in his hunt for a 6th cup. Just behind him is Kasey Kahne. Kahne was a bit of a journeyman before signing for Hendrick, winning twice last season and making the Chase. Already this season he has a win and two runner up finishes. Earnhardt Jr. is 5th in points, winless, but proving consistent. Like over at JGR there is one driver on the team that has some work to do. Jeff Gordon’s luck doesn’t seem to have improved since last season, with multiple late race incidents thwarting good finishes. Gordon is 15th in points without a win.
There is no real surprise in either team’s success, they are both huge with the top engineering departments. What is surprising is the size of the gap between them and the other teams. Other than Edwards’ win in Phoenix and Martin Truex’s performance in Texas, there hasn’t been any challenge to their success. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano at Penske have contended for wins a couple times this season, but neither have dominated like the drivers of JGR and HMS. If other teams don’t catch up, it’s not a stretch to say 7 of the 12 chasers will be from these two teams. If Gordon can turn his luck around or win a couple races, and if Hamlin can score a couples wins after his return its guaranteed.
Another strange twist is that Stewart Haas Racing has struggled so mightily while using Hendrick equipment. SHR has performed well the last couple seasons, winning the Championship only 2 years ago, but sit 17th, 21st, and 25th in the points so far. Stewart has plenty of resources at his disposal and yet there has been no threat by any of his cars to run up front. Hendrick backed Phoenix racing is performing much better than SHR even while rotating 4 drivers in the #51.