The Cup Series is back after a two-week break and starts a stretch of 14 consecutive weekends of racing.
The Cup Series races Sunday at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Four races remain in the regular season. Much remains at stake before the playoffs begin next month at Darlington Raceway.
Race for regular-season title
Hamlin led Larson by 144 points after the Darlington race in May. Hamlin’s advantage dwindled to two points after the second Pocono race in late June, but Larson has not been able to take the points lead.
Hamlin has led the points since the second race of the season. That could change this weekend.
Larson has a win on a road course this season (Sonoma in June) and has outscored Hamlin by 12 points in the four road course races this year.
Hamlin is finishing an average of five positions better than Larson on the road courses. The difference, though, is Larson has more than twice as many stage points at road courses than Hamlin. Larson has 52 stage points; Hamlin 25.
Larson starts fourth Sunday. Hamlin starts sixth.
The champ in the regular season scores 15 playoff points. The driver second in the season standings at the end of the regular season scores 10 playoff points.
Road course ringers
He’s also scored the most points in the four road course races this season at 171 — an average of 42.8 points per race.
But there are a couple of drivers to watch that might be overlooked. Joey Logano ranks second in points scored on the road courses this season at 165 (41.3 points per race). He has three top-five finishes in those four races.
While not thought of a road course racer, Logano is second among active drivers in best average finish at such courses at 13.3. Only Elliott has a better average finish among active drivers at road courses at 8.3.
Another driver to watch is Kurt Busch. He ranks fourth in points scored on road courses this season at 148 (37.0 points per race). He has three finishes of sixth or better in those events.
Combined, Logano and Busch have two wins in 76 road course races (Busch has one win in 46 starts; Logano has one win in 30 starts).
It’s certainly not the spectacular numbers Elliott has — seven wins in 16 career road course starts — but Logano and Busch could be ones to keep an eye on during the race.
Will chaos continue?
Thirteen drivers have won this season, tying for most in the regular season since the current playoff format debuted in 2014.
There also were 13 different winners in the regular season in 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Aric Almirola, who was 27th in the points heading into the New Hampshire race two weeks ago, won that race to become the 13th different winner this season.
“I feel like we’re starting to turn the corner,” Almirola said. “I do think we’ve made significant improvements with our cars, specifically with the 750 package.”
With so many winners, only three of the 16 playoff spots are occupied by drivers who have not won this year. Those three drivers are points leader Denny Hamlin (283 points ahead of the first driver outside a playoff spot), Kevin Harvick (+82) and Tyler Reddick (+5).
Austin Dillon is the first driver outside a playoff position.
With four races left, there is a chance for another surprise winner to take a playoff spot. Will it happen?