Through the first 18 races of the season, two drivers have staked the boldest claim on the Sprint Cup Series Championship. They are also the drivers tied with the most wins thus far (3) as Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski appear poised to battle for the crown heading into the second half of the season.
It's interesting that Stewart and Keselowski are the two with the most wins. Both are known as summer starters, especially Stewart, whose 40 of 47 career wins come in the summer months after June 1.
His biannual monopoly of winning at Daytona in July (fourth win in eight years) is typically the first of a hot summer streak. But the fact that he's won three by mid-July has to be quite frightening to anyone hoping to beat the defending Series champion.
It's frightening to everyone except Brad Keselowski, that is. He doesn't seem to be scared of anything. He's bold, brash, and reeling with the confidence of a second-consecutive three-plus win season. He's also riding the momentum of a hot-stretch that started in July of last year.
Roughly one year ago today, Brad Keseloski was 22nd in the championship standings, one win, and 70 points out of the Chase cutoff, and desperately in need of wins to get back into playoff contention. We know now that Brad won two of the final nine races, earned the first wild card and finished fifth in the final standings.
That's 22nd-to-fifth in 19 races and it all started at Kentucky. He led 79 laps, his most dominant performance since winning a fuel mileage race in Kansas, and ultimately finished sixth. He suffered a set-back the next week at Loudon (35th) but went on a tear the next eight weeks with finishes of fifth, first, second, third, seventh, sixth and 12th.
He made the Chase and hasn't looked back. He wasted no time in resuming the pace begun last year, winning three times in 2012 at Bristol, Talladega and Kentucky.
If Indianapolis in two weeks sets the stage for the stretch run, New Hampshire presents one more chance to make a statement. It's also one more chance for the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to say that they belong in the discussion with Stewart and Keselowski.
Tony Stewart qualified tenth for Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301. Brad Keselowski qualified 22nd. Kyle Busch is on the pole. The rest of the qualifying order can be found after the jump. Is this the championship battle or will the final eight races of the regular season invite someone else into the discussion. Tell us in the comments section below.
|1||18||Kyle Busch||Interstate Batteries Toyota||28.548||133.417||0.000||0.000|
|2||5||Kasey Kahne||Farmers Insurance Chevrolet||28.551||133.403||0.003||0.003|
|3||11||Denny Hamlin||FedEx Freight Toyota||28.552||133.399||0.004||0.001|
|4||56||Martin Truex Jr.||NAPA Auto Parts Toyota||28.565||133.338||0.017||0.013|
|5||15||Clint Bowyer||5-hour Energy Toyota||28.569||133.319||0.021||0.004|
|6||39||Ryan Newman||ARMY ROTC Chevrolet||28.578||133.277||0.030||0.009|
|7||48||Jimmie Johnson||Lowe's Chevrolet||28.583||133.254||0.035||0.005|
|8||24||Jeff Gordon||DuPont Chevrolet||28.595||133.198||0.047||0.012|
|9||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet||28.628||133.045||0.080||0.033|
|10||14||Tony Stewart||MOBIL 1 / Office Depot Chevrolet||28.651||132.938||0.103||0.023|
|11||16||Greg Biffle||3M / WB Mason / Post-it Ford||28.665||132.873||0.117||0.014|
|12||29||Kevin Harvick||Rheem Chevrolet||28.666||132.868||0.118||0.001|
|13||27||Paul Menard||Menards / Duracell Chevrolet||28.730||132.572||0.182||0.064|
|14||51||Kurt Busch||Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet||28.735||132.549||0.187||0.005|
|15||55||Brian Vickers||MyClassicGarage.com / Aaron's Toyota||28.762||132.425||0.214||0.027|
|16||20||Joey Logano||The Home Depot Toyota||28.762||132.425||0.214||0.000|
|17||78||Regan Smith||Furniture Row / Farm American Chevrolet||28.769||132.393||0.221||0.007|
|18||47||Bobby Labonte||Luke & Associates Toyota||28.782||132.333||0.234||0.013|
|19||34||David Ragan||Front Row Motorsports Ford||28.797||132.264||0.249||0.015|
|20||9||Marcos Ambrose||DeWalt Ford||28.811||132.200||0.263||0.014|
|21||99||Carl Edwards||Fastenal / LENOX Ford||28.814||132.186||0.266||0.003|
|22||2||Brad Keselowski||Miller Lite Dodge||28.836||132.085||0.288||0.022|
|23||43||Aric Almirola||Medallion Financial Ford||28.891||131.833||0.343||0.055|
|24||22||Sam Hornish Jr.(i)||Shell Pennzoil / AAA Dodge||28.952||131.556||0.404||0.061|
|25||31||Jeff Burton||Caterpillar Chevrolet||28.972||131.465||0.424||0.020|
|26||10||David Reutimann||Mohawk Northeast Chevrolet||29.016||131.266||0.468||0.044|
|27||17||Matt Kenseth||NESN Ford||29.023||131.234||0.475||0.007|
|28||1||Jamie McMurray||Bass Pro Shops / Allstate Chevrolet||29.023||131.234||0.475||0.000|
|29||83||Landon Cassill||Burger King / Dr Pepper Toyota||29.034||131.184||0.486||0.011|
|30||93||Travis Kvapil||Burger King / Dr Pepper Toyota||29.112||130.833||0.564||0.078|
|31||42||Juan Pablo Montoya||Degree Chevrolet||29.150||130.662||0.602||0.038|
|32||26||Josh Wise #||MDS Transport Ford||29.267||130.140||0.719||0.117|
|33||13||Casey Mears||GEICO Ford||29.336||129.834||0.788||0.069|
|34||87||Joe Nemechek(i)||AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota||29.342||129.807||0.794||0.006|
|35||36||Dave Blaney||Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet||29.371||129.679||0.823||0.029|
|36||98||Michael McDowell||Phil Parsons Racing Ford||29.406||129.525||0.858||0.035|
|37||32||Ken Schrader||Federated Auto Parts Ford||29.453||129.318||0.905||0.047|
|38||49||JJ Yeley||Robinson-Blakeney Racing Toyota||29.463||129.274||0.915||0.010|
|39||38||David Gilliland||Taco Bell Ford||29.490||129.156||0.942||0.027|
|40||30||David Stremme||Inception Motorsports Toyota||29.504||129.094||0.956||0.014|
|41||23||Scott Riggs||North Texas Pipe Chevrolet||29.557||128.863||1.009||0.053|
|42||79||Kelly Bires||Team Kyle / Bestway Disposal Ford||29.637||128.515||1.089||0.080|
|43||33||Stephen Leicht #||LittleJoesAutos.com Chevrolet||29.714||128.182||1.166||0.077|
|44||19||Mike Bliss(i)||Humphrey Smith Racing Toyota||29.740||128.070||1.192||0.026|