DOVER, Del. -- NASCAR is already halfway to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which makes this a good time to assess what we've learned so far in 2014.
After 13 races, here are 13 observations:
1. Kevin Harvick may have brought the "golden horseshoe" term to NASCAR, but he doesn't have one of his own. Harvick, who said Jimmie Johnson had one of the gilded good luck charms stuck up his rear end in 2010, clearly doesn't know where to find a horseshoe of his own. Despite two wins this season, Harvick has experienced repeated misfortune that has denied him more victories. Look no further than Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway when Harvick had a flat tire while leading the race.
2. Carl Edwards is really good at keeping secrets. Edwards has become an expert at avoiding the topic of where he'll drive next year. Though the conventional wisdom in the garage has Edwards leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing, Edwards isn't commenting – and neither is Roush nor Gibbs.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a tweeting machine. No one could have imagined NASCAR's most popular driver would take to Twitter like he has, but Earnhardt can't stop tweeting. From impromptu fan chats to insights into his life that educate even those who have known him for years, Earnhardt has quickly become the sport's leading Twitter personality.
Here is an example, in which Earnhardt Jr. asks followers to caption a photo:
"Look, it's me & @mattgood running down the beach with a stolen garden gnome. #CaptionThis and #winjrgear"
4. The new points system has changed everything. Quick, name the top five drivers in the Sprint Cup Series standings. If it's difficult, that's because the standings don't matter much anymore – so no one is paying much attention. NASCAR's win-to-get-in format for the Chase means Kurt Busch (27th in points, one win) might be having a better season than Matt Kenseth (first in points, no wins). It's all about the victories now.
5. Team Penske sure knows how to qualify. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have mastered the new knockout qualifying format, leading the series in average starting position (6.3 for Keselowski, 8.5 for Logano). Combined, they have three poles and 12 front-row starting spots this season.
6. Danica Patrick has the ability to surprise us. Prior to Kansas Speedway, Patrick's best finish at a 1.5-mile track had been 20th; her best qualifying effort at those venues was 21st. Then she raced to a career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas after qualifying ninth and followed that run with a fourth-place qualifying run at Charlotte. For a driver who hasn't come close to matching her hype with results, Kansas was a welcome change.
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7. Paul Menard could be headed for his first Chase berth. NASCAR's ultimate under-the-radar driver doesn't get much attention, but he already has seven top-10 finishes this season – just two shy of his career high for an entire season. That's more than drivers like Keselowski, Harvick and Kyle Busch.
8. Something isn't right with Kasey Kahne's team. While the rest of Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports teammates continue to run well, Kahne has struggled to post good results. He's finished better than eighth only once – a third-place run at Kansas – and needs a win to make the Chase and avoid becoming this year's biggest disappointment.
9. Fretting over the No. 3 car's return wasn't worth it. Once the No. 3 car hit the track as pole-sitter for the Daytona 500, the talk about Dale Earnhardt's old number coming back to the Cup series hasn't been much of a topic. Rookie Austin Dillon has been doing just fine, getting seat time and posting decent results (15th in points, no DNFs).
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10. It's good to have the Internet on your side. See: Wise, Josh.
11. NASCAR is weird. The craziest things seem to happen in stock car racing – Sunday's pothole at Dover being the latest example. This year has also seen a pace car catch fire (Daytona), caution lights randomly activate (Bristol) and an official get stuck on a chain link fence while trying to turn on the pit road light (Fontana).
12. Kyle Busch is the Jimmie Johnson of NASCAR's lower series. Busch in the Nationwide and Truck series this season: Seven wins in 14 starts. Busch in the Sprint Cup Series this season: One win in 13 starts.
13. Leading laps is hard. With the competition tighter than ever, it's difficult to lead even a single lap. Six drivers have made every Cup race this season but have yet to be out front: Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Michael Annett, Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman.
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck
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