Biggest surprise and disappointment in the first half of the regular season?
Dustin Long: Surprise — The lack of cautions from accidents, particularly multiple cars, with the field closer and the blocking so prevalent. Disappointment — That Stewart-Haas Racing remains winless after winning 12 races last year. SHR has three stage wins this season compared to eight at this point last year.
Daniel McFadin: Surprise — That Circuit City still exists as a primarily online store and will return as a full-time sponsor for Shane Lee in the Xfinity Series. Disappointment — That Ross Chastain didn’t declare for points in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He’s the only Truck Series driver who has finished in the top 10 in all eight races so far and he’d be locked into the playoffs with his Kansas win.
Jerry Bonkowski: Biggest surprise — Kurt Busch has been outstanding since coming to Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s only just a matter of time before he reaches victory lane. Biggest disappointment — Bubba Wallace was primed for a strong season, but he’s done nothing but struggle for much of the first 13 races – his advancing to and finishing fifth in the All-Star Race notwithstanding.
Who will you be watching closely in the second half of the regular season?
Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson
Dustin Long: Kyle Larson. He’s on a 59-race winless streak and holds the final transfer spot for the playoffs. Can he and his team be stronger to ensure a playoff spot and be relevant in the race for a championship?
Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman. After no tops 10s in the first nine races, he has four straight leaving the Coke 600. I think he could be very dangerous going forward.
Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson. I feel confident that he’ll not only break his 72-race winless streak that dates back to Dover in spring 2017, but that he’ll be part of the final four heading into Miami for the season-ending championship race. The seven-time champ is a hot streak waiting to happen.
Will all 16 drivers in a playoff spot now make the playoffs? If not, who outside a playoff spot will make it?
Dustin Long: No. Erik Jones will find his way into the playoffs.
Daniel McFadin: No, I think one or two drivers outside the top 16 will sneak in, and I guess Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. right now.
Jerry Bonkowski: No. I think Ryan Newman has a good chance if he develops better consistency in the second half of the regular season. Likewise for his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.