Distributed by The Sports Xchange
For the first time in a decade, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won more than one race in a season.
In the afterglow of Sunday's victory at Pocono Raceway, is it too much of a stretch to suggest Earnhardt might also win his long-awaited first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship?
Yes, we all know that, in a quirk of the statistical model of last year's performances superimposed over this year's championship system, Earnhardt would have won the title without winning a race.
But that's not reality, because the way every race team approaches the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this year will be quantitatively and qualitatively different from anything that has been done in the past.
So is it realistic to project Earnhardt as a possible champion?
The Chase is now a game of survive and advance. To move from Round 1 to Round 2, simply stay out of the bottom four. To advance to Round 3, either win a race at Kansas, Charlotte or Talladega -- all realistic possibilities for Earnhardt -- or perform with the sort of consistency "Driver 88" has exhibited this season.
That's right, even with the aberrant last-place finish at Texas, Earnhardt's average finish this season is 11.1, on pace for a career- best in that category.
It's not ridiculous to think Earnhardt might win one of the Round 4 races, at Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix. That puts him in the finale at Homestead for the big prize.
So don't dismiss Earnhardt's chances. He just might surprise you.
2: The number of NASCAR Sprint Cup races Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won this year, significant because it's the first time since his watershed six-victory 2004 season that Earnhardt has been to Victory Lane more than once in the same year.
3: The finishing position of Kurt Busch in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Pocono Raceway, breaking a string of seven straight results of 18th or worse and solidifying his position in the top 30 in the series standings -- where Busch will need to be after 26 races to be eligible for the Chase.
95: The number of laps led by Brad Keselowski on Sunday at Pocono. Keselowski had the dominant car, but a hot dog wrapper struck to his grille elevated his engine temperatures and perhaps cost the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford his second victory of the season.
0: The number victories recorded by Jimmie Johnson at Michigan International Speedway, the next stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Michigan is one of five active tracks where Johnson hasn't yet posted a win. The others? Chicagoland, Homestead, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.
593: The number of laps led by Greg Biffle in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Michigan. Only at Texas and Darlington has Biffle led more laps (733 and 718, respectively). The driver of the No. 16 Ford, winless so far this year, has been to Victory Lane twice in the last three races and four times overall at the two-mile track.
For the record, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never won consecutive races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He once won three straight, during the 1999 NASCAR Nationwide Series season. ... Roush Industries' headquarters are located near Michigan International Speedway, in Livonia, Mich. So, it's fitting that Roush Fenway Racing has more wins at MIS (13) than any other team in NASCAR history -- and four of those wins have come from Greg Biffle. Biffle, who has won two of the last three races at Michigan, enters this weekend winless. A win at Michigan, his most prolific track, would virtually lock Biffle into the 2014 Chase. ... Are we sure this guy's a rookie? Kyle Larson, who tops the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, scored his third top five of the season, this time at Pocono. That matches the top five totals of Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards, three of the sport's top talents. Tenth in points, Larson would earn a Chase spot if the playoffs began today -- but it doesn't. So, he now heads to Michigan to pad his dynamic rookie resume. It'll be his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Michigan, but he scored a runner-up finish to Regan Smith there in last year's NASCAR Nationwide Series race event.
--Brad Keselowski probably feels like he threw one away. And as result of that debris he would like to remind fans at Pocono to PLEASE throw things away also.
--Overheard frequently at the driver's meeting: "Yes, we can go meeting Channing Tatum, honey" followed by "Wait -- why aren't you wearing your wedding ring?"
--Pocono Raceway's slogan: "What turn 4?" Kurt Busch's Pocono slogan: "What gear 4?"
--Matt Kenseth suffered severe damage to his grill after contact with the back of Jamie McMurray's car. And if you thought that damage was rough, look at your hand after trying to muss Jamie's hair.
(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you have figured that out by now.)