The Frontstretch: Earnhardt, Busch Among Ten Drivers Who Can't Wait for '10 by Danny Peters -- Tuesday September 29, 2009

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Earnhardt, Busch Among Ten Drivers Who Can't Wait for '10

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday September 29, 2009

 

The setting of the Chase field post-Richmond marks a clear delineation in the season between the haves and the have nots. And judging by the fevered TV coverage of the top 12 drivers, you’d have been forgiven if you wondered if the other 31 were even competing. But as a long list of DNFs and poor-handling performances show, not only are they around, they can’t wait for the season to end and jump out of the public spotlight to regroup. So, with two months and eight races still to go, here are ten drivers who can’t wait to see the back of 2009 already no matter what happens from here:

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Hands up those who predicted Junior’s season would be quite this bad? Not so many of you, huh? It’s true that anybody can have a bad season — heck, the Cubbies have had a hundred of them — but the futility felt by the denizens of Wrigley Field must compare, in part, to that felt by Junior Nation. To say this year has been horrible for Junior barely does justice to the hot mess his season has become. Just two top 5s, three further top 10s, four DNFs, and an average finish of 21.8 is not what was expected – not even by those who don’t rate NASCAR’s favorite driver. Tony Eury, Jr. was reassigned back in June, and new crew chief Lance McGrew has failed to make magic as of yet. Like it or not, the simple truth is that the season can’t end soon enough for the wheelman of the No. 88 Chevy.

Matt Kenseth

It’s hard to believe that Kenseth’s third place finish at Dover this past weekend was his first top 5 since he won at Fontana. After two wins to open the season, including the emotional, rain-saddled victory in the Daytona 500, Kenseth’s season plummeted downhill, and in the end it was no real surprise he missed the Chase. Statistically speaking, 2009 will likely go down as his worst season since 2001. Still, the bright side is he’s won almost $5.5 million bucks. Not bad for mediocrity, huh, dear readers?

Kyle Busch

The preseason favorite for the championship, Kyle Busch has had a disastrous season that resulted in failing to make the Chase.

I have to say I was shocked Kyle didn’t make the Chase. I really thought he would rally and grab the last spot, but kudos to Brian Vickers who got it done when it counted, denying Busch the last Chase berth on the last race at Richmond before the cutoff. All told, it’s been a strange season for the petulant six-year veteran. On the one hand, there are four wins to talk about, but in 18 of 28 races he’s finished outside the top 10 — including five efforts of 30th or worse – and with a points system that rewards consistency, that record just isn’t going to get it done. Still, as Denny Hamlin pointed out at Chase Media Day, the experience should make Kyle stronger in 2010 and beyond. If he can cobble together a more sensible schedule that doesn’t involve running so many races, fewer distractions should leave Busch back near the top (or atop) the points next year. There’s plenty more to come from Shrub, that’s for sure: just not this year.

David Ragan

The poster child for failed expectations in 2010, Ragan was expected to challenge for the Chase in 2009 and the majority of pundits picked the Unadilla, GA native to make the elite field. It started well enough at Daytona with a sixth place run, but from there it went steadily and inexorably downhill. In fact, it’s been such a bad season that Ragan has not recorded a single top 10 since Daytona after managing 14 in 2008. Roush Fenway Racing, it’s fair to say, has had its issues this year and Ragan, with an average finish of 25.2, has suffered perhaps more than his other four teammates. The only positive note is that Ragan has recorded two Nationwide wins this season (at Bristol and Talladega), showing there’s still talent behind the wheel. Still only 23, as with Kyle Busch, there should be plenty more to come from Ragan and he is no doubt hoping 2009 can be chalked up as a blip in the road.

Kevin Harvick

After making the Chase in each of the three previous years, 2009 was supposed to be the year that Harvick pushed on and staked a claim for a championship. Clearly, that was a pipe dream as Harvick has suffered and stumbled through an absolute nightmare of a season. Just five top 10s in 28 races tells its own story, and at times, his frustration has been plain to see. But then again, Harvick’s never been one to keep a tight rein on his emotions. With just 95 laps led all year, and a winless streak that dates back to the 2007 Daytona 500, the season can’t end soon enough for the nine-year veteran of some 314 Cup races.

