By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Through four races in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season we have already witnessed some outstanding moments. Among those moments have been two incredible photo finishes. Denny Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. to the line by one-one hundredth of a second in Daytona. This week in Phoenix, Kevin Harvick bested Carl Edwards by the same razor-thin margin.
But throughout the entire four races we’ve seen so far, the finishes haven’t been the only exciting aspect. We have had the pleasure of watching breathtaking racing thanks in part to the new lower downforce package — which has put drivers up on the wheel a bit more this season — as well as new tire compounds from Goodyear which have allowed some fall off in lap times over a green flag run. Also contributing to the awesome display on the track in the early chunk of this season are some hungry drivers looking to secure their place into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Four drivers (Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne), who missed the Chase last season currently rank inside the top-16 of the point standings. Several others like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and Greg Biffle are knocking on the door of the top-16. It just feels like there is more parity this season than any in the recent past.
From top to bottom there are storylines all through the field it seems. The rookie contenders Blaney and Chase Elliott have continued to impress week in and week out, and each finished inside the top-10 again this weekend.
Heck, even the little guys like Matt DiBenedetto are getting their chance to shine. DiBenedetto scored a career-best top-20 finish this weekend in the No. 83 Toyota fielded by BK Racing, which continued the trend of good finishes for underdog teams as Casey Mears and AJ Allmendinger each finished 14th in Atlanta and Las Vegas (mile-and-a-half tracks), and Regan Smith finished eighth in the Daytona 500 in Tommy Baldwin’s No. 7 car.
Through four races, we have seen four different winners and they’ve all reached victory lane in dramatic fashion.
The closeness of Hamlin and Harvick’s wins have already been documented above, but Jimmie Johnson also produced a unexpected win at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick dominated that race, but Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus utilized masterful pit strategy to snooker the lead from Harvick. Johnson would then fend off challenges from Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in an overtime finish to seal the win.
Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Kyle Busch had an incredible final restart going from sixth to first in an incredible three-wide maneuver with around 30 laps to go. Busch would look to be on his way to his first win of the season, but Brad Keselowski chased down Busch in the closing laps to take his first win in almost a year.
What will we see next week in California? Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is for sure: The racing has seemed extremely genuine so far this season.
It hasn’t seemed like any finish has been concocted by a plethora of weird scenarios. Long green-flag runs have been prevalent, and they’ve helped set up brilliant finishes. What we are seeing right now is an absolute perfect show on Sundays, even if the ratings don’t currently show that. If NASCAR keeps putting on shows like they have in the first four races of 2016, the ratings will come around in due time.
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images