With NASCAR on hiatus because of the ongoing battle against the coronavirus, checking the 2020 driver standings has probably been sporadic at best — and rightfully so. But by reflecting back on the first four races of the season, it becomes apparent there were some pretty incredible early developments. And although it’s a small sample size of races in order to draw forth many statistical conclusions, it’s still fun to ask: Which NASCAR Cup Series driver in the top 10 in points is the biggest surprise?
RELATED: NASCAR Cup Series driver standings
George Winkler: The two names that jump out to me are Alex Bowman and Matt DiBenedetto as they rank fourth and ninth, respectively, in the points standings. And although he has been an amazing story in his own right during the first four races of the season with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman doesn’t surprise me as much as DiBenedetto does. That’s because when I wrote about expecting DiBenedetto to thrive with his new team in one of our preseason debates, I thought the main reason would be Wood Brothers Racing being affiliated with Team Penske’s superspeedway program. But instead, it was a second-place finish on 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway that has DiBenedetto perched in a somewhat unlikely position in the standings to this point.
That’s a really good sign for him, because having speed on 1.5-mile tracks usually portends to good things since the majority of races are held on those types of tracks. But he also has been in the top 15 in two other races at Auto Club Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. So not only has he shown speed on an intermediate track, but he’s also making some noise on a superspeedway and a shorter track with a different rules package this year as well. Plus, if you take it back to last year when he finished second to Denny Hamlin in that memorable battle in August at Bristol Motor Speedway, one really starts to get the sense this could be the start of a special season for DiBenedetto. How high he can take it will be something worth watching once we get back to racing.
RJ Kraft: Matt DiBenedetto being in the top 10 in points through four races is certainly a surprise, but I am going with the other driver you considered: Alex Bowman. I was very much on the fence about him even making the playoffs, and it took just three races for him to make me eat crow on that thought with his dominating victory at Auto Club Speedway to start the month. The way Bowman was running down Ryan Blaney prior to a late caution at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that led to a strategy split among the field, he may have been sitting on two wins at this point.
Do I think Bowman can keep up a top-five spot in the standings during the summer months? Likely not, especially when some drivers and teams off to slower than usual starts — looking at you, Joe Gibbs Racing — get into gear. But he is certainly a top-10 driver who may carry some additional bonus points into the playoffs. He is going to be a contender on the intermediate tracks — which have been the No. 88’s team strength over the past year-plus. Both of Bowman’s Cup victories have come on intermediates, and he has routinely been a top-10 finisher at races in the 1.5-to-2-mile range. What is especially intriguing is I think Bowman will continue to fly under the radar given his high-profile Hendrick Motorsports teammates in two-time NMPA Most Popular Driver Chase Elliott and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in his final full-time season.
Look for more H2H debates on Wednesdays and Fridays during NASCAR’s on-track hiatus.