Monday, June 1, 2009

NASCAR Sprint Cup at Mid Point

It seems fitting that this Wednesday will be the running of one of racing's new premier events, the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. Tony Stewart's season to date has been a dream, and he is the host of this race (and owner of Eldora). Loads of Sprint Cup Series talent will be on hand for the event, before heading off to race at Pocono this weekend.

The first of the Pocono trips marks the official mid-point of the "regular" season, or the first 13 of the 26 non-Chase races. 13 more events before the cutoff is made after Richmond on September 12th. What better time to evaluate the drivers, than at the halfway mark of the season? Glad you agree.

1-Tony Stewart. Grade: A+
What a year he is having. All those that said the dual role of driver/owner wouldn't play well with Smoke were dead wrong. The guy seems rejuvenated, in spite of his work load basically doubling. He wears both hats now, and they fit quite nicely./ He has become the first owner/driver to lead the points since 1992, when Alan Kulwicki accomplished the task.

2-Jeff Gordon. Grade: A
The 4-time Cup champ has rounded back into contender shape once again. There's no doubting his ability, as Gordon is one of the best drivers NASCAR has ever seen. There was some doubt in his crew and crew chief, but those doubts have vanished. Gordon is competitive week in and week out, and now that his back is feeling better (after a procedure a couple weeks ago), his health is less of a concern. Confidence is high with the 24 team--they will be dangerous in the Chase.

3-Jimmie Johnson. Grade: A-
The reigning 3-time champ gets an A- due to a sluggish start. His grade has picked up over the past few weeks, as he is getting to be that dominant force once again. He led 298 of the 400 laps in Dover on Sunday (as I said, dominant), and ran the wheels off his Chevy in passing Stewart with 3 to go to get the win. Scary to think this team is on the rise, and 3rd in the points.

4-Kurt Busch. Grade: B
The blue deuce has had moments of brilliance, and then moments of...well, non-brilliance. He has been consistent, however, when he's had a good piece to work with. Pat Tryson continues to do mad work for Busch, giving him good stuff, but this team needs to be a little better with the little things. They will add up.

5-Ryan Newman. Grade: A
Another testimony to the work being done at Stewart-Haas Racing. Two first year teams (the 14 and 39) in the top 5 in points for this first-year outfit. Newman is looking his old self, qualifying well, and running well. Can't say enough god things about SHR in 2009.

6-Kyle Busch. Grade: B+
Yes, Kyle has won in everything except lawn mowers (and that's only because he hasn't run one yet). I'm not knocking him for any bad attitude, or failing to talk to reporters. Meh. The Fox (or SPEED, I forget) commentators asked the question, "how can a guy that leads so many laps not lead the most important one?" It's a legit question. Sometimes the fault lies with the pit crew, sometimes the crew chief, and sometimes the driver. When it has been on the driver, the only blame that can be placed on Kyle is that he wants to win. I'll take that in any driver. Stop knocking the guy, people. he hates to lose, and when he does, he shows it. I prefer that over the emotionless robots we've seen in recent years.

7-Denny Hamlin. Grade: B
Hamlin has been the victim of more bad luck than I can remember in 2009, and still, he's 7th in the points. He's having a good season when bad times stay away. Dover was a prime example. Running well, 2nd place, slowly reeling in the leader, but content to stay where he is....BAM! Right front tire down, hit the fence, day over. Hamlin's good, and could be a threat if they find the right kind of voodoo doll to put in their car to ward of evil spirits.

8-Matt Kenseth. Grade: B
The 2009 Daytona 500 winner has had a season of inconsistencies, and it shows in the 228 point deficit he faces. Kenseth isn't the only guy that has been off the mark, mind you. It's just not easy to maintain that good feeling of a Daytona win, and sustain it. They are still running well, and a break or two could put the #17 team closer to the top.

9. Greg Biffle. Grade: B-
Would like to see the #16 team find the mark a little more. They have speed, but they don't have it often enough. Somewhat of an indictment of Ford at this stage of the game--the highest standing Ford after 13 races is 8th place.

10. Jeff Burton. Grade: B
Props to Burton to this point. He's the top running car at RCR at this point, and has remained a Chase contender while Clint Bowyer's fast start has cooled considerably (he's 16th in points). Burton can still win races, and he'll need to win a couple to boost his chances in the Chase, provided he can stay in the top 12.

11. Carl Edwards. Grade: C
Hate to dump on Carl, but he's not the same Carl on the track. Off the track, and dealing with the media, he's the same. It makes me think there is something amiss with the Ford teams. Edwards is a better driver than his season indicates. Same for Kenseth and Biffle.

12. Mark Martin. Grade: B+
The ageless wonder just rolls on. The repainted his name on the driver-side door a couple weeks ago in Charlotte, adding the words "The Kid" in between the "Mark" and "Martin." He's driving with that same youthful exuberance he had when he first came to the series. The equipment at Hendrick might be the best stuff he's been in since his days with Roush Racing.

Notable seasons to date outside the top 12:

David Reutimann. Great work so far, sitting 13th in the points. Picked up his first career Cup win at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and has given Michael Waltrip Racing a huge lift.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Tough sledding through 12 races. Race 13, he looked like himself. Hate it for Tony Eury, Jr., but sometimes, a shake up is just what the doctor ordered. There is plenty of blame to go around, and Dale Jr. is not exempt. This was a big wake up call for all parties.

Joey Logano. Leads the rookie standings, but has not been as good as advertised (so far). He has shown flashes, and with more experience will come more flashes. He could be a threat to win races once the schedule turns over at Daytona in July.

Mike Solarte

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kind of a meaningless exercise. I mean what difference does it make? The points standings are the only "grade" that counts! Even more precise is the standings after the last race of the season.

But it does provide job security for media folks.