Jeff Burton

Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing stablemate has also endured a tepid year. Burton flirted with making the Chase, but no top 10s in the last 12 races prior to the resetting of the points killed any faint vestige of hope. Losing crew chief Scott Miller in the RCR reshuffle couldn’t have helped, but the cold hard fact is that it wouldn’t have made any difference in 2009. Heck, Burton could have had the world’s greatest head wrench atop the war wagon and he still wouldn’t have made the Chase. At 42, in a sport that is becoming increasingly the preserve of drivers just out of diapers, you wonder how many good years Burton has left — making 2010 a critical season for his future, no doubt.

Martin Truex, Jr.

Swept up in the Joey Logano crash (wow, that rook sure knows how to grab the headlines), Truex Jr. experienced another frustrating weekend at Dover. With just three top 10s and a high finish of 6th at Darlington, 2009 has been nothing short of a disaster. The transition to MWR should be a smooth one, though, and having the experienced Pat Tryson as crew chief will be a boon. Expect Truex to rebound in 2010 and remind folks just why he made the Chase in 2007. One thing’s for sure; it can’t get any worse.

Clint Bowyer

Let’s not forget that Bowyer finished 3rd and 5th in the last two seasons, but as for teammates Harvick and Burton, it’s not been the best of years. Starting again with a new team, colors, and sponsor (to make space for Casey Mears) Bowyer has probably punched above his weight given the relative quality of his equipment this year. With 12 top 10s on the season, just two fewer than the combined total of the other three RCR wheelmen, Bowyer was even in contention for the Chase until he wrecked at Bristol (although it always felt like a long shot). He’ll be keen to salvage something from his season at his home track of Kansas this weekend; whether he has the horsepower to do so remains to be seen.

Dave Blaney

Blaney has an average finish of 41.3 this season – including eight last place finishes. This is to be expected since he’s been starting and parking for much of the year for Phil Parsons’ Prism Motorsports team, but even so check out the horror show that is his 2009 season statistics. Wow….Blaney has completed one race all year, a 28th place run in the rain at the Coke 600, and at 46 years of age the clock is fast expiring on his Sprint Cup career. It’s an ignominious end for a driver who’s widely regarded as one of the good guys.

Kasey Kahne

Yes, Kahne is still in the Chase but does anyone (even those related to him) seriously expect a rebound over the final eight races? It’s true just making the Chase and winning two races represents a fine effort for the soft-spoken Budweiser pitch man. But 189 points off the pace after two races is not the plan Kenny Francis and Co. drew up. It’s not, of course, helped by the shenanigans and uncertainty that surrounds Richard Petty Motorsports and the proposed merger with Yates Racing. Let’s hope Kahne finds some solidity next season, because if anything ever fell into place, he has the talent to become a Cup Champion.

Contact Danny Peters

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Carl
09/29/2009 03:41 AM
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If there was ever a testoment to how bad Jr. is its this year. I think it would be hard to pick any full time driver put him in HMS stuff and have him run that bad.

The Turnip
09/29/2009 07:20 AM
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Now can you really say that JR. is anxious for 2010 to start?

Hell, he was “anxious” to start the 2009 season after dumping on DEI!

Yes, Jr. DEI WAS supplying you “inferior equipment”!

Yes Jr. your career and reputation as a “competitive race driver” suffered because of DEI!

Yes, Jr., Teresa really was “against” you!

Yes, Jr., your “Jr. Nation” called Teresa every name in the book because you laid the blame at her foot! THEY EVEN THREATENED HER! (because of your words)

Yes, Jr., we know you would rather be racing, than “out drinking with your buddies”, or “gang” as you call them!

Yes Jr., you really can’t wait for 2009 (err, sorry, 2010) to start!

