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Not every NASCAR Sprint Cup competitor got a vote of confidence in pre-season polling of likely qualifiers for this fall’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. So far, anyway, some of the so-called long shots are confounding the experts.
Aric Almirola stands 10th in the standings after three races – his best start ever in the series – with a trio of lead-lap finishes. He looks to continue the surprise party, and place the No. 43 in Bristol’s Victory Lane for the first time since 1975. Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ranks 11th on the strength of three finishes of 17th or higher. And Paul Menard, winless a year ago after collecting one of the sport’s biggest prizes in 2011 – Indianapolis’ Brickyard 400 – sits 12th with a solid 10th-place effort at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Three races hardly make a season but some big names have yet to grace the top 15 in points, though three (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.) rebounded from points positions of 30th or worse with solid finishes at Las Vegas. Among a few marquee drivers looking to crack the top 15: Busch (17th), Tony Stewart (18th), Harvick (19th), Truex (22nd) and Ryan Newman (31st).
In fairness, mechanical and other incidents hampered the group at Daytona and Phoenix. Busch and Harvick were back on pace in Las Vegas with finishes of fourth and ninth. Stewart struggled early but raced his way back to 11th at the finish.
Busch, Stewart and Harvick are former Bristol winners. Truex and Newman have yet to score in Thunder Valley.