Matt McLaughlin · Tuesday May 22, 2007
Hey race fans, it’s that time again – with the regular season nearly half complete, the racing at Charlotte is as close to a midterm break as we get during the regular season. As such, it’s the perfect chance for Frontstretch Staff Writer Matt McLaughlin to evaluate most full-time drivers’ seasons in Nextel Cup and give them a report card on their progress. In Part Two, Matt continues to tackle the block of drivers alphabetically, chronicling the tough luck of Robby Gordon all the way through to the tougher times endured by Jeremy Mayfield.
_We hope you enjoy this four-part series, the first two of which debut today! For Part One of Matt’s Driver Report Cards, click here
Robby Gordon – D. It isn't easy running a single car team as an owner/driver, but the alliance this year with Ford was supposed to boost the fortunes of the self proclaimed "America's Most Dynamic Race Car Driver." Gordon has managed to finish on the lead lap just once this year, and that's a lot of uncertainty going forward this season. At least this year Gordon hasn't managed to wreck as many of his competitors. He simply just hasn't been fast enough to get near them.
Jeff Green – C-. If there's ever been a driver who should have retired from the Busch Series leaving folks wondering what he could have done in Cup rather than proving that his high point was Busch, it is Green. (His brother David and Randy LaJoie nip at his heels in this category.) In the CoT races, Green has shown surprising strength with a pair of sixth place finishes, but most weekends, he's on the wrong end of a boneheaded wreck. Look for Green to contend for a title driving for Rick Hendrick about the time Paris Hilton wins an Oscar for best acting.
Denny Hamlin – A-. After a slow start to the season, Hamlin is now on a roll with Top 10 finishes in five of the last six races. In fact, Hamlin should probably have won several races by now. He's led a ton of laps, particularly in the CoT races; his biggest problem has simply been the Keystone Cop style bumbling his pit crew has performed during stops. Some of those crew members have been given detentions and others expelled, which is great for Hamlin’s chances; you've got to expect this Fed Ex team to deliver soon.
Kevin Harvick – B-. While winning the Daytona 500 was the equivalent of acing the entrance exam, Harvick quickly stumbled out of the gate, finishing 17th, 27th and 25th the next three races. While he has shown some muscle since then, Harvick has been wildly inconsistent as well. (OK, so the race where his car caught on fire was NASCAR's fault, not his. But still..)
Dale Jarrett – F. Jarrett said his move to Toyota wasn't about the money. Well hopefully, it was about having weekends off because he's had two lately and there's likely to be more coming. Fans news to the sport may be shocked to learn that Jarrett is a former Cup champion the way he's been running the last few years. Jarrett could drive in his day; he's won 32 Cup races, seven of them in 1997 alone. But like that Steely Dan song goes, "the time of his time has come and gone, I fear he's been waiting too long." Jarrett's best finish in 2007? 22nd at Daytona.
Jimmie Johnson – A+. As hot as Gordon's start to the season has been, Johnson's was just about as good with eight Top 5 finishes in eleven races heading into the World 600 (and I wouldn't bet a cup of warm mule spit against a Salleen S7R Turbo Johnson won't win at Charlotte this weekend.) In fact, currently Johnson has four wins to Gordon's three; more importantly, those wins have come on Car Of Tomorrow tracks and old car tracks, on short tracks and superspeedways, and on low banked tracks and high banked tracks. Simply put, it seems anywhere the No. 48 team unloads, they are a factor. Crashes at Daytona and Texas loom large in the standings now, but if the Chase were to start tomorrow, Johnson would be ten points ahead of his teammate.
Kasey Kahne – F. Without a doubt, this season's biggest disappointment is the No. 9 team. Last year, Kahne won six Cup races and had Top 10 finishes in more than half of the 36 event schedule. This year, he's had exactly one Top 10 finish, and that came back at Daytona. Darrell Waltrip says the team was found out to be running illegal equipment last year, while some pundits say Kahne has let off track distractions dilute his focus on racing. Still others say it is Ray Evernham's fault for walking away. All I know is having women think you're sexy won't keep you in a ride too long. If that was the case, I'd be driving the No. 8 car.
Matt Kenseth – A. In a season where competing in a Ford is like a high school team taking on an NFL organization, Kenseth gets "best in class honors." During most seasons, a driver with eight Top 10 finishes in just eleven races would be leading the points, and to date, Kenseth is the only driver not in a Chevy to win a race. What's even more striking this year is Kenseth often seems mired in midpack until late in the event, when he emerges from out of nowhere to score a finish back in the Top 10.
Bobby Labonte – B. Obviously, Labonte is getting graded on a curve, because as Winston Churchill once said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Labonte seems to be keeping the flagging Petty Enterprises team afloat despite being forced to fight with one hand tied behind his back by substandard equipment. The fact he's outrunning guys like Kasey Kahne, David Ragan and Joe Nemechek is just amazing.
Sterling Marlin – C. There's no doubt Marlin can drive. He's won at Daytona. He's won at Darlington. In 2002, he was a presumptive favorite to win the title before a series of hard wrecks sidelined him. Since those crashes, Coo Coo's boy just hasn't been the same. He seems to be following the same path of his contemporary Ken Schrader; ""If I'm getting to get paid more to run lousy than I once did to win races, I'm going to continue doing this until they drag me kicking and screaming out the door to the pile of "almost was" drivers.”
Mark Martin – A. Martin is driving part-time and clearly loves it. His early season results were outstanding, and Martin came within inches of claiming his first Daytona 500 victory. But it doesn't seem like this old school driver can get a handle on the new school car, leaving one to wonder if Martin saw this CoT debacle coming and decided to beat it out of Dodge while the going was good.
Jeremy Mayfield – F. Mayfield has qualified for just three races. Rumors have already been swirling this team and sponsor are heading for the mat. Think Jeremy cares who his owner is sleeping with anymore?
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