NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Biggest Underachievers of the Season at the Break

Ben MontedonicoContributor IIIApril 10, 2012

NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Biggest Underachievers of the Season at the Break

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    One day ago, we took a look back at the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in an effort to find the 10 biggest overachievers of the year to date.

    Today, we do the opposite.

    For every driver who has exceeded expectations, there is another who has failed to meet them. While stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart have started the year better than many expected, guys like Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have failed to live up to their preseason hype.

    Luck may have something to do with a driver's success, or lack thereof. But it matters very little. Results are results, no matter how you slice it. And there are 10 drivers who have yet to earn the results they were expected to get when the season started.

    It is these drivers who will be the focus today, as we take a look at the 10 biggest underachievers of the season through six races.

1. Kasey Kahne

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    The first driver on our list of underachievers is the new Hendrick Motorsports addition, who sits a dreadful 31st in the standings after six races.

    Kahne has been plagued worse than any driver in 2012, both by misfortune and by his own mistakes.

    Kahne has suffered two crashes not of his making (Daytona, Las Vegas) and an engine failure, as well as a pair of self-inflicted wounds in crashes at Phoenix and Bristol.

    The results of Kahne's 2012 season to date are two DNFs, three finishes of 30th or worse and zero Top 10s through six events.

    That's not exactly the start Kahne was looking for after switching to the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports team in the offseason.

2. Jeff Gordon

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    It's not Jeff Gordon's fault that he sits 21st in the standings after six races.

    Gordon has been plagued by misfortune almost as bad as his teammate in the No. 5 car has, with one exception: Gordon literally has been a victim in every incident he's been involved in this season.

    The four-time Sprint Cup champ has been swept up in a pair of wrecks not of his making and suffered a blown engine at Daytona, all while running in the Top 10.

    Unfortunately, the fact is Gordon still sits 21st in the standings, bad luck or not.

    And that's a far cry from where the No. 24 is accustomed to being after six races.

3. Carl Edwards

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    Two drivers finished the 2011 Sprint Cup season with 2,403 points.

    One of those drivers already has a pair of wins through six races and made the overachievers' list. The other is Carl Edwards.

    Edwards' start to 2012, while not abysmal, has been uninspired. Despite earning three Top 10s through six races, Edwards sits 11th in the standings after finishing second a year ago.

    The glaring blow on Edwards' 2012 resume is a 39th-place finish at Bristol after an early accident. But besides that, Edwards has been less than competitive, failing to even lead a lap so far in 2012.

    The 2011 runner-up will have to change that if he wants to avoid being an underachiever all season in 2012.

4. Kyle Busch

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    Like Edwards, Busch has been less than stellar after another solid season in 2011.

    Through six races, Busch has already been swept up in four accidents, with two of those wrecks resulting in finishes of 32nd or worse.

    Busch, who is on a probation of sorts from team owner Joe Gibbs, seems to have lost the aggressive attitude that helped him win 19 Sprint Cup races over the last four years for JGR and instead has developed a more passive attitude, which has resulted in more mediocre results.

    As evidence, Busch only has two Top 10 finishes through six races, the same as Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin (who's only run four races) and one less than Paul Menard, and has only shown to be competitive for the win once this season at Auto Club.

    If Busch is to get off this list, he must step up his game as well as his 16th-place rank in the standings.

5. Kurt Busch

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    Not many people expected Kurt Busch to be a contender in 2012.

    But few could have expected Kyle's older brother to be this far off the pace to start the year.

    Kurt's 2012 season has been a bumpy ride. The 2004 Sprint Cup champ was involved in a wreck early at Daytona and again two weeks later at his home track in Las Vegas. A myriad of tire woes also relegated Busch to a 33rd-place finish in the circuit's most recent race at Martinsville.

    Kurt's best finish in 2012 is a ninth-place effort at Auto Club, but don't be fooled. Busch earned that finish after some smart strategy atop the pit box before the rains came resulted in his only finish better than 15th.

    Perhaps as Kurt and his Phoenix Racing team begin to gel, the results will get better. But 26th in the standings after six races was not what the elder Busch had in mind for his fresh start.

6. AJ Allmendinger

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    If the saying, "You're only as good as your last race," is true, AJ Allmendinger is the second-best driver in NASCAR.

    Unfortunately, the rest of Allmendinger's first six races have shown otherwise.

    The Dinger's 2012 season started out rough in his new ride, finishing 34th or worse in two of his first three races and not cracking the Top 15 or finishing on the lead lap until the rain-shortened event at Auto Club two weeks ago.

    Allmendinger's runner-up finish at Martinsville was good enough to finally move him into the Top 20 in points. But after six races, AJ still ranks behind the likes of Regan Smith and his replacement in the No. 43 car, Aric Almirola.

    Allmendinger's best career finish at Martinsville was a good start, but we'll need to see more before we can stop calling him an underachiever.

7. Marcos Ambrose

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    When the season began, I declared Ambrose to be my sleeper of 2012.

    Through six races, the Tasmanian Devil has yet to live up to the hype.

    Ambrose, like so many others, has been plagued by misfortune in 2012. He was a lock to finish in the Top 5 at Phoenix before his motor expired less than 20 laps from the finish, and an early accident at Bristol took him out of contention before he could get up to speed.

    But even when problems haven't plagued him, Ambrose has left much to be desired—particularly on intermediate tracks, which make up the majority of the schedule, where Ambrose has uninspired finishes of 13th and 21st, respectively.

    Ambrose's 23rd-place standing does him no favors, either, and it's likely he'll have to win both road course races and then some to have even a shot at making the Chase.

8. Jamie McMurray

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    It's not Jamie McMurray's two Top 10s that have made him an underachiever in 2012.

    It's what he's done when he's finished outside the Top 10.

    McMurray's best finish when he's failed to finish inside the Top 10, which is 67 percent of the races so far, is a 20th-place outing at Martinsville.

    In fact, McMurray has placed 31st or worse three times in the first six races of 2012.

    McMurray is one year removed from when he was expected to be the sport's next big star following his career year of 2010, during which he won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the fall race at Charlotte.

    Still, McMurray's 24th-place standing after six races has to be a disappointment.

9. David Ragan

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    David Ragan may have received the worst end of the 2012 offseason, as he was relegated from powerhouse Roush Fenway Racing to the second-rate Front Row Motorsports team.

    Like Kurt Busch, Ragan wasn't exactly heavily favored to contend this season. But anybody hoping he could show up his old Roush teammates has been sorely disappointed.

    Give Ragan credit for one thing: he does have a single lead-lap finish to his credit in 2012, which came in the same race as his season-best 21st-place effort in Las Vegas.

    Besides that race, Ragan has yet to finish within two laps of the lead, with his closest effort coming at Phoenix, where he finished three laps down in 25th.

    The former Roush prodigy now sits 28th in the standings with little hope of being more than an also-ran in 2012, except in the plate races at Talladega and Daytona.

10. Jimmie Johnson

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    The luck Jimmie Johnson received just two weeks ago was inexplicable.

    Within a five-day period, the five-time Sprint Cup champ had a penalty overturned without explanation and a busted oil line become a non-factor when the race that Sunday at Auto Club was rain-shortened.

    Yet despite earning 51 points in a five-day period (the most one can earn in a single race is 48), Johnson still sits only 10th in the standings.

    Why? Perhaps because the luck Johnson encountered that fateful week has been cancelled out a little courtesy of an early crash at Daytona and a late wreck at Martinsville.

    Still, Johnson's 10th-place standing ties his career-worst through six races, and the man who was unseated for the title last season after five years of dominance will need to pick it up if he is to recapture his throne.