Six races in, Chase field far from set

April, 6, 2010

Paul Menard is the surprise of the season, Richard Childress Racing looks vastly improved and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in the top 10.

Those are a few obvious observations after six races in the 2010 Sprint Cup season, but don't read too much into it just yet.

At the same point one year ago, five drivers who ranked in the top 12 didn't make the Chase, including the man who ranked second -- Clint Bowyer. Mark Martin, who finished second to Jimmie Johnson in 2009, was 27th in the standings after six events.

A lot of things can change, and probably will change, over the next five months. Only six of the drivers in the top 12 at the moment made the Chase a year ago.

Long day at PIR

Don't fix what isn't broken. Phoenix International Raceway officials failed to follow that tenet.

PIR had it right with a Sprint Cup race that was 500 kilometers (312 laps on the 1-mile oval) and took a little under three hours to complete. But Saturday's Cup race will have an additional 63 laps to make it 600 kilometers.

The change enables the race to end under the lights. It also means the race will end about 11 p.m. ET.

Many Cup races are too long, taking more than three and a half hours to complete. The trend should be to stay around the three-hour range, which was the case for both Phoenix events. Not now.

Racing 500K was enough. Everything that happens in 600 kilometers can happen in 500 kilometers.

Allgaier the dark horse

Cup drivers racing for the Nationwide Series title should end soon, but it's the best of a bad situation at the moment. There's a long way to go, but a championship battle down the stretch between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski is a realistic possibility.

Brad K is 16 points behind Edwards after the first five races. Some fender banging between those two could get interesting in the fall if the championship is on the line.

But the best-case scenario is to see Justin Allgaier beat the two Cup regulars for the crown and become the first non-Cup racer to win the Nationwide title in five years. Allgaier is third in the standings, just five points behind Keselowski, his Penske Racing teammate.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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