Sprint Cup Progress Report: Needs Improvement

Justin HanneyContributor IMarch 25, 2009

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 20: Joey Logano, driver of the #20 Home Depot Toyota, walks on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 20, 2009 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Life as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver is no easy picnic.  With constant attention from fans, media, and sponsors there is the constant pressure to perform.  This year is no different.  

The usual suspects such as Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, and others top the charts each week, while some can't seem to get out of their pit stall.

As we go to Martinsville, let's take a look at a few drivers who have earned needs improvement marks on their current progress report.

Joey Logano

Joey Logano is by far the talk of the town in regards to performance.  Coming in as a rookie, he was tapped as the greatest thing since sliced bread, winning in Nationwide, ARCA, and other major series.  But his rookie year is shaping up to be a sour loaf as he barely squeaks by the top 35 cut this week heading into Martinsville.

I think he was placed into the Sprint Cup series a season too early.  With Tony Stewart vacating the Joe Gibbs roster, Logano seemed like an obvious pick with his past performances, but he didn't have the necessary seat time in the big leagues.  I believe one year of racing in the Nationwide series would put Logano much higher in the season standings.

I'm not counting Joey out, but I do think it will be midseason before we see any significant performance improvements on a consistent level.

Mark Martin

Mark Martin is shocking me this year and I don't think it is his fault. I believe he is just dealing with being the low man on the Hendrick totem pole.  Even though Martin is a star in the NASCAR community, in the Hendrick stables Johnson, Gordon, and Junior are the stars and everybody else is pushed aside.

Some might even argue that the No. 5 car is an R&D car and does not receive the same equipment as other Hendrick cars.  This can never be confirmed or denied, but the past performances of drivers who filