The Winston Cup Series and its adjuncts, the Busch Series and Truck Series - yes, I know, those aren't the official sponsors, and no, I don't care because it's not relevant to anything despite whatever protest to the contrary exists - hit the Daytona International Speedway this week and already several crashes and numerous bouts of unctuous behavior and griping have already hit. Sizing up the 2015 season looks fairly easy this time around.
The big picture observation to be made from the first weekend of Speedweeks 2015 is that the racing is good but again shows how NASCAR'S rules myopia regarding push-drafting is stifling the quality of the racing. It also shows how little accountability drivers want after the angry griping over crashes during knockout pole qualifying as well as the pathetic effort to game the new system; at least Jimmie Johnson showed something to respect when he stated flat out "It's on us (drivers)."
The Chevrolets - Hendrick Motorsports is almost the sole Chevrolet outfit out there and is naturally the favorite. True, Stewart-Haas Racing has won two of the last three driver titles and that fact remains a surprise given SHR is a Hendrick satellite outfit; even so, SHR does not look as cohesive as it was and the outfit's bad start at the Clash (aka the Sprint Unlimited) doesn't augur well; it was perhaps inevitable that their celebrity driver, Danica Patrick, crashed yet again, yet somehow finished tenth in the Clash. RCR is the other Chevrolet outfit of note and looks more and more like a lost cause, especially with Austin Dillon, who looks like there isn't anything there. Ryan Newman finished dead last among cars that finished the Clash and was MIA the entire race, while Paul Menard led some laps but otherwise was nowhere yet again. Ganassi's outfit meanwhile offered promise with a spirited effort in the Clash; Kyle Larson is proving his rookie season is no fluke.
The Toyotas - As with Chevy, Toyota has basically devolved into a one-team effort with Joe Gibbs, and the signing of Carl Edwards appears to have added some life to the outfit, though it appears to be coming at the expense of Kyle Busch and perhaps also Denny Hamlin. The Michael Waltrip outfit has Clint Bowyer but that's it as far as realistic expectation of winning; Brian Vickers has proven far too schizophrenic to be a consistent threat. The BK Racing outfit likewise has not proven to be much.
The Fords - Penske's Punks, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, are head and shoulders above every other Blue Oval, and the dynamic of that partnership proved interesting in 2014; Logano has already gotten into a postrace scrape with his wannabe tough guy act with Kevin Harvick in the Clash. The Roush fleet is also still there, but clearly are not all there as far as on-track muscle, outside of a spirited run by Greg Biffle that ended in another crash; signing Trevor Bayne full-time four years after his stunning 500 win is a risk, so it will be worth observing. Richard Petty's team has shown some spirited muscle so far despite ending in a crash in the Clash; talk about an upset if Petty's #43 steals the thunder at Daytona again.
In all there will be some surprises - there usually are - but as far as the entirety of the season it looks to be another Hendrick vs. Gibbs showdown.