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Bump and Run: Impressive Cup drivers from season’s first half

NASCAR America reviews the moment of solidarity for Bubba Wallace prior to the Talladega Cup race, salutes the speed of Ryan Blaney and Team Penske, and analyzes the performance of the underdogs and the exciting finish.

1) With the regular season at the halfway point, what Cup driver or team has impressed you the most?
Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. First year with crew chief Todd Gordon and has been in position to win multiple races. Team has been fast from the start.

Daniel McFadin: Brad Keselowski. He’s working with a new Cup crew chief for the first time in a decade and he hasn’t faltered much, winning twice, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time.

Jerry Bonkowski: Chase Elliott has had an up-and-down season at times, but he has been solid since NASCAR returned from the pandemic. He very easily could have three wins and maybe even four if it hadn’t been for his crash at Darlington. If he can keep his momentum going, he’s definitely a championship contender.

2) What Cup driver or team has surprised you the most in the first half of the regular season?

Dustin Long: John Hunter Nemecheck and Front Row Motorsports. He was overshadowed by the others in the rookie class going into the season but has shown well and has seven top-20 finishes in the first 13 races. Not sure if a lot of people would have predicted that at the start of the year for Nemechek and his team.

Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer and not in a good way. He was my pre-season pick to be the best rookie out of the gate and he’s done nothing to back it up, earning just one top 10 and finishing in the top 15 just once in the last nine races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Team Penske in general and Ryan Blaney in particular. I’ve been very impressed with Blaney particularly of late. He’s earned a win at Talladega and six top-five finishes in the last seven races.

3) Who would be your pick for top Cup rookie at this point in the season?

Dustin Long: Tyler Reddick has been the standout this season and the rookie who has run more consistently at the front.

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick easily. He’s the only rookie with a stage win and he has three top 10s, including a top five, through the first 13 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tyler Reddick, who is the highest-ranked rookie in the Cup standings, with one top-five and three top-10 finishes. I really like what I’ve seen from Reddick. But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the performance of fellow rookie John Hunter Nemechek.

4) Which driver or team do you think can make the biggest improvement from the first half of the regular season to the second half?

Dustin Long: I’m waiting to see what Matt Kenseth and the No. 42 team will do. After finishing 10th at Darlington in his first race back, Kenseth has not finished better than 15th since. With the way the Chevys are strong this year, got to think his results will turn around soon.

Daniel McFadin: I think Alex Bowman is going to put together a solid back half after a rather disappointing output since NASCAR returned. He has two top 10s in the last three races, but that followed a stretch of only one top-15 finish over four races when he had a car capable of winning in both Charlotte races. He has lots of promise, he just needs to put together complete races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson has had some strong performances during the first half of the season. He already has two top-five finishes in the first 12 races, just one less than he had in all of last season. And he is already halfway [six] to the number of top-10 finishes he had all of last season. I firmly believe it’s just a matter of time before he breaks his three-plus year winless streak.