The intensity builds as the Cup Series heads into the final 10 races of the regular season.
Playoff spots remain available. For those who have secured a chance to run for a championship, it is about building playoff points during this stretch.
There are new tracks for the Cup Series, including Sunday’s race at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
There also are more fans in attendance as tracks return to full capacity. A sellout crowd of 40,000 is expected Sunday at Nashville.
Those are just among key storylines as the season builds toward the playoffs.
Who can top Hendrick Motorsports?
When the green flag waves Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway, it will be 41 days since a team other than Hendrick Motorsports won a Cup race. That race was May 9 when Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. won at Darlington Raceway.
Alex Bowman won May 16 at Dover, as Hendrick drivers finished 1-2-3-4.
Kyle Larson won the May 30 Coca-Cola 600 with Elliott second.
Larson won June 6 at Sonoma with Elliott second.
“We’ve seen many times there’s been dominant cars and dominant teams through the season, and then when it gets time for the playoffs, there’s all kinds of things that can happen in those couple of months there,” said Jeff Andrews general manager of Hendrick Motorsports.
“We’re not wanting to be too confident right now. We’re wanting to stay focused. We know we need to continue to improve our race cars and bring better race cars to the racetrack every week.”
When will Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick win?
Last year, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick combined to win 16 of 36 races. This year, they remain winless after 16 races. Even so, Hamlin is the points leader based on his nine top-five finishes.
Hamlin has gone four races since his last top-five result, his longest drought of the season.
Harvick has 11 top 10s this year but has only one in the last three races.
Could this weekend at a new track provide a gateway to victory lane for Hamlin or Harvick?
If not, both split the Pocono doubleheader last year. Both scored top 10s at Atlanta earlier this season.
It’s hard to imagine Hamlin and Harvick going winless in the first 26 races.
Who can win their way into the playoffs?
It was this time a year ago when the series saw a big change in who was in the playoffs and who was out.
In the season’s 17th race last year, Cole Custer turned a phenomenal restart at the end into a victory at Kentucky to earn a playoff spot. He entered that race 25th in points.
Custer’s win knocked Austin Dillon out of a playoff spot. No problem, Dillon won the following week at Texas to grab a playoff spot.
So, who can follow suit this season?
Former champion Kurt Busch, who has won at least one Cup race in each of the past seven years, seeks to continue that streak. He enters Nashville 63 points behind Buescher for the final playoff spot. Busch was among three drivers who did tire tests at Nashville this spring. Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell were the others in the tire test.
“We’ve still got quite a few races left that if we can get back to that consistency that we had to start the season, I feel like as those races play out, we could be back in close racing for those playoff spots,” Stenhouse said. “That’s our goal, that’s our plan, and we’re going to see how that shakes out starting this weekend at Nashville.”
What’s left in the Cup regular season?
The road to the playoffs features three races not among this group last year.
The series races at Road America for the first time since 1956.
There’s a race at Atlanta in July, marking the first time since 2010 the track will have hosted two Cup races in a season.
The series also races on the road course at Indianapolis for the first time, a year after the Xfinity Series raced there and had a thrilling finish.
Here are the 10 races left in the Cup regular season:
Sunday — Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
June 26 — Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
June 27 — Pocono Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
July 4 — Road America (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC)
July 11 — Atlanta Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
July 18 — New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
Aug. 8 — Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
Aug. 15 — Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (1 p.m. ET on NBC)
Aug. 22 — Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
Aug. 28 — Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC)