Now that Daytona is behind us, the loooong NASCAR season moves into it’s second half, here’s my grade card for the first half.
NASCAR, gets a gentleman’s “C”- They’ve finally either realized or admitted that the Nationwide series needs help. Well, duh! Talk about a blinding flash of the obvious. That sure didn’t earn them a “C,” but they’ve made some changes that seem to be well received by the fans. The biggest change for me was backing off, and letting the drivers work out their own differences. I’ve been in and around racing pretty much my entire life, and I can testify, it’s not as sterile and “p.c.” as Cup had become.
They’ve even hinted that the Chase could use some tweaks, OK, to me that’s a lot like tweaking your Yugo. They may make it a little better, but at the end of the day, it’s still a Yugo. Grade “C” because they’ve made some good moves, but they’ve still got work to do.
Hendrick Motorsports- Solid “B”- The reason being that they can’t seem to get all four teams doing well at the same time, and because J.J. is the only one who’s found Victory Lane.
Jimmie Johnson- Gets an “A” all the way- What these guys have figured out is that the first 26 races are about positioning. With five wins, they have positioned themselves well. Chad Knaus has also tried some things that haven’t always worked, but come Chase time, the experiments will pay dividends. This team can be beaten, but they look to be the team to beat. The one thing they have shown is that they bring their A-game to the Chase.
Jeff Gordon “B-”- Good runs will get you into the Chase, but they won’t win it. Unless they can step it up considerably, Jeff will retire as a four time Championship. The Chase format has not been kind to him.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.- “C+” with a bullet- Junior is heading in the right direction. If he can keep it going, he should make the Chase. After the Daytona 500, he hasn’t really even contended for a win. Making the Chase, and being a championship contender is poles apart. I haven’t seen that potential from him in years.
Mark Martin- “C-” Has Earnhardt’s improvement come at Mark’s expense? Not only have this team been unable to match last season’s success, they haven’t even been in the ballpark. As of now, Mark is out of the Chase. If the consummate points
racer (not necessarily high praise) isn’t able to even make the chase, then I’m not too sure I’d fight too hard to stay in the “5” car next year. Woody Allen made a movie called Take The Money And Run. Not bad advise!
Joe Gibbs Racing- “A-”- The folks at JGR have their act together. They’re pretty much assured of having two teams in the chase, and both multiple winners. Coy seems to be doing the day to day management, and dealing with both Sprout and Denny, seems like a handful.
Denny Hamlin- Solid “A”- With 5 wins, he stands even with JJ in bonus points for the Chase. Only problem is that there’s another 8 races to go, and they’ve slumped lately. Confidence is everything. Another win or two would start the Chase off right.
Kyle Busch- “B+”- With two wins, Kyle’s not only not the top JGR driver, he’s not even the top Busch. To be a contender, they’ve got to step it up and keep it up.
Joey Logano- “B+”- Why the same grade as Kyle, when he’s 18th, with no wins, and no Chase possibility, you might ask? Good question. My reason, because I grade on the curve. He hasn’t shown quite as much as some think he should to this point.
He has raced pretty smart most times, but he’s still learning, and if he keeps listening to Zippy, he’ll get there, just not this year. Hey Joey, don’t worry about Kevin. He’s racing for a championship, but keep an eye peeled for Delana.
Richard Childress Racing- “A-” with a bullet- Richard is head and shoulders above last year. He has all of his teams
competitive week in, week out. Happy seems to be Happy again, and has held the point lead all but 2 weeks. Only one problem, the regular season points lead don’t mean, —-. Fill in the blank (Hint: Junior lost 50 points for saying it). The fly in his ointment is that as well as all three have run, they don’t have
enough to show for it in he W column.
Kevin Harvick- “B+”- With his future settled, now it’s time to get down to business. Consistency can win the regular season. To win the big prize, takes wins when you need them. I just don’t see this team stepping up enough to get it done.
Jeff Burton- “B”- Running well, but not nearly enough to show for it. Deserves a win, just needs some luck.
Clint Bowyer- “C+”- Ditto. I expected more out of these guys than I’ve seen so far. Could have won the 400 at Daytona, but didn’t. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty big club.
Roger Penske- “B”- When you’re wrong in print you don’t have much choice, but to own up to it. I have to admit, I had pretty much written Dodge off, pre-season. Rog and Dodge have come through surprisingly well.
Kurt Busch- “B+”- With 2 points victories, plus the All-Star big $$ race have to have Kurt feeling pretty good. He’s gone from "the other Busch" to head of the family.
Sam Hornish- “C+”- Sam seemed to be in perpetual "Spin Cycle". This season, he seems to be getting it. He needs some luck to go with his improved performance.
Bad Brad Keselowski- “C+”- Bad got more "air time" (pun intended) for Dodge off Carl’s bumper than most drivers get in a season. I thought he handled it pretty well, and has been going about the business of learning so far. Next couple of years is when
he’ll show what he really has.
Roush Fenway Racing- “C”- Never really cared for Jack. He’s a whiner. Remember the "they’re soaking their tires"? This year he’s had plenty to whine about. All four of his teams on the Schneid. For the Ford flagship team, the flag seems to be flying at half mast.
Matt Kenseth- B- Matt’s doing what he does best: running well, but doing it pretty much under the radar. Damn you Matt, if you’d just won a couple more races when you won your championship, maybe we wouldn’t have this Chase. Last year, ironically, with two victories, was the only Chase he’s missed. I just don’t think he has the chops to be successful with this format. Again he’s got plenty of company.
Greg Biffle, (“The Biff”)- B- His career clock is ticking.
David Ragan- “C”- Being the new kid, the Ford swoon has hit him at a very bad time career-wise. For the money that UPS has spent since they came into the sport, they haven’t much to show for it.
“Cousin” Carl Edwards- Incomplete- When your in college, that’s your Prof’s way of telling you if you don’t pick it up, he’ll be seeing you in his class again next year. This really puzzles me. One thing I know, It’s not from lack of trying. Anyone who will try a bank shot off the wall gets my vote.
Earnhardt- Ganassi Racing- “B”- I have to give Chip high marks for re-signing Jamie. That shows class and smarts. He was instantly rewarded with not only a Daytona 500 win, maybe
more importantly, they kept Bass Pro Shops (who was all but gone) as well as picking up Mickey D’s. In these perilous times, this was huge.
Jamie McMurray- (“Jamie Mac”)- “B”- with a bullet- Daytona 500 Champ. Second at Talladega, two poles. Bass Pro Shops is getting quality time out of this deal. Jamie finished 11th twice when the Chase field was at 10. He won’t make it this year, but this entire team can hold their heads high.
Juan Pablo Montoya- (“Juan Pablo Volcano”)- “C+”- I love this guy, if you don’t like vanilla, then this has to be your man.
That having been said, if he were to dial it back about half a notch, it should show up in the results.
Stewart-Haas- (or Hendrick light)- “C+,” “B-,” you pick- Tony was brought on board, in part to attract sponsorship. I’m sure that they’ll replace Old Spice, but Haas is still hitting his hip for the “39.” I’m about as surprised by this years start, as I was by last year’s.
Tony Stewart- “B-”- He’s normally a slow starter, except last year. Again last year we were shown just how little winning the regular season means. Making the Chase is a gimme. To really contend, he has to step up. I’ve been surprised, I thought
the Chase format would favor Tony, but not so far.
Ryan Newman- “B-”- Even with a win, I can’t rate him any higher, until he shows me more. I’m more of a dog person than a people person, so I gotta love Ryan and Krissie’s charity, so I usually have my eye on him.
Mikey Motorsports- “C”- This is another "Umbrella" group. The satellite team is out shining the house teams.
David Reutiman- “C+”- Last year he was in the Chase position until it counted then fell out, and never made it back.This year he hasn’t been close, despite some decent runs.
Martin Truex- “C”- Sometimes you see a team struggle and you wonder if it’s the car, or the driver. I really expected more of a pick up after the driver change.
Marcos Ambrose- “C+”- I really want to see Marcos pick up a win, so he can put Sonoma behind him. On the whole, the team isn’t showing as well as last year.
Kasey Kane- “C+”- I would be shocked if Kasey were able to make the Chase. To have taken the deal he did, he must have wanted out really badly.
Robby Gordon- “C”- Robby’s solidly in the top 35, despite a rather cheesy 25 point penalty, and missing Loudon. A grade of “C” for this team is the equivalent of an “A” for Hendrick. Hang tough guys.
Regan Smith- “C”- The NASCAR record book lists him with no wins. He’s a winner in my book. Talk about being out of the mainstream, running a race shop out of Denver should qualify. I seem to remember an Indy team out of Denver years ago.
A.J. Allmendinger- “B”- This season is the best the 43 has looked in MANY years.
Travis Kvapil- “F”- This is a team grade, not a driver grade. This team had earned a solid “B” until some knucklehead took them out with their home made bleeder valves. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB. Travis is a solid driver, he and the team deserve better. This gutted the team, and it’s easy to see why.
One thing about mid-season is that there is a lot of racing to go, so a lot can change. With NASCAR’s current fixation on the Chase, we can be pretty sure who will fill the first 9 or 10 spots. The bottom spots are in play, and the stakes are high for the teams involved. It’s just not going to effect the Championship.
In college basketball, they talk about peaking at the right time for the NCAA Tourney. Now would be a very good time for a Cinderella eam to catch lightning in a bottle. For them, as well as the fans. Another obvious fact about the first half is that the only drivers to win races that will most probably miss the chase are Jamie and Ryan (probably Reuty Tooty and seven teams in Chase position have no wins.