The Frontstretch: Five Who Would Like to Forget: Who Isn't Meeting Expectations? by Amy Henderson -- Friday August 21, 2009

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Five Who Would Like to Forget: Who Isn't Meeting Expectations?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday August 21, 2009

 

Last week in this column, I discussed the seasons of five drivers who were having a rather unpublicized good year. But there are also drivers who, while well inside the top 35 cutoff in points, are having a season that is fraught with disappointment-the kind of year in which everyone from media to fans to your own grandmother wonders what the heck happened. The kind of season in which the silver lining is that it’s not worse than someone worse than you. Here are five drivers whose seasons have been a far cry from where their hopes stood in February.

1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 2009 has stirred far more questions for Junior than it has provided answers. Earnhardt will not make the Chase, and while that’s happened before, this time he’s 21st in points—and that’s after a four-spot gain following his third place at Michigan on Sunday. That race was just his second top 5 finish of the year, the lone other a second-place at Talladega, a track where Junior was once a perpetual favorite to win. A 10th-place finish at Las Vegas and an eighth at Martinsville are his only other top 10 finishes this year. And this all coming in what is probably the best equipment in the sport from his Hendrick Motorsports stable. HMS provides chassis and engines for its own four teams as well as the Stewart-Haas team of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Only Earnhardt is outside of the top 12, so it’s not the equipment. While a crew chief change has improved things a little, it certainly didn’t perform a miracle for the driver of the No. 88. Earnhardt isn’t a bad driver—certainly not as bad as the numbers look. So what gives? You have an above average driver in the best equipment anywhere with a top-flight team around him, and he’s mired below 20th in points with no end in sight. Let the head-scratching continue…

2. Carl Edwards Sure, he’s fourth in points, a shoo-in for the Chase, but the goose egg in the win column is a mystery. Through the first 23 races in 2008, Edwards had five wins en route to a nine-win season, second best this decade. Many media and fans pegged him as the championship favorite—and while he’s still a threat, he falls behind Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson as title favorites now. He’s capable of reeling off four or five wins over the rest of the season, but he’d better start soon if he wants to make some noise.

Carl Edwards was pegged as a championship favorite coming into the 2009 season, and while he is still a threat, he needs to start winning soon to match last year’s performance.

3. Kyle Busch This is one of the most talented drivers in the sport and was also a title favorite back in Daytona, but his Sprint Cup season has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks, even as his Nationwide Series title run became a runaway. Is his schedule too much? Maybe—Busch says he won’t do it next year—but it’s not unheard of for a driver to run as many races and have better Cup results. Busch’s season is the opposite of Edwards’. He has three wins and a pole, but only seven top 10 finishes overall—and that kind of inconsistency makes a Chase berth an iffy proposition at best. Busch’s attitude doesn’t help. His volatile temper makes it hard for him to keep a cool head when it’s needed most, and the griping has to take its toll on his team as well. Maturity is a factor in racing, and while Busch has talent in spades, the dearth of maturity takes a toll on his success. He was a title favorite going in, but Busch’s championship hopes are dwindling.

4. Kevin Harvick A fierce competitor, Harvick has to be frustrated with his 2009 campaign, a combination of bad luck and mystery problems that has him 23rd in points, the biggest points drop of any 2008 Chase driver at this point. A year ago Harvick’s was the best of three Richard Childress Racing teams who all made the Chase and any one of them could have snatched the title. Now Harvick is the lowest ranked among four RCR teams with only teammate Clint Bowyer poised to make a last ditch effort to make the top 12 by Richmond. Two top 5s and three top 10s are the highlights of his score sheet for 2009, and with another drop in points at Michigan to 23rd, Harvick is probably wishing he was having the success as a driver that he’s having as a car owner in the Camping World Truck Series, where his Ron Hornaday-driven team is running away with the points lead with six wins.

5. David Ragan This is the same driver who nearly made the Chase last year as a sophomore? 2009 has been a disaster for Ragan, who has only a single top 10 to brag on-and that came in the Daytona 500. Since then Ragan’s performance has been abysmal, and his 30th-place points standing a far cry from a year ago. He dodged a bullet this year as Roush Fenway had to cut to the NASCAR-mandated limit of four teams; because sponsor UPS will remain with him, but he got lucky—the teammate cut, Jamie McMurray, is eight spots higher in the point standings. Ragan was a wreck magnet as a rookie, and his improvement in 2008 was marked, but he was a pinball at Michigan, and has failed to finish twice for wrecks, more often than he has cracked the top 10 this year. He got lucky this time, but how long will UPS put up with it?

Note: Holding A Pretty Wheel will appear on Tuesday next week as part of a two-part feature story on NASCAR Camping World East Series driver Jarit Johnson. It will return to its usual Friday spot on September 4.

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yankeegranny
08/21/2009 09:08 AM
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Let me be the first to predict that the “above-average” driver will finish ahead of the other four in 2010. 18 wins in his career….Hmmmm what does that say about the guys with fewer wins, poor driver??? typical crappy article. Hope you work for minimum wage, cause you aren’t worth more than that.

Maria
08/21/2009 09:36 AM
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“Above Average”?????? HA HA HA HA HA HA!! Whew, thanks for the laugh. Yeah right! Below average maybe, but nowhere near “above” The only thing “above” about him is his HUGE ego, of how because he is “popular” others have to understand that and go by his rules about it! I could not believe he said that himself, What a arrogant snob!

Johanna
08/21/2009 09:46 AM
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Great article Amy!! 100% right on the money! Poor baby Jr fans refuse to face reality, so they attack the truth like little children tend to do. Sad I know, but don’t worry, you are right.

Carl D.
08/21/2009 09:53 AM
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Okay, so yankeegranny is P.O.‘d because Amy called her favorite driver “above average”. Sometimes the truth hurts. What I want to know is why MY favorite driver got left off the list.

Bobby Labonte is a past champion. He drives for a team affiliated with Yates and which has full sponsorship. He currently sits 29th in points. That’s not meeting expectations. In my opinion, Bobby can still drive a racecar. He’s just really lousy at picking teams to race for. Yates/HOF ought to throw in the towel and close shop. They are truly clueless when it comes to fielding a competitive racecar.

scott b
08/21/2009 12:36 PM
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Out of the 5 drivers listed, David Ragan is the only one who is really badly underperforming in comparison to my personal preseason expectations. Bobby Labonte would be second on my list, and like Carl D., I suspect the problem is not that he forgot how to drive a racecar. I’d have to add David Stremme also, while I didn’t expect him to be a chase contender, I expected him to at least be able to keep a Penske car in the high 20’s in points and not tear up equipment.

Carl D.
08/21/2009 12:59 PM
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Maria…

Yankeegranny may have overacted to Junior being called “above average”, but I have never seen Junior display arrogance or snobbishness. In his interviews and post-race comments, he’s more ofeten than not gracious and accommodating. His popularity has a lot to do with his famous name, and that’s not something you can blame him for. If you have an issue with the fact that he got a choice ride with Hendrick Motorsports, blame Hendrick for that, not Dale. After all, who wouldn’t want to race for a team as successful as HMS?

The arrogant snob is the guy he replaced.

Douglas
08/21/2009 01:33 PM
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My My! Your “ You have an above average driver in the best equipment anywhere with a top-flight team around him, and he’s mired below 20th in points with no end in sight. Let the head-scratching continue…”

“Above average”?

What a friggin laugh!

And it’s not his head Jr. has been scratching!

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.