The first of three off weekends in the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season allows teams to either take a breath or get to work trying to turn things around in a hurry.
After six races, here are six people — five drivers and one team administrator — who can breathe a little easier now than maybe earlier in the season.
Here they are, in order of their spot in the standings:
Blaney doesn’t have a win, but he has two top-5s, two playoff points and sits third in the NASCAR Cup standings.
Considering his move from Wood Brothers Racing to an in-house car at Team Penske, there could have been a few questions on whether he could improve from driving for a team now fully operated by Penske.
He has improved, at least as far as points are concerned. He still is a little inconsistent, but he hasn’t let a bad week turn into consecutive bad weeks.
Bowyer finally snapped a gnawing 190-race winless streak. It was a surprise when he didn’t win at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Then he had that horrible season at HScott Motorsports before joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.
He enjoyed his first year at SHR but posted mediocre results as the organization moved from Chevrolet to Ford. He didn’t win and didn’t make the playoffs.
The replacement for Danica Patrick at Stewart-Haas Racing has to feel good. Maybe not great, but good.
He’s 11th in the standings. While he has two top-10s, look at the list of his finishes: 11th-13th-10th-7th-12th-14th. Almirola has been 10th, 11th or 12th in the standings all year.
That might put him on a brink of making the playoffs if he doesn’t win, but he should steadily improve on those results as he learns to manage Cup races with solid equipment.
Jones has three top-10s in six races and sits 12th in points. Maybe a little more was expected with his move to Joe Gibbs Racing in replacing Matt Kenseth, but Jones has done nothing to disappoint.
The biggest thing is at the intermediate tracks, he has an average finish of 8.75, and those are the tracks a driver must be the best at when it really comes down to it.
Sitting at 14th in the standings, he has this team in playoff contention when it wasn’t a year ago with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and that’s big considering the pressure on him in replacing the sport’s most popular driver.
He earned his first top-10 with a seventh-place finish at Martinsville.
What’s great about that? He gets a couple of weeks to savor it with the weekend off.
Zipadelli doesn’t drive a race car, but he might be the happiest person of any team executive.
The competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing has four drivers in the top-11 in the standings with Kevin Harvick seventh, Bowyer eighth, Kurt Busch in 10th and Almirola a spot behind him.
Add four wins in the mix — three for Harvick and one for Bowyer — and it’s been a pretty darn good year already.
If the playoffs started now, SHR would have four cars in the playoffs, the most of any team as Joe Gibbs Racing would have three, Team Penske with three, Richard Childress Racing with two and then with one apiece for Furniture Row Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Wood Brothers Racing.