The three most recent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions all drive for different race teams and different manufacturers.
The fact that Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are champions in NASCAR’s top division gives them something in common.
Unfortunately, so does the fact that none of three has won a race so far this season.
Granted, it’s only six races into the year and it’s way too early to panic, but last year at this time, all three drivers had already won and they had combined to win four of the first six races of 2016 — Busch and Harvick one each, and Johnson two.
As they get to race in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, it’s clear all three past champions could use a victory or at least a very strong finish at the fast 1.5-mile track.
Johnson’s only top-10 finish this year was a ninth-place run in Phoenix.
Harvick has two top 10s but no top fives.
Busch is having the best season of any of the three, with top-three finishes in two of the last three races.
Still, the performances aren’t what any of the three are used to. They all expect to race up front and contend for wins, which isn’t happening so far, at least not with any regularity.
None of three is panicking right now, but Texas will present a huge obstacle this weekend in that it’s been repaved, with Turns 1 and 2 flattened out and widened.
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But the Cup teams haven’t been on the track in its current configuration yet, so no one knows what to expect.
“It’s like going to the roller-coaster park and getting on a roller coaster that scares you to death the first time,” said Harvick. “There’s nothing like going out there and getting scared to death, sliding around trying to figure out where you’re going. There’s a lot more to think about than normal.”
For better or for worse, everyone is in the same boat.
“There’s really no homework to do. You can’t even watch last year’s races,” said Busch. “You can’t look at anything besides the (Chris) Buescher YouTube video and just see what the place looks like so you don’t go in there blind. That’s about it.”
For his part, Johnson mostly concurs with his fellow champions.
“They reconfigured Turns 1 and 2, so it will be fun to have something a little bit new to try out,” he said. “I haven’t seen the track yet, but the repaves are a bit of a challenge for everyone because there’s not a preferred groove. I know they worked hard to try to speed up the aging process to give us the ability to widen the groove.”
So what happens on Sunday?
That’s anyone’s guess given the new track configuration.
Busch is running better than the other two drivers and is the defending race winner.
On the other hand, Johnson leads all drivers at Texas with six victories, 14 top fives and 20 top 10s. Johnson has also led 1,023 laps here to 741 for Busch and just 116 for Harvick.
So which of the three has the best race on Sunday?
They’re probably just as curious to find that out as the rest of us.
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