The Frontstretch: Driver Report Cards: Part Four by Thomas Bowles -- Friday June 17, 2005

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Driver Report Cards: Part Four

Thomas Bowles · Friday June 17, 2005

 

The final installment of “second-term” report cards; please click here for part three, click here for part two, and click here for part one in case you missed any of them.

43 – Jeff Green.
2005 Totals: 27th in points, 778 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 wins, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s, gained 5 spots in the points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 11th – Charlotte.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: None.

While the other half of the Petty contingent has fallen off after a strong start, Green has begun to show some improvement in his second full season behind the wheel of the Cheerios Dodge. After a slow start, six of Green’s last seven finishes have been within the Top 25, and his best finishes of the year have been in two of the last three races "" an 11th in the Charlotte demolition derby, and a respectable 15th at Pocono. While the focus at Petty Enterprises continues to be on Kyle’s improvement over 2004, Green has quietly begun putting some consistency together with crew chief Greg Steadman. While they’re still a good ways away from being contenders, it’ll be interesting to see how the team does at the end of this stretch when they beginning coming around to tracks for the second time. Grade #1: D+. Grade #2: C.

45 "" Kyle Petty.
2005 Totals: 31st in points, 821 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 0 Top 5s, 1 Top 10.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 wins, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s, lost 12 spots in the points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 17th – Charlotte.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 2.

On the other side of the Petty coin, after some early momentum to start 2005, the owner-driver of Petty Enterprises has seen his season go steadily south. A poor run from Phoenix was followed up by a nasty single-car wreck at Talladega to begin this stretch, and it just seems that the 45 team just hasn’t been able to build up any momentum since. Kyle is back to the old days of struggling mightily with the handling of the race car, dropping back quickly after the start of the race and falling into the clutches of even some of the underfunded teams. The tracks coming up don’t exactly favor Kyle, recently, either, including New Hampshire, a track that always pulls at the heartstrings every time Petty walks through the gates. But with Paul Andrews still leading this team, don’t count them out. Grade #1: B+. Grade #2: D.

48 "" Jimmie Johnson.
2005 Totals: Points Leader by 123 over Greg Biffle. 2 Wins, 7 Top 5s, 11 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 1 win, 2 Top 5s, 4 Top 10s, maintained spot in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: Win – Charlotte.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 98.

The point leader since Atlanta, Johnson continues to maintain the top spot fairly comfortably, but has come back down to earth a bit after a red-hot start. His streak of 13 straight Top 10 finishes (dating back to 2004) was snapped at Phoenix, and Johnson followed up that mediocre run with accidents at both Talladega and Richmond. Still, with the points lead Johnson had built up over that stretch he never lost the top spot, and was able to bounce back with a thrilling win at Charlotte and solid, consistent runs at Dover and Pocono. He still remains the series leader in Top 5s and Top 10s, and continues to always be there at the end no matter how rough the car is in the beginning, a true sign of a championship-caliber team. With Biffle the only one remaining within striking distance, Johnson would be shaping himself up for a two-man points race under the old points system; too bad he’s going to have at least eight other drivers breathing down his neck in September as well. Grade #1: A+. Grade #2: A-.

49 "" Ken Schrader.
2005 Totals: 28th in points, 779 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 0 Top 5s, 2 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 1 win, 2 Top 5s, 4 Top 10s, gained 3 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 8th "" Talladega.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 12.

Here’s a statement no one would have expected when this team first debuted on the circuit several years ago: BAM is the strongest single-car team in Nextel Cup racing right now. Yep, that’s right, I said it; better than the 0, better than the 21, better than any other single-car team you can throw at me. And to think, just seven races ago this team was struggling to the point where you thought it would do them some good to have a driver or crew chief replacement. All of a sudden, after a rocky 2005 start the chemistry between Schrader and crew chief David Hyder has just taken off. Schrader has two Top 10 finishes in the last seven races, and may have had several more Top 15s if not for bad luck: Schrader’s been in accidents in three of the last seven events, two of those not of his own making. And when’s the last time you’ve seen things like Ken Schrader second at Darlington with a handful of laps to go? While pit strategy may have determined that call, the point remains that you still have to be on the lead lap to do that type of stuff, and the 49 team should be commended for putting their driver in position to finish towards the top in a world where single-car teams just don’t get it done anymore. Grade #1: D. Grade #2: B.

