Last time I checked, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was only six races in. A quick glance at any NASCAR discussion board or social media shows, however, that there are some who seem to think that this less than a month and a half of competition somehow is enough reason to eliminate certain drivers as contenders this year.
Even an off-week hasn’t given everyone a chance to realize how few races we’ve had, and how little this point of this season really matters right now. In fairness, there are a few big name drivers who had high expectations heading into the season, yet are failing to live up to them. In reaction, fans and media are asking questions such as “What is wrong with ____?” and “Is _____ relevant anymore?”
I’m here to tell you that these doubts and concerns are not only premature, but irrational. Look no further than Tony Stewart’s postseason performance last year for proof that it this is way too early to label someone a non-factor. In particular, it is too early to label proven contenders as non-factors.
Let me be more specific. Here are some drivers who are, as of now being, labeled disappointments, but will most likely turn it around long before the season ends:
*Kasey Kahne* – If it wasn’t for bad luck, this guy would have no luck at all. From his elderly knees requiring surgery mere weeks prior to the season-opening race, to several potential good runs turned sour due to a variety of factors, Kahne has had a rough start to the year that has even his most diehard fans begging for mercy.
As such, plenty has been said about Kahne’s “disappointing” start to his much-anticipated move to Hendrick Motorsports. While it has been admittedly disappointing in terms of finishes, there is no reason to think that it will stay this way for Kahne. First off, Kahne is a proven winner and title contender and given the right equipment he can be dominant. As far as his performance, he’s proven to have the horsepower with two poles, and when he isn’t caught up in an early race crash, spends most of his time inside the top 15.
Make no mistake, this string of bad luck will eventually end for Kahne and I am predicting at least two victories and a Chase appearance for that No. 5 car in the remaining months of 2012.
*Jeff Gordon* – People have been questioning Gordon’s relevance in the series for a long time now, wondering how long he could possibly stay competitive after practically dominating most of the ‘90s. Doesn’t this guy, ya know, age?
No. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s just warming up. Like Kahne, Gordon has just had a rough start and needs just that extra little “something” to boost his season. Let’s not forget he nearly won Martinsville, but a little late race restart and this thing called “fate” decided Victory Lane wasn’t in his future that day. Unlike Kahne, Gordon actually has a top 10 to his credit and might have earned more had an engine eruption in Daytona or some contact from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Bristol, which resulted in a cut tire, not occurred.
It’s the little things that add up to make a season look dismal, but, like Kahne, Gordon will recover, win races, make the Chase and, in my opinion, have something to say about the championship.
*Kyle Busch* – Yes, guys, he is actually still racing! His lack of infantile outbursts, however, has meant an awfully quiet season for the younger Busch.
Or perhaps quietly awful. Even with two top-10 finishes this year, the other four races have seen finishes of 17th or worse which has left the Las Vegas native a disappointing 16th in points. Gosh you don’t think that (gasp) Busch might not be a contender this year do you?
Absolutely not. As noted before, Busch has actually had some pretty strong performances. He just hasn’t been able to follow through on them, and don’t think for a second it’s going to stay that way. The way I see it, Busch isn’t going to stay quiet forever and it’s going to happen one of two ways: (1) He’s going to do or say something stupid on or off the track or (2) Most likely, he’ll go on a hot streak sometime in the summer and remind everyone that he’s still one of the most talented drivers on the circuit to date.
The list could go on, but if I hear another person talk about either of these three as if their seasons are doomed for failure, I’m going to implode. Try 16 or 26 races into the season, and if they are still struggling, there is a case to be made. But I guarantee not only will these guys win races, but they will be inside the top 10 come Richmond. For now, just enjoy the season, because right now means little in terms of the big picture.
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