The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has finally taken a weekend off to collect its breath after a first quarter of the season that has really painted a clear picture of which drivers and organizations that are a serious threat to hoist the championship trophy at season's end.
Nine races have come off the board which has separated two organizations from the rest of the pack and has left the field scrambling to stay in the hunt for one of the sixteen playoff spots by battling for every point possible.
The easiest way to assess the fortunes of a driver or organization is to go old school and assign each a letter grade. This old school teacher in me is comfortable with that method but just like back in the day, I am sure there might a disagreement or two with my assessments.
Kyle Busch easily sits at the head of the class so far this season and he is going to be rewarded for his effort with an A. He leads the series with three wins and his five top-5 and nine top-10 finishes show that if he isn't crossing the finishing line first that he has been challenging for the win. It's this consistency that has him collecting five stage wins as he sits on top of the points lists.
Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing Denny Hamlin also takes home an A on his report card. It didn't take him long to go up near the head of the class when he won the season opening Daytona 500. He has backed that up with another trip to victory lane at Texas and has shown he is a threat to win at any stop of the schedule with his six top-5 and eight top-10 finishes.
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson is not use to taking home anything but A's on his report card but recent seasons have found the former title holder struggling to once again become a threat to win races and championships. His early grade for the season is a C but some of the blame for his poor start has to be given to Hendrick Motorsports as all four of its teams are still struggling to get a handle on the Chevrolet Camaro. The speed of his Chevy has hampered his efforts this season as he has only led 64 laps with no stage wins.
Kevin Harvick sits fourth in the point stands only 51 points behind Kyle Busch but has yet to take a checkered flag to go along with his four top-5 and seven top-10 finishes. His zero in the win column gives him a B for the first quarter of the season but his Stewart Haas Racing team has been in position to win some races but has had a hard time closing the deal. It should come as no surprise that he may be the next first time winner this season.
Defending series champion Joey Logano has started the year where he finished the 2018 season which earns him an A for his efforts. He has posted a win on the season as well as five top-5 and six top-10 finishes to put him second place, 20 points behind Kyle Busch. He has had plenty of speed all season long as he has led 333 laps and has racked up 4 stage wins.
His Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski sits in fifth place in the standings with two early season wins which also earns him an A. He leads all drivers with 609 laps led on his way to posting four top-5 and five top-10 finishes.
Joe Gibbs R inacing's nine wins and Penske Racing's three wins earn both organizations A's for their early season success but the once dominant Hendrick Motorsports receives a D for its start to the season. Chase Elliott, Jimmy Johnson, William Byron and Alex Bowman have combined for only two top-5 and seven top-10 finishes.
Elliott is the only HMS driver in the top-10 in points where he sits in the tenth spot. The four drivers combined have led for only 186 laps and no stage wins.
Lucky for everyone, there are still plenty of races remaining so a team or organization can turn their fortunes around. It will not be easy as you can see there are some drivers and organizations that are dominating and are not showing any signs of slowing down. It's a long uphill battle for some but in this sport there are plenty of battles left where fortunes can be turned around with just one checkered flag.