66 "" Mike Garvey.
2005 Totals: 3 starts, 1 in the 66 car.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 wins, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 25th – Pocono.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 1.

After a series of disappointing runs for Hermie Sadler with this team, the writing was clearly on the wall that the chemistry wasn’t working, and Sadler left the team after 13 races. The resume he left here wasn’t one to write home about; in fact, the team hadn’t finished a race since Texas. Which makes it all the more impressive that Mike Garvey, a relative unknown from the ASA series, comes in and in just one race gives the team its first lead-lap finish, best finish of the year, and first laps led in the Nextel Cup Series. Quite a performance for a rookie, huh? It’s going to be hard to follow that up week-in, week-out, but it’s a strong start to a surprising partnership. Too bad to see Hermie sitting on the sidelines though, now forced to watch a team that was all his just one year ago run full-time with sponsorship in Nextel Cup. Grade #1: INC. Grade #2: INC.

77 "" Travis Kvapil.
2005 Totals: 32nd in points, 834 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 0 Top 5s, 1 Top 10.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 win, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s, lost 3 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 17th "" Dover & Pocono.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 23.

After replacing rookie Brendan Gaughan at the end of last year in part due to his ability to find DNFs, the fab shop must not be too happy with new rookie Travis Kvapil in 2005. Four accidents in the past seven races have this team scrambling once again to find the right cars and combinations for a driver still learning the Nextel Cup circuit. Kvapil is showing some degree of improvement, with twop Top 20 finishes in his last two races, but is still a far cry from gaining any serious momentum. Once thought to be a serious contender in a tight rookie battle with Kyle Busch, Kyle has the race all but won while Kvapil finds himself languishing in midpack; the question now becomes, will Penske have more patience with Kvapil then he did with Gaughan? Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: D+.

88 "" Dale Jarrett.
2005 Totals: 14th in points, 438 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 1 Top 5, 3 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 wins, 0 Top 5s, 2 Top 10s, lost 4 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 8th – Charlotte.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: None.

For people that questioned the move by Robert Yates to replace Mike Ford as Dale Jarrett’s crew chief, you need to look no further than at the laps led for Jarrett in 2005: just 1 in the first 14 races of the season. While Jarrett has been doing decently in the points, finishing solidly enough to stay in contention for the Chase for the Championship, he hasn’t been running up front, and a driver getting towards the end of his career wants to win races rather than get into the Chase by finishing 10th every week. So far, Billy Wilburn has done an admirable job as crew chief, starting off hot by helping Jarrett to an 8th-place performance at Charlotte before settling for midpack runs at both Dover and Pocono. Wilburn still doesn’t have the interim label off his title yet, so you might see further changes at the crew chief position; the next 7 races will tell that tale. Interesting to note though that you can’t count Jarrett out of the Chase, and if he hits it right and grabs a win at a place like Michigan, suddenly he’s got momentum and could be considered a Top 10 threat.
Grade #1: B-. Grade #2: B-.

97 "" Kurt Busch.
2005 Totals: 11th in points, 381 behind Jimmie Johnson. 1 Win, 4 Top 5s, 7 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 1 win, 3 Top 5s, 3 Top 10s, lost 7 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: Win – Phoenix.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 233.

