by Matt Lincoln
NASCAR has reached Easter break - 8 races in with a few big surprises, but plenty of questions surround the circuit going into RIR next week. Here are just a few:
Is someone ready to end 5-Time's run at five? Jimmie Johnson has been a slow starter during a few of these championship seasons. Unfortunately for the rest of Sprint Cup, 2011 is not one of those seasons. What's a good sign is that two challengers in particular, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, have been consistently good so far. Edwards has more top tens than anyone else, Harvick is the only driver to have more than one victory. But just eight races in, Johnson is only five points off the lead, and looking as strong as ever. So, as it should be, the 48 is not going to lay down and let someone take #6 away from him.
What has got into Junior? The most popular driver in NASCAR seems to finally have the right chemistry around him to have his first real success since joining Hendrick. Junior sits 3rd in points, and is back to deserving all that love he gets from fans. The question is, will he ever break that long winless streak. His teammate, Jeff Gordon, ended his, but that hasn't translated into consistent success throughout the season. Earnhardt needs to see consistent success more than he needs a win.
Will home-cooking cure what ails Denny Hamlin? Something has to, but I've projected that trips to Martinsville and Texas would both get him back on the right track. He failed to crack the top ten at either of those tracks which he's seen so much success at. So, it's obviously not something that's just going to change overnight. As Gordon would certainly say, winning seems to come terribly easy at one moment, then impossibly difficult in another, and Hamlin has hit a cold streak. It's not too late, but if it goes another month or so, the Chesterfield native will have to chalk up 2011 as a lost season.
Who's in worse shape than Denny? How about another Virginia native - Jeff Burton. He has zero top 10's in the eight races, and sits in 22nd place. The South Boston native's luck went awry when he was leading the Daytona 500 and blew an engine. He hasn't been the same since.
Who is the favorite coming into Richmond week? Well, I don't like to pick a winner until I talk to the drivers, and watch the cars practice, but I can pick a favorite going into the week. And that man is Kyle Busch - in the top ten in points, and average finish of 5.2 at RIR, and the swagger to win just about anywhere - he's the guy to keep an eye on.