'Needs Improvement:' Six NASCAR Cup drivers who must turn it around

With 21 races in the books, there is still time.

'Needs Improvement:' Six NASCAR Cup drivers who must turn it around
Jamie McMurray, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Likely those of us who have been to school – pretty much everybody who can read this, presumably – has been told by a teacher at one time or another that his or her work has been “below expectations.” Gym class, algebra, home economics, doesn’t matter. It’s two words no one wants to hear.

Some of us have heard that a lot more than others. Some of us, on almost a daily basis. Still do. Likely some of you will tell me that this story is “below expectations.” Go ahead, I can take it.

When you are in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, though, being told you have performed below expectations so far this season – well, it can’t be pleasant. Is it you? The crew? The car? The engine? Bad luck? Doesn’t matter: When you look at the standings, there’s just one name there – yours.

The good news is that we are 21 races into the season. If we were still in school, this is where the teacher would say, “Listen, you still have time to turn this around.”

If you are a driver, that’s true, too. But time is growing short. Here are six drivers who need a break:

Number 1: Danica Patrick, number 10 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet. 28th in points, season winnings $2,366,969.

Why am I mentioning season winnings? Because NASCAR Sprint Cup driver is one of those interesting jobs where even if you are well below expectations, you can earn enough money to put you in a pretty elite tax bracket. America. What a country!

Patrick is 28th in points. She has, by now, some experience on every track, should have developed some chemistry with her crew, and while team owner Stewart-Haas isn’t having a fantastic year, they do have Hendrick-sourced equipment that should have carried her to more than two top-10 finishes this year. That said, who is to say this is a failing effort? She’s out there, visible in her bright green GoDaddy car, and if her sponsors are happy, what’s the problem? I can’t imagine somebody as competitive as Patrick is happy, though.

Number 2: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., number 17 Roush Fenway Ford. 27th in points, season winnings $3,075,815.

Just one spot ahead of Patrick, but with twice as many top-10 finishes (four), it has still been a disappointing year for Stenhouse. (And if you think I am going to make an issue of the fact he and Danica Patrick are a couple, you are wrong.)

Certainly Stenhouse’s lousy year has much to do with the fact that Roush Fenway is having a lousy year, but being three spots behind Casey Mears and his plucky little team is the definition of “below expectations.”

Number 3: Martin Truex, Jr., number 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet. 26th in points, season earnings $2,879,157.

We know Chevrolets are fast. We know, from Kurt Busch’s stint there last year, that Furniture Row can run up front. We know that Truex can win. But just three top 10 finishes this year? What’s going on? Undeniably, the team has had some bad luck, but they need to get a handle on what’s lacking, and soon.

Number 4: Jamie McMurray, number 1 Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. 20th in points, season winnings $4,172,813.

It hasn’t been a terrible year for McMurray, arguably the leading hot-and-cold Cup driver in the business. Six top-10 finishes and a pole suggests that the team can run up front, but with rookie teammate Kyle Larson 12th in points with nine top-10 finishes and a pole of his own can’t sit well with McMurray.

Number 5: Brian Vickers, number 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. 18th in points, season winnings $3,250,083.

Not a great year for MWR, which was once considered pretty much on the same level as Joe Gibbs Racing when it comes to importance to Toyota. Teammate Clint Bowyer has no wins but he has been more consistent that Vickers, who has six top-10 finishes compared to nine for Bowyer. Yes, this could be considered a rebuilding year for MWR, but the 55 team needs to rebuild a little quicker.

Number 6: Kasey Kahne, number 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. 14th in points, season winnings $2,850,099.

Sixty-five drivers have competed in the Sprint Cup series this season, and about 50 of them would swap places with Kasey Kahne, but given the fact that teammates Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson are first, second and sixth in the points, Kahne’s season is a profound disappointment. The problem isn’t speed – it’s maintaining that speed to the checkered flag. Kahne has nine top 10 finishes and is 14th in points – rookie Austin Dillon is 15th in points, but has only three top 10 finishes, but is the model of consistency with no DNFs. If Kahne wants to make the Chase, he needs to win a race – certainly a possibility – or cut his losses and run for points. Tough choice.

                                  

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