NASCAR: Who Are the 10 Most Overhyped Drivers Today?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2012

NASCAR: Who Are the 10 Most Overhyped Drivers Today?

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    A driver is successful if he or she is able to back up boasts by winning races and championships. But in a sport like NASCAR, it's easy to confuse performance and hype.

    Here's a look at 10 drivers who are among the most overhyped in the sport. In other words, their performance doesn't justify where they rank in the points standings or where they stand in relation to other, more deserving drivers.

    We're not talking about overrated drivers. That's a different subject. Overrated and overhyped are not the same. So please be aware of that when you read this, or choose to respond.

    Also, some overhyped drivers in 2012 may not have been overhyped in other seasons when they were more successful.

    Last but not least, the drivers we've chosen are not placed in any particular order.

    So without further ado, here they are.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Let's make this clear: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had nothing short of an outstanding season thus far in 2012.

    But what about the rest of Junior's Sprint Cup career? It has not been a whole lot to write home about.

    In fact, consider this: Earnhardt has not won a Sprint Cup championship and is tied with Carl Edwards for 13th on the wins list for active Cup drivers (19 ). Even guys like former Cup champ Kurt Busch (24), Kyle Busch (24), former Cup champ Matt Kenseth (22), Jeff Burton (21), former Cup champ Bobby Labonte (21) and Denny Hamlin (20) all have more wins than Junior.

    And yet, Earnhardt has unquestionably been the most popular driver in the sport for the past decade.

    It just goes to show that you can be a good—but not great—driver and still be overhyped.

Danica Patrick

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    If you didn't know better, you'd have thought when Danica Patrick came to NASCAR a few years ago that she was the sport's great savior. Certainly her gender had something to do with that, as well as her brashness and prior stint in IndyCar.

    But did she really deserve all that attention when she had never been in a stock car before?

    To her credit, Patrick has been methodically building her NASCAR resume and is not doing a bad job at all. Some may say her learning curve have been slow. But given all the attention and focus on her, she's been in a virtual no-win situation.

    Still, people are talking about her—good or bad. Unfortunately, being overhyped is a byproduct of that same kind of talk.

    The biggest concern, however, is whether Patrick will be ready for full-time competition in the Sprint Cup Series in 2013, which is the plan right now. Her critics will be watching closely to see how she does.

    Unfortunately, Patrick is likely to continue to be overhyped. If she does well as a full-time Cup driver, her critics will find something else to pick on her about. And if she struggles, all those critics will have a field day, claiming they told us so.

Joey Logano

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    Joey Logano was put in a no-win situation when he was elevated from the Nationwide Series to replace Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing when Stewart left the team after 2008 to become co-owner of Stewart Haas Racing.

    Had Logano turned down the opportunity, he may have had to wait several more years for another chance.

    But Logano accepted the challenge presented by JGR, even if he may not have been fully ready for it.

    Now, Logano's future is up in the air. Reports have been rampant that this year's Daytona 500 winner and 2003 Cup champ Matt Kenseth will be replacing Logano in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota next season.

    Where does that leave Logano? Rumors have him replacing the suspended A.J. Allmendinger in Penske Racing's No. 22 car. Others have Logano remaining at JGR, but with a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series with only occasional Cup jaunts.

    Or, if sponsorship can be found for a fourth Cup team—which right now, does not look all that good—Logano's Cup career could continue with JGR.

    It certainly didn't help Logano when Office Depot announced this past weekend that it is leaving Stewart's team after this season. That will only further tighten an already tight sponsorship dilemma within Sprint Cup racing and could leave Logano without enough funding to stay in the Cup series.

The Cope Twins: Amber and Angela

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    Without trying to sound sexist, there's no question that Amber and Angela Cope are attractive. But while they both may look great in bikinis, their driving ability leaves a lot to be desired.

    The nieces of former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope have been trying to carve careers in NASCAR. As folks like to say in the South, "Good on 'em."

    Unfortunately, talent wins races, not mascara or makeup. And that's why it's not surprising why the twins—or the "blond bombshells" as they like to refer to themselves on their website (—have had little success on the racetrack, let alone in their sponsorship hunt.

    Even worse, if you look at the front page of the twins' website, you'll see five photos at the top— one of both in bikinis, one of them gussying up with their makeup, another one in a cheesecake pose and just two of them in racing fire-suits. Then, if you scroll to the bottom of the page, there's a video that one could make an argument looks more like soft-core porn than hard-core racing.

    Sorry, but if you want to be taken seriously as race-car drivers, tout your talent behind the wheel instead of flaunting your bodies in front of the camera.

    Some of you may wonder what makes the Cope sisters different from Patrick. The answer is plain and simple: talent (sorry, Danica critics, she does have talent to go along with the body flaunting she's done in a number of commercials over the last six years).

     While the Copes are trying to do their best to emulate Patrick as racers, let alone get a regular ride to further improve their talent and get more track time, their pursuit to date hasn't gotten much out of first gear.

