The NASCAR Cup Series is exactly halfway through its 36-race season, and while unexpected moments or winners are guaranteed, this year in particular has been decidedly strange.
So before the 19th race of the season – the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway – let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprises and weirdest stats of the year so far.
This one’s the most obvious thing, but it’s still super weird. Through 18 races, you’d expect to have 10 winners at a minimum, right? At the halfway point in the last four seasons, there have been 11 different winners, and had Erik Jones not passed Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday to win his first Cup Series race, there would still only be six.
The advantage to this is anyone hoping to contend for the championship once the 10-race, 16-driver playoffs start in the fall knows exactly which teams are the ones to beat. At the season’s halfway point, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick each have five wins, while Truex has three. They’re followed by Clint Bowyer with two, and Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and now Jones with one apiece.
Even within those seven winners, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are crushing it this season, and they’re Nos. 1 and 2 in the driver standings, respectively.
So far, they combine for 10 wins and have accumulated about 48 percent of the playoff points up for grabs through stage and race wins. Helpful once the playoffs actually start, Busch has 30 playoff points, Harvick has 27 and Truex has 18. Harvick and Busch also each had stretches of three consecutive victories this season.
But perhaps most shockingly, their laps led stats are out of control. They have led nearly 40 percent of this year’s total laps, combined, despite Harvick not finishing three races and Busch not finishing two. Harvick has led 1,040 laps while Busch has led 948, and they’re the only ones to break the 500 mark.
Ryan Blaney is next with 463 laps led, Truex has led 390 and Kyle Larson has 365. That’s not even kind of close.
But at the end of the day, it’s the only lap that counts. A little unusual but not unheard of at a track that guarantees chaos, Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Coke Zero Sugar 400 winner Erik Jones each stole the lead on the final lap around the 2.5-mile track.
To compare with the other restrictor plate track, Joey Logano won the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, and he led for 70 laps, including the final 42.
When the No. 14 Ford driver won at Martinsville Speedway in March, he snapped a 190-race winless streak that dated back to the 2012 season. And then he won again at Michigan International Speedway in June, proving that it wasn’t a fluke. He’s a contender this season and is currently sixth in the driver standings.
The seven-time Cup Series champion and arguably the greatest NASCAR driver of all time has not yet won a race this season. It’s the longest he’s ever gone without a victory since the start of a season, and without one to lock him in, there’s a chance he won’t make the 16-driver playoffs.
Johnson is currently 12th in the driver standings, 288 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He – and everyone else, really – has eight more races to get to Victory Lane and guarantee his place in the playoffs. If he doesn’t win, he’ll have to hope for as few new winners as possible and strong outings from his No. 48 Chevrolet team to stay in the top 16.
Led by Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports is struggling this season and still winless.
With its youthful makeover replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne with Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron – who joined third-year driver Chase Elliott as team drivers in their 20s – the four-car team has seven top-5 finishes. Elliott has the group’s best finish, coming in second at Richmond Raceway in April.
(Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Looking even bigger, Chevrolet as a manufacturer has been shut out from Victory Lane since Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win. Elliott is on the verge of his first Cup Series win, Kyle Larson is bound to have his first 2018 victory, but Ford and Toyota have control of the series.