The NASCAR standings feature some big surprises and a host of disappointments after the first two Cup Series races of the 2021 season.
The crash-marred Daytona 500 and a chaotic race on the Daytona Road Course created havoc for many teams and shook up the NASCAR standing early in the season.
The top of the NASCAR standings look fairly normal, with Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick at the top, and defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott running fifth after two races. After that, there are some big surprises.
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Who are the surprises in the NASCAR standings?
Christopher Bell was expected to be a contender in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, but practically no one expected him to win this early in the season, especially on the Daytona Road Course. Bell, 26, is fourth in the NASCAR standings and locked into the NASCAR playoffs thanks to his victory Sunday.
Michael McDowell has to be the biggest surprise in the NASCAR standings, however. His shocking Daytona 500 victory locked him into the NASCAR playoffs as long as he remains in the top 30 in points. He's off to a great start after finishing eighth on the Daytona Road Course and is sixth in the NASCAR standings after two races.
The other big surprise in the top 10 is Ryan Preece, who drives for mid-pack JTG-Daugherty Racing. After finishing sixth in the Daytona 500, Preece finished ninth on the road course and starts the season seventh in the NASCAR standings. Though he is a longshot to make the NASCAR playoffs, Preece has shown early he can stay out of trouble and produce consistent finishes.
Who is off to a disappointing start?
Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney are expected to win races and be perennial playoff contenders, but both are off to disappointing starts. Busch was involved in a last-lap wreck in the Daytona 500, and then was involved in two more wrecks on the Daytona Road Course. Though he has run well, he starts the season 17th in the NASCAR standings a season after winning just one race.
Blaney was also involved in a wreck in the Daytona 500, and then struggled all day on the road course, where he almost won the Busch Clash. He is 19th in the NASCAR standings.
Two other playoff contenders have also been disappointing. Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman both made the playoffs last year, with Bowman winning a race and finishing sixth in the final NASCAR standings. But both were involved in an early wreck in the Daytona 500 and struggled on the road course. They are 21st and 22nd, respectively, after two races.
Who is in trouble in the NASCAR standings?
Six drivers stand out in the back half of the standings. Ryan Newman (24th), Erik Jones (26th), Chase Briscoe (27th), William Byron (29th), Tyler Reddick (33rd) and Matt DiBenedetto (37th) have all gotten off to tough starts. And that's bad news for six drivers who are all expected to battle for one of that final 16 playoff spots.
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Byron and DiBenedetto both made the playoffs last year, but have a lot of ground to make up to climb back toward the top 16. Byron won a race last year, and both may need to get to victory lane this year to make the playoffs.
While there is plenty of time for them to make up ground and climb the NASCAR standings, they will all need to move quickly and string together some quality finishes to get their seasons back on track.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EST at Homestead-Miami Speedway.