    Still, whenever it's announced that one or both of the Copes will be racing in an event, particularly like in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the hype and curiosity factor eclipse their on-track performance,  something that will likely continue to happen for quite some time to come.

Kyle Busch

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    Kyle Busch is a Nationwide champion and has won more than 100 races in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks series.

    But he's never won a Cup championship, and that will be the anvil he'll continue to drag around until he finally puts it all together and takes home the long-coveted Sprint Cup Champion's trophy.

    Since he came to NASCAR nearly a decade ago, the younger Busch brother has been an acquired taste for fans. Some absolutely love him, while others detest him. Unfortunately, with his brashness, not to mention some of the poor choices he's made, he's made it difficult for himself.

    Look at last season. Instead of being a campaign we'd never forget, it ultimately wound up being a season we'd rather never think about again, including his suspension late in the season for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday, not to mention his speeding ticket for driving 128 mph in a 45-mph zone.

    Busch often becomes his own worst enemy, and that only leads to further being overhyped.

    The only way to change that is if he wins a Cup championship and alters his personality. Then he could become a fan favorite and someone who truly deserves some of the hype he receives.

Kurt Busch

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    Early in his career, Kurt Busch's performance lived up to the hype that surrounded him, capped by his winning the first edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2004.

    Unfortunately, since then the older Busch brother has made a number of bad choices that have adversely  affected his racing career.

    This year, Busch is with Phoenix Racing, having been fired by Penske Racing shortly after last season  due to an embarrassing series of season-long run-ins, particularly with media members, as well as publicly castigating his crew far too many times.

    And while Busch's hope was to rebuild his career this season, he's still shown many of the signs of his old self, including forcing NASCAR to park him for one race earlier this season.

    We can't think of any other driver who has fallen so far, who has gone from deserving all the hype to a someone who continues to be overhyped, but for all the wrong reasons.

    But there's still hope that Busch is young enough to turn around his career and get back to the positive attention he received and deserved earlier in his career.

Kasey Kahne

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    So much was predicted for Kasey Kahne when he first came into Sprint Cup and joined forces with then-team owner Ray Evernham. Coming out of the Pacific Northwest, Kahne was supposed to become NASCAR's next big superstar.

    And while he has become one of the sport's more popular drivers, his track record has not lived up to the hype he's received by any stretch of the imagination.

    Since Kahne entered the Cup ranks full time in 2004—which coincidentally was also the same season that the Chase for the Sprint Cup began—Kahne has missed the Chase in six of its eight editions. And in the two years he made the Chase, he finished a disappointing eighth in 2006 and 10th in 2009.

    While nothing is guaranteed until after next week's final Chase qualifying race at Richmond, Kahne figures to make the playoffs for only the third time, or will he fade at Richmond and be overtaken by, say, Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch?

    For Kahne to live up to all the hype he's gotten over the years, much of it borderline-deserved, it's time he finally shows us who he really is. He needs to become the champion that so many anticipated he would be.

Travis Pastrana

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    Travis Pastrana is a nice, media-friendly guy and a great racer in other series, particularly on two wheels, but he's far from living up to the hype he's received in his foray into NASCAR.

    Of course, being hurt last year in a motorcycle accident that significantly delayed his NASCAR progress  didn't help Pastrana. And this year, he's struggled in his bid to become successful on four wheels.

    In a sense, Pastrana has suffered from the same syndrome that Danica Patrick has had to endure. He's had success in another form of motorsports, and that reputation preceded him—be it fair or unfair—when he took his high-revving talents to NASCAR.

    Will Pastrana ever live up to the hype? Sure, just as soon as he gets a lot more track time and starts winding up with consistent top-5 and top-10 finishes. Until then, the hype that has surrounded him will not be justified by the performance we've seen to date.

Juan Pablo Montoya

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    Sure, Juan Pablo Montoya is a former CART champion, not to mention an Indianapolis 500 winner and a Formula 1 standout.

    The native of Colombia also became the first foreign national to compete full-time in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup series (Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi raced part-time in 2002 and 2003; likewise,Canadian Earl Ross competed part-time from 1973-76). He was seen as the pioneer that would lead a massive infusion of foreign-born drivers into NASCAR as it became an international sport, leading a group including such notables as Jacques Villeneuve, Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier and Marcos Ambrose.

    Unfortunately, only Montoya and Ambrose remain in NASCAR's premier series, and the expected influx of foreign-born drivers has all but dried up (can we forget the quick hi and bye from Kimi Raikkonen), as if potential candidates were stopped at the U.S. border and not allowed entry.

    So much was anticipated and expected of Montoya, but given that he has amassed just two wins and qualified for just one Chase for the Sprint Cup, it's pretty easy to say he's not lived up to much of the hype that's surrounded his move from open-wheel racing to the stock car world.

    Oh yes, one more thing: Montoya will fail to make the Chase once again this season. Sad, very sad.