Reminds me of a line from the song, “I’m Henry the Eighth the I Am”! And that verse is “second verse, same as the first”, in Jr.s case, “2010 same as 2009”!

THE JR. NATION SEEMS TO BE SHRINKING!

Carl D.
09/29/2009 07:46 AM
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Turnip…

You and I agree on a lot of things. Bashing Junior because of his name ain’t one of ‘em. Even if he was the worst driver in Nascar history, you can’t fault the guy for trying to make it in the sport. You can’t fault him for having so many fans and for being the most popular driver. And you can’t fault him for leaving DEI and going to Hendrick, where championships are bought and paid for on a yearly basis.

C’mon, Turnip… the guy’s just trying to make a living doing what he loves. We should all be so lucky.

Gordon82Wins
09/29/2009 08:31 AM
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Just think, Junior could be driving that 42 car right now.

He may be a little bit better next year simply by virtue of not missing his pit box so often, but I seriously doubt he’ll ever finish top ten again. Quite simply, for whatever reason, that team isn’t gelling no matter what they try, and he’s signed through 2013 I believe. By that time, sponsors aren’t going to be so quick to sign on with a guy that’s rarely in the top ten and he’ll end up with a lesser team.

The Turnip
09/29/2009 09:34 AM
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Hey Carl D. your opinion and response is respected!

But not sure I was bashing Jr. “because of his name”, I think what I said was EXTREMELY ACCURATE!

He dissed DEI! He dissed Teresa, He walked away from DEI in a huff! He “crucified” Teresa from the git-go, (then when things got really bad in the threats department for Teresa, he tried changing the “story”!)

Remember him saying that DEI was way behind times, but then comes out later and says yes, they have as much equipment to build and test cars as everyone else does, (maybe Hendrick not included)?

And his Sis leading the way to his move out of DEI?

And his statements that he “wants to run up front”?

Thats where I am coming from. never bashed him for his name, only the results he “PROMISED” to obtain by moving to HMS!

Sure, he is just trying to make his own way, but he “used” his popularity, and name, to gain employment at HMS! Right?

Actually, I know things change, but had he worked “with” DEI, as opposed to making a power play, he might be in better shape today. He could be good for the sport, but going to the #1 team in motorsports, and being what, 21st in points?

Something is going on!

Again, let me know your thoughts, I appreciate the comments, keeps me “kinda honest”!

Marilyn
09/29/2009 09:35 AM
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Funny isn’t it! None of you Nascar pro’s ever want to talk about anyone but JR> what about Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and poor Kyle, even he didn’t make the chase, but all you want to bad mouth is JR. Well JR Nation is still well and alive and we will back him to the end! Go pick on someone else for a change.

LC
09/29/2009 09:50 AM
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Jr. can’t drive the COT. Why? Because he has no dirt racing experience. Until he get some, he won’t like or get used to the way the COT drives and feels. Jr. can’t slip it through the corners, he feels he’s wrecking when he does. Watch the other contenders drive the COT through the corner and you will see the butt hanging out lap after lap. Until Jr. can be comfortable doing that he will never be good in the COT. Oh and by the way I have been a Jr fan since the Busch days.

Carl D.
09/29/2009 10:33 AM
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Turnip….

I think we both agree that Junior’s move to HMS was, for better or worse, a business decision, and I’ll even agree with you that Junior did use the media somewhat during negotiations with DEI. However, I don’t agree that he used his name to obtain employment at HMS. Once Junior announced that he would not be returning to DEI, I’m sure Hendrick was foaming at the mouth to sign a guy who attacts sponsors like roadkill attracts flies.

I also don’t think that Junior “promised” anybody anything as far as results go. I’m sure he assumed he’d have the best equipment and the best technical and financial support. That he’s not made the most of it may be a valid criticism of his talent, but not his character. If he has popped off at the mouth a few times when a microphone was stuck in his face, well, he’s no different than any of the other drivers in that regard.

But we can agree to disagree. I respect your opinion as well.

