Last Monday, Joey Logano won at Texas -- a race delayed one day due to rain -- and joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas), Carl Edwards (Bristol), Kyle Busch (Fontana, Calif.) and Kurt Busch (Martinsville) as those drivers who have all but guaranteed themselves a position in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Those who win during the 26-race regular season, which concludes on Sept. 6 at Richmond, get first dibs on spots in the expanded (16 drivers/teams) and revamped Chase format.
The current streak of different race winners is the longest to start a season since 2003 when there were nine different winners in the first nine races. The record is 10, set in 2000.
With NASCAR making radical changes to the Chase and some modifications to the Sprint Cup cars, it comes as no surprise to Kenseth the number of different winners to begin this season.
"I can't say I'm totally shocked," Kenseth said. "I think whenever you throw a pretty big rules change at everybody some people are going to pick up on it sooner than others. I think it always spreads the field out a little bit, because some guys are going to hit it and some guys are going to miss it. I think that always creates passing and mixes the field up and makes the racing more interesting in my mind.
"I think that everybody every week is probably gaining on it, and the field is going to get closer together as we keep rolling through the year here. It's been interesting, because there has been a lot of different winners and been some guys that have won a lot that haven't won yet. It has been an interesting year for sure."
The series runs its eighth race of the season on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway. The Southern 500 at Darlington had been scheduled on the night before Mother's Day from 2005-13 but was switched to the second weekend in April this year. Kansas Speedway will host a night race for the first time on May 10, the day before Mother's Day.
Kenseth won last year's race at Darlington. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, dominated the event by leading 265 of 367 laps, but Busch suffered a punctured right-rear tire in the closing laps, allowing Kenseth to pass him for the lead.
It was the first time Kenseth had won the famed Southern 500, a race that has been on the Cup Series schedule each year since 1950.
"It was a really big win," he said. "It was exciting, and it didn't look like we were going to win. Kyle had that problem late, and we were able to sneak by him there with 10 [laps] to go or something like that. It was a big week for us, and it was really, really cool to be able to finally win the Southern 500 for sure."
Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion, has three victories at Darlington, including two in the Southern 500 (2004 and '12). He also won a 400-mile race here in March of '04.
Two years ago, Johnson's win in the Southern 500 marked the 200th career victory for Hendrick Motorsports. HMS joined Petty Enterprises as the only teams with 200 or more victories in NASCAR's premier series.
"Darlington has been a great track for us over the years," Johnson said. "The most memorable was winning the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports a few years ago. From a track standpoint, Darlington has character, so track position and strategy will be pretty important. There is a ton of history and a great race for the fans to watch. It's a high speed track. It's one of my favorites."
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the Bojangles' Southern 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, April 12. Race: Bojangles' Southern 500. Site: Darlington Raceway. Track: 1.366-mile oval. Start time: 6:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 367. Miles: 501.3. 2013 Winner: Matt Kenseth. Television: FOX. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.