It was all going just fine for the defending Nextel Cup champion. Last time we left him, at Texas, he was 4th in the points, and he came out the next week at Phoenix and absolutely dominated the event, scoring his first win of the season and moving up to 2nd in points. For a minute, people entertained thoughts of a Busch-Johnson championship duel, with Biffle falling to the wayside as a darkhorse contender. But then, simply put, the wheels just fell right off. There have been two accidents in the last six races, both of which have been accompanied by temper tantrums that remind you of the Kurt Busch of old, not the one who took the title in 2004. After berating a NASCAR official at Darlington over the radio and bowling over anyone and everyone in the Darlington garage area, NASCAR called his behavior "not befitting of a champion" and threatened fines and suspension for further outbursts. It’s true that the season has turned frustrating for Busch, who’s taken several hard hits in both NASCAR and IROC; he’s easily surpassed the number of wrecks he was involved in last season in just 14 races. But it looks like Busch needs to be babysat again, and you can’t help but wonder if that’s going to affect the 97’s performance. Now out of the Top 10, it’s not the time for Busch to be immature. Grade #1: A-. Grade #2: B-.

99 "" Carl Edwards.
2005 Totals: 4th in points, 303 behind Jimmie Johnson. 2 Wins, 4 Top 5, 6 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 1 win, 2 Top 5s, 4 Top 10s, gained 9 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: Win – Pocono.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 60.

From a guy acting immature to one acting far beyond his years of experience. For Carl Edwards, this season continues to defy expectations, and he’s enjoying the ride every step of the way. He’s taken his newfound fame in stride and kept his happy-go-lucky personality, all the while backing it up with on-track results that are letting everyone take notice that he’s a serious championship contender. Besides Sunday’s win at Pocono, a track Edwards had never seen before 2005, the 99 car has seen itself in contention in almost every event this year, with strong runs at Charlotte, Phoenix, and Darlington in this stretch. His enthusiasm on the track can still sometimes get the 99 in trouble (see: bump drafting Dale Jarrett on the backstretch at Charlotte) but he’s been driving the wheels off these things, and may be the only one besides Biffle capable of giving Johnson a serious championship challenge at this point in the year. Not only is Edwards still in contention for the Busch title despite missing a race, he’s in strong position to make the Chase as well "" and no one, of course, has ever captured the Busch and Cup title in the same year. Grade #1: B+. Grade #2: A.

01 "" Joe Nemechek.
2005 Totals: 20th in points, 589 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 1 Top 5, 3 Top 10s.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 Wins, 1 Top 5, 2 Top 10s, gained 6 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 3rd – Pocono.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: 26.

When Nemechek looks back at race 27 and wonders how he missed the Chase, he’ll have to look at the first seven races of the season and shake his head. Since that debacle, the 01 has begun to get its act together: the team has five Top 20 finishes in this seven-race stretch, highlighted by last Sunday’s 3rd at Pocono, where he might have had something for Vickers and Edwards if the race went another lap and a half. Slowly, the team is beginning to get back to the form it showed at the end of 2004 through California, when a blown engine for Nemechek while leading knocked this team back far more than it should have. As evidenced by his Charlotte skirmish with Kevin Harvick, Nemechek still has the drive needed to get back to the front of the pack in his 40s, and with the way this team is slowly turning it around, could be a darkhorse contender at Michigan or Pocono in this stretch. But at 20th in points, time to kiss those hopes for the Chase goodbye. Grade #1: C-. Grade #2: B-.

07 "" Dave Blaney.
2005 Totals: 26th in points, 778 behind Jimmie Johnson. 0 Wins, 0 Top 5, 1 Top 10.
2005 Performance – Last 7 Races: 0 Wins, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s, lost 4 spots in points.
Best Finish – Last 7 Races: 19th – Talladega.
Laps Led – Last 7 Races: None.

For a team that looked good early on in the year, the Jack Daniel’s team and Blaney has let the momentum slip away from them. Not only is 19th their best finish during this stretch, but they haven’t even sniffed the front (zero laps led), all while being plagued by a few accidents and mechanical failures. The worst thing about the accidents is Blaney’s been in all year is that he’s spun out on his own in most of them; it’s the worst for a driver when he was no one to blame for a wreck but himself. The really bad thing for Blaney is that we’ve passed by most of the tracks that appeal to his specialty: 1.5 to 2-mile intermediate track racing. Which means he’d better finish well at Michigan coming up and Chicagoland in July, otherwise it could be a continued rough stretch for a team looking for answers and finishes to send them in the right direction. Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: D.

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