Dave
09/29/2009 10:59 AM
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I’m going to say something that may not be popular. Dale Jr. is an excellent driver. Anyone at the Cup level is, period. Heaven knows, I sure couldn’t do what any of them do. However, he is not, and probably will never be, the caliber of driver that Dale Sr. was. All the articles about why he is not doing well this year, or any year, may be due to that simple fact. And I don’t mean this as a slam to Dale Jr. I like him. But ask Kyle Petty about some people, fans and writers, having unrealistic expectations.

Michael in SoCal
09/29/2009 11:45 AM
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Hey LC – I would almost agree with your idea about Junior not having dirt track experience being the reason he can’t drive the COT as well as others (like Shrub & his brother seem to hang it out there on every turn). But I say almost because at the halfway point last year, he was in second place! I just can’t figure out what went wrong between then and now.

And Dave – I agree, you can’t drive at this level without being a great racecar driver. You don’t sit in the Top 40 on the all-time wins list for the Cup series with 18 wins by being a slouch driver. Like Marilyn said, more than a few drivers this year have had difficulties (Harvick, Burton, Labonte, Truex – driving DEI cars).

Looking forward to 2010, hoping Junior (and a few others) have a better year than they did in 2009.

LC
09/29/2009 12:53 PM
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Hey Mike in SoCal, yes he was 2nd in points but you see he was at a level the other drivers where not at,be it by luck or skill at that time. I submit the other drivers have become more than used to the COT ( although many have not, it’s not just Jr. having a problem with the COT) and have honed their driving skills to a much higher level than Jr has ever attained with this car. Hence his apparent lack of talent ( which isn’t the case)and his real world lack of success with the COT this year. If you listen to Jr on the scanner he continually wants to make the car do what he wants it to do. If you listen to Mark Martin on the scanner he continually talks about the way the car handles and talks about what can be fixed and what he feels can’t be fixed and he usually accepts it from there. In other words we have one driver adapting to the car (Mark) and another one trying to get the car to adapt to him (Jr).My comment about the dirt experience lies in the fact that dirt guys are basically out of control on every lap, they are used to that feeling, they adapt to the car and drive it accordingly. Jr. isn’t used to that out of control feeling and tries every race to get the feeling he is looking for. So they adjust and adjust and adjust to find the right feel for Jr. and usually fail. What he has to do is realize what the car is what can be fixed and accept what can’t be adjusted out of the car. Then he needs to learn how to control that out of control feeling and drive it to the front. If he had dirt experience he would be at home in the COT.

Michael in SoCal
09/29/2009 01:35 PM
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Hey LC – I agree – Junior’s start to last year could’ve been luck & circumstances, and that some other drivers and crew chiefs have gotten a better handle on the COT than the 88 crew now has. Let’s hope that in 2010 that situation changes. It was great seeing Junior up in the mix at New Hampshire, would’ve loved to see what he could’ve done at Dover if he didn’t get stuck a couple laps down when that caution came out when he was on pit road. Gonna be fun watching him at Lowe’s, Texas, and of course Talladega. There’s still a chance he can get a win this season, I think.

ginger
09/29/2009 02:19 PM
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Funny thing how this works. Kenseth, Busch, Harvick, Burton, Truex, Bowyer, and Kayne were mentioned in this column, but the only comments have been about Earnhardt, Jr. Sorry if he rubs you the wrong way, but he is the face of Nascar, the most loved, the most respected, and the most watched. He has had his own channel on Hotpass since the year began, and continues to. That should tell you the world loves Dale Jr. Jealousy is a cancer to the human heart.

Bad Wolf
09/29/2009 02:32 PM
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Maybe Joonyer got all the comments BECAUSE he is the face of Nascar. Maybe fans are staying away and not tuning in BECAUSE Joonyer is the face of Nascar and they are sick of the hype.

