Halfway to Homestead-Miami Championship Nov. 21; NASCAR, IndyCar Championship tix available

The Sprint Cup Race has been close but through the first half Kevin Harvick stands out front

The first half of the Sprint Cup Season has been tight, but Kevin Harvick finds himself in front of the field (Courtesy Jonathan Ferrey Getty Images Sport)

Current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick closed the 2009 season with these numbers: zero wins, five top fives, nine top 10s.

Here are his numbers at the season’s halfway point, through 18 races: two wins, eight top fives, 13 top 10s. With a win at Daytona—Race 18 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 19-21) in Miami—Kevin Harvick has shown that he belongs in the Championship conversation.

But here’s the most important number: 212. That’s Harvick’s points lead over four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. Gordon’s win at Texas last season leaves Homestead-Miami Speedway—site of NASCAR Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 19-21—as the only NASCAR track to hold Gordon winless. Harvick’s turnaround has been one of several highlights in a storyline-rich first half.

Here are some other statistics gleaned from the first 18 races:
•  7 different race winners
•  12 different Coors Light Pole winners
•  46 drivers led at least one lap
•  31 drivers have scored at least one top 10
•  Average Margin of Victory of 1.294 seconds
•  11 races with an MOV under 1 second
•  Average of 12 leaders per race
•  Average of 28 lead changes per race
•  Average of 43 green flag passes for the lead all along the track (highest through 18 races since the inception of Loop Data in 2005)
•  Average of 3,613 green flag passes per race (highest through 18 races since the inception of Loop Data in 2005)
•  50% of the cars finished on the lead lap
•  78% of the cars were running at the finish
•  All four manufacturers are in the Top 12; three have won at least one race

The above statistics are a big reason for what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons ever. Some more notable happenings:

•  After much feedback from competitors and fans, NASCAR re-introduced the rear spoiler to the NASCAR Sprint Cup car this season. The return took place in March at Martinsville Speedway (Race No. 6) and the results have fueled the competition for the remainder of the 2010 season that culminates with NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21).

•  The implementation of the “multiple attempts at a green-white-checkered finish” rule. This season, NASCAR allowed for three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish (previously, there was only one attempt). Reason being: Fans want to see races end under green flag conditions. Thus far, the rule has proven successful. Seven races have ended with a green-white-checked finish; three of those with multiple attempts at a G-W-C (the Daytona 500 had two, Atlanta had two and Talladega had three). Only one race has finished under caution (Pocono).

•  NASCAR loosened the reins on competitors at the start of this season. The “Have At It Boys” edict created fiercer competition, and upped emotion. Over the first half alone we’ve seen a number of heated feuds: Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski; Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmie Johnson; Joey Logano vs. Kevin Harvick; and Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Busch, to name a few.

•  Richard Childress Racing returns to prominence. After finishing 2009 with all four of its teams failing to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, RCR is back. Returning to a three-car operation, Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing teammates, Jeff Burton (eighth in points) and Clint Bowyer  (14th) are all in the hunt to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and all three were vying for the win on the final lap of a green-white-checkered finish in Race 18 of 36 at Daytona en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami

But 18 races remain, including the all-important Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Contenders for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship will be unveiled after Race 26 at Richmond, with the 10-race Chase for the Cup to be decided in Miami Nov. 21. A number of questions need answers:

•  Will teammates Jimmie Johnson or Gordon win a fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway? The field seems more intent than ever at dethroning Johnson.

•  There’s no runaway favorite, so who will get the top seed? At the conclusion of the first 26 races, the top 12 drivers will have their points reset to 5,000, with an additional 10 bonus points added for each win during the “regular season.” Currently, Johnson and Denny Hamlin would each have 50 bonus points, thanks to their series-leading five victories. Johnson holds the tiebreaker, as his “second-best” finish is a second-place at Texas. Hamlin’s second-best finish was fourth, at Talladega and Dover.

•  Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. stay in the Top 12? NASCAR’s most popular driver has been in and out of the Top 12 all season. With eight races remaining before the Chase cutoff at Richmond (Sept. 11), NASCAR’s most popular driver is on a roll. With a fourth-place finish at Daytona, Junior has three Top 10s and an 11th-place finish in his last four races. His fourth-place finish moved him into 11th place in the all-important Chase for the Championship, which will culminate in South Florida Nov. 21.

•  Can Mark Martin rebound in the second half? The 52-year-old fan favorite raced to five 2009 victories en route to a second-place finish in the race for the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship, crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was the fifth time in Martin’s three-decade career that he has finished runner up in the standings, a finish he hopes to improve upon this fall in Miami. Martin had been in the Top 12 for 10-consecutive weeks, but slipped in the standings after a 28th-place finish at Daytona. He’s winless thus far in 2010 and is the defending race champion at Chicagoland Speedway.

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