They might be entertaining, but with new playoff format, early races don't mean much
In many ways, the first half of the NASCAR season is like Spring Training in Major League Baseball. That's to say, this is the time to experiment and prepare for games much further down the road.
Unlike the exhibition period in baseball, these first handful of races technically count, but the Chase for the Championship has largely invalidated the regular season and turned these events into points-paying tune-ups in advance of the playoffs.
Kyle Busch is the championship leader, six points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, but who looks at the standings these days? Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski are the only drivers with the results that matter, having gone to victory lane and punched their tickets into the Round of 16 come September.
It's even harder to declare a championship favorite at this point too, as the first three races have been won by three different teams and three different manufacturers. Parity has been the name of the game after Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas with the traditional Powers That Be all looking evenly matched through the first three diverse stops on the circuit.
There have been a handful of surprises.
Austin Dillon is in the top 10 after three events and Ricky Stenhouse finds himself in 11th. With that said, the bad luck suffered by Matt Kenseth in 23rd and Chase Elliott in 28th will surely course-correct itself in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer is probably better than 32nd in his only season with a Stewart-Haas aided HScott Motorsports. It remains to be seen what the recently erratic Roush-Fenway Racing will do this season as well.
So there are absolutely things to be learned over the next couple of months, but much can and will change between now and the Race to the Chase. It may be easy to declare that Brad Keselowski is back after his one-win campaign in 2015, but he won early last year, too, and went 33 races between victories, having to watch as Joey Logano became Team Penske's best championship hope.
The Stewart-Haas Racing veterans, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, have led a combined 202 laps and also look poised for a competitive summer. With that said, there are also questions about how their impending move to Ford in 2017 may affect their performance and data acquisition from Chevrolet -- who will surely look to limit the damage of just how much proprietary information makes its way to the Blue Oval.
Even the rules themselves may change as NASCAR continues to tweak the competition package to enhance the on-track product.
So enjoy the races, especially given how much work NASCAR has put into the off-season to make them more enjoyable, but recognize that there is much to be decided over the longest season in professional sports. These races count, but much like Spring Training, these are just glorified practice races for the real regular season come the playoffs.
3 races in is pointless to gauge fully where teams are. Yes some surprises in top 10 and some surprises further down, but with a bigger sample will be clearer.
My take with the new chase structure is enjoy each individual race like a complete stand alone. It is worthless from a championship standpoint, but if you can't find excitement in a race the sport has passed you by. Not saying it's right or wrong , but that's the way it is and doesn't look to change anytime soon. Ratings are a small portion of how this business makes their money.