You heard this before but you are going to hear it again. If there is anything that will bring a driver success and a solid shot at a championship, it is consistency.
No matter how many times NASCAR has altered the way it rewards points or how many manifestations the races undergo – with such things as stages and bonus points – those who rise to the top are those who perform well week in and week out.
It’s not the drivers who win one week and finish 30th the next. It’s not even drivers who win two, three, four or even five races in a row and then follow it up with a string of sub-par performances.
It’s the drivers who race steadily, compile good finishes and rack up good numbers and percentages – and perhaps even win once and a while – who come to the forefront.
It has always been that way. And it’s the same for the 2017 season so far.
Larson and Truex Jr. have been one-two in the point standings since Phoenix, the fourth race of the season.
Larson took No. 1 after his runner-up finish at Phoenix and held that position for eight of the next 11 weeks.
Truex assumed No. 2 following the Richmond race and then took over No. 1 two weeks later after Charlotte, where he finished third and Larson 33rd. It was Larson’s only DNF of the season.
Four weeks later Larson won at Michigan to retake the top spot, which he holds by a mere five points over Truex Jr.
In 15 races Larson has been remarkably consistent. He’s won twice this year on two-mile tracks (Fontana and Michigan, where he also won last year).
His seven top-five finishes, of which five are runner-up, translate into nearly 47 percent of his runs this season.
It gets better. His 10 finishes among the top 10 convert into nearly 67 percent of his season to date.
Truex Jr. has won twice this year. In over a third of the races this year he’s finished among the top five. His rate among the top 10 is a whopping 73.3 percent.
I’m no mathematician but I think we are all smart enough to realize that drivers who average 67 and 73 percent of their finishes among the top 10 are forces with which to be reckoned.
Larson is part of an organization that produces and then feeds off the momentum.
“Since I’ve been in Cup, we haven’t had a good off‑season,” said Larson, who is in his fourth full season with Chip Ganassi Racing. “We always start the year off worse than where we ended it.
“This year was opposite. We ended last year pretty good, but we started this year even better. I think it’s everybody working together really hard, getting along good. We have a fun team, a fun race shop.”
“We’re building really fast cars at the shop,” added crew chief Chad Johnston. “You unload with speed, it makes the weekend go a lot faster.
“Got to tune it to Kyle’s comfort to whatever conditions we have on the track.
“Most of that goes back to the shop. You don’t make a car fast when it comes to the track. You build cars fast at the shop. That’s what we’ve been doing.”
It’s my personal belief that Truex Jr. has been one of the big surprises in recent years. I’m not sure he was given much attention when he joined Barney Visser’s Colorado-based team.
He’s getting plenty of attention now.
One reason is, again, because of the numbers he’s put up.
He’s proven to be the master of NASCAR’s newest gambit, stage racing.
He leads all drivers with 10 stage victories and 20 playoff points, which have combined to all but assure him a start at Homestead’s playoff conclusion.
“Yeah, I think we’ve generally done a good job of being able to collect some of those points, but we’ve been consistent,” said Truex Jr., noting the obvious. “We’ve been running up front and we’ve led the most laps and that’s a big part of getting those stage wins and those bonus points.
“It’s is just being up front consistently.”
Of course, the season has a ways to go and things for both drivers could change over time. But it doesn’t seem likely.
They have emerged as the best to date for one reason: The numbers don’t lie.
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