I don’t hate Jr. and followed him from his early days in the Busch series back when he was just the son of Dale Sr. I hopped off that wagon when all the “Fans” jumped off the Jeff Gordon bandwagon and picked a new young pretty boy to follow. It always amazed me to be at qualifying and see a sea of red get up and leave after their boy Jr. qualified. They were there to see Jr. and didn’t give a rats arse about any of the other 50 drivers trying to qualify. These same fans did the same thing back in the ’90s but they were all wearing rainbows at the time.

The Turnip
09/29/2009 04:07 PM
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Gee, did I cause all this commotion? (I love it)!

First for Carl D., see if I can “splain” this. Your comment “ However, I don’t agree that he used his name to obtain employment at HMS.”

MMMM, if his name was not JR.! He would not have Jr. Nation following him! He inherited a built in fan base when his Father passed away! And in my humble opinion, if indeed he was NOT an Earnhardt! He would not be the most popular driver!

It is hard to differentiate between the name JR., and the name EARNHARDT!

Impossible in my opinon, one rides on the other.

And oh yes, did he ever use the media during his “negotiations”!

Now, the “rub”! When Jr. was making ALL the commotion at DEI, his little Sis was the one giving press statements, and giving EVERY indication she was the “CHIEF NEGOTIATOR” for JR.!

I truly and honestly believe she was TOTALLY responsible for all the negative DEI statements, however, JR. never stepped in until it was way too late!

Now little Sis has disappeared from sight!

TOTALLY!

And for all you other writers, I also support, somewhat, that driving the POS requires some dirt track “constantly out of control” experience!

Lets make no mistake here, the POS is a CRAP race car, some drivers adapted, some did not!

And hey LC, I love your comments, right on about the “adjusting” of the race car during the race!

Lots of good comments here today, BUT I wish we were talking about how good NA$CRAP racing is, rather than picking on, or writing about a single driver!

ElectricPeterTork
09/29/2009 05:22 PM
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It really is all about the name “Earnhardt”. If his name were “Dale Skinner, Jr.” or “Dale Hornaday, Jr.”, he would be fighting for a ride in the truck series… if he were lucky.

Jeremy
09/29/2009 05:54 PM
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Good article Danny! One thing though, Matt Kenseth had top-5 finishes in the first Texas and Dover races this season also, though his streak of no top-5’s had reached 14 races before this past weekend.

mkrcr
09/29/2009 09:14 PM
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Anyone ever consider JR’s problem may be ‘ole Ironhead karma. “Boy, I gave you everything you needed. An up and coming race team with the potential to be at the top. A chance to provide for the family and the family of your team mates. A chance to truly carry on the Earnhardt name and make something of yourself. Instead you go runnin’ off at the mouth about the team, your stepmom, and anyone else who didn’t suit you. Then you go and run off to that crook Hendrick. Well, my boy, you made your bed now, so sleep in it”.

The Turnip
09/30/2009 10:38 AM
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Hey mkrcr!

Nice! Very nice!

And how so very accurate!

Jr. is not a problem solver!

Jr. is a problem maker!

Bobbie
09/30/2009 05:16 PM
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First of all Kelley is Dale’s older sister, not his little sister.

2nd – When so-called Jr fans made rude statements about Teresa, Jr was the one who said to lay off her.

Yes he has used the media but nowhere near the way many in the media have used his name. He used the media for his greatest accomplishment – getting the rights to his own name from Teresa and DEI.

As for me, I’m a Junior fan for who he is on and off the track. I have a lot of respect for how he has handled himself through this difficult year. I became a race fan after the death of his father so there’s no connection to being his fan because of his father.

And for loyalty, I will stand behind Junior the same way I stand behind my beloved Cubs…for as long as it takes.

Michael in SoCal
09/30/2009 05:43 PM
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I’m with you Bobbie!

Sharon Davis
09/30/2009 11:05 PM
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Like Bobbie I bacame a Jr. fan a week after his father died. I had never seen a race before that and I haven’t missed a race since then. Jr. has alot of fans because he is Dale Jr. not Dale Sr.

Marc
09/30/2009 11:45 PM
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Funny thing, is Turnip Douglas, Dale Jr doesn’t owe you one damned thing.

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