Dale Earnhardt Jr., Twitter, Tony Stewart & Pork Chop highlight NASCAR's first half of 2014

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Reviewing the first half of the 2014 NASCAR regular season with a preview of what’s ahead in the second half.

A multitude of rain delays, caution lights inadvertently turning on, the defending series champion who couldn't win and now can't lose, two superstars embracing a social media platform they long dismissed and whole lot in between summarizes the first half of the 2014 regular season.

FIRST HALF TAKEAWAYS

Best race

Ignore the six-hour delay for rain, and focus instead on the ferocity that encompassed the Daytona 500. NASCAR's signature event featured 42 lead changes, bold moves up front and a winner in Dale Earnhardt Jr. more aggressive than at any point in his career. Other races this year may have featured exciting moments and rousing finishes, but from green flag to checkered no race was better than the Daytona 500.

Head scratching moment

As Carl Edwards held a comfortable lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with two laps to go in the March race at Bristol Motor Speedway the caution lights came on. That itself this was not an unusual event. This time, however, was different. The yellow didn't occur because of a wreck or a piece of debris. No, the caution was out because an official in the flag stand accidently triggered the lights.

It was a gaffe that could have had significant consequences -- an outcome of race seemingly won. Luckily for NASCAR fate then intervened. With the field circling under caution -- and with fans and competitors alike trying to determine what had transpired -- the skies suddenly opened up ensuring the right driver did indeed win.

Surrealist moment

When Earnhardt began tweeting it wasn't a total surprise as NASCAR's most popular driver had mentioned the possibility in the days leading to the Daytona 500. And when you consider his affinity for eBay and online gaming it only seemed a matter of time before Earnhardt signed up.

But Tony Stewart on Twitter? The man who continually scoffed at a medium that encourages the sharing of personal details? And it wasn't a parody account?

Yes. And not only has Stewart been an active participant since joining; he's been a revelation. Among the pictures the NASCAR champion posted: Him sleeping with his pet pig, Pork Chop (you read that correctly); a late-night birthday celebration involving tequila; and most recently, a return to sprint car racing nine months after breaking his leg.

Say what?

"There's so many people pulling for you that want to see you win, it's a heavyweight fight."
-- Earnhardt explaining the pressure he was feeling in the closing laps of the Daytona 500.

"He does awesome things for charity and he's probably the most talented race car driver. But he's also one of the dumbest, so put those three together."
-- Brad Keselowski on Kurt Busch after the two collided on pit road at Martinsville

"He tried to flatten all four of my tires. That's a no-fly zone. That's a punk-ass move and he will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back."
-- Kurt Busch responding to Brad Keselowski and his attempt to extract revenge on Busch

"What the hell are y'all going to write about now?"
-- Jimmie Johnson to the assembled media after winning the Coca-Cola 600, his first victory of the year following weeks of repeated questions and stories of when he was going to win.

"Ok so here it is. I'm doing my part to combat global warming because now that I'm officially tweeting, hell is freezing over!"
-- Tony Stewart's first tweet.

SECOND HALF LOOK AHEAD

Drivers with much to prove

Kasey Kahne

All of three of his teammates have won and are Chase bound, whereas Kahne has just a lone top-five finish and sits 19th in points. Compounding his troubles is the ascension of 18-year-old Chase Elliott, which with Kahne's contract expiring at end of the 2015 has cast his future with Hendrick Motorsports in doubt.

Clint Bowyer

Which driver is the real Bowyer? The guy who two years ago won three races and was runner-up in the championship? Or, the driver who's been winless since October 2012, and last fall became the central figure in the largest cheating scandal in NASCAR history?

Denny Hamlin

The Talladega victory all but ensures Hamlin will be in the Chase a year removed from breaking his back. But the consistency once the staple of the No. 11 team is absent. Just as concerning is the rash of speeding penalties Hamlin has committed when in contention at non-plate tracks (Texas, Darlington and Dover).

Questions to be answered

Where are the surprises?

When NASCAR rolled out its criteria for qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup a door seemingly opened for the sport's smaller teams to gain entry into what was an elite club. Through 13 races, however, that has yet to materialize. Thus far the usual power organizations -- Hendrick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing -- have had a stranglehold on Victory Lane winning every race.

Although the clock is nearing midnight, there is still time for an unlikely winner or two to occur. Be it at one of the two road courses (Sonoma, Watkins Glen), Daytona in July, or some unforeseen place Cinderella still has a pulse -- albeit faint.

Which big names miss out?

It's an annual occurrence where a prominent driver or two will miss the Chase. This year is no exception with perennial playoff qualifiers Stewart, Kahne, Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle all winless. Of the contingent Kenseth, the current Sprint Cup point leader, should be a lock to get in. After that, things get murky and unpredictable.

Who ends up where?

Two big names remain on the free agent market and unfortunately for Roush both are under its umbrella, creating much uncertainty.

After a bit a flirtation with Michael Waltrip Racing, word is Biffle will remain with Roush continuing to drive the No. 16 Ford. As for Edwards, speculation persist he will leave Roush for JGR, which would then form a fourth car.

If this comes to fruition as expected, Roush's future as a top tier organization becomes in serious doubt. As the team is looking at 2015 lineup of Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne; a trio which won't Roush win a third championship anytime soon.

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