It's the All Star Break - and baseball has something going on this week, too.
NASCAR's mid-July bye week comes following the heat of New Hampshire, this on top of the heat of Daytona, and oddly enough the last two weeks and the few weeks before that have made for a curious shift in the series. Before the Brickyard beckons, some takes on the season so far and the last several weeks in particular -
The New Hampshire Weekend - The weekend itself was a bang-up weekend starting with the Sunoco 100 for the Modified Tour. The draft kicked in yet again and the battle for the lead was amazing down to the finish. It was fitting that after Richard Petty's #43 won the Firecracker 400 Mike Curb's Modified driven by Bobby Santos stormed to the New Hamsphire Modified win.
And the Cup race, while never able to match the Mods in competitive ferocity, nonetheless saw a striking level of passing up front and some dicey maneuvers on restarts. It wasn't as wild as Pocono has seen, but it was close.
Suddenly Ford Has Taken Over - Fords have won the last four races, beginning at Sears Point. At New Hampshire the Chevys never looked in particular contention while the Toyotas produced some muscle that's been missing much of the season, and with the season taking a decided turn for the worse for Toyota as the Brickyard is a place Toyota hasn't won at nor shown much muscle at.
It's The Full Keselowski Experience - We certainly didn't see this coming earlier in the year when it appeared Keselowski was losing his mind. Now he's won two of the last three races to go with March's Vegas win and looks to have recaptured status as top dog at Penske Racing. Contrast this with Joey Logano; Logano has four top ten finishes since winning the Richmond 400 and two 40th place finishes. Naturally he bitched about Morgan Shepherd in the New Hampshire wreck, but this is another case of getting what one deserves.
It's Not The Hendrick Experience - Jimmie Johnson now has consecutive 42nds on his results card and seven finishes below 18th so far. In contrast Old Man Gordon has put together a good run of finishes before running out of gas at New Hampshire. Dale Junior has also strung together a good run of finishes the last seven weeks. Surprisingly Kasey Kahne hasn't done that badly despite being MIA much of the time.
Roush Keeps Striking Out - Carl Edwards has a paltry one top ten since the 600 - the Sears Point win; he also hasn't led a lap since Sears Point. The issue of engineers has been a talking point sorts lately, and it isn't getting better with Edwards reportedly on the way out, Greg Biffle not producing - just one top ten since the Winston 500 - and Ricky Stenhouse proving he's a drafting bust.
Almirola Crashes To Earth - Starting last after a crash in practice, Aric Almirola never got above 21st and finished 23rd, this after a superb Kentucky effort that ended in a crash and then the Daytona win. Nonetheless the #43 has shown real muscle all season.
Stewart-Haas Takes A Hit - Kevin Harvick is the one screwed most by the points system, having won twice and led nearly 900 laps - only Johnson has led more so far - yet is 13th in points. Having said this, the last seven weeks have been a blow, with just two top tens and three finishes 20th or worse. And his teammates aren't doing any better - Stewart-Haas has combined for ten top tens among all four cars since the Winston 500. Tony Stewart's seventh was something of a surprise finish, only his second top-ten in the last eleven races.
RCR Trundles Along - Can someone explain how Mister MIA Ryan Newman is seventh in points? I grant he's posted three top-10s in the last seven races, but overall he and the RCR gang have simply been abysmal all season. Not that anyone noticed, but Austin Dillon got outclassed by Kyle Larson again.
Ganassi Keeps On Keeping On - Larson's New Hampshire finish overshadowed a respectable effort by Jamie McMurray.
The sport thus has some items to chew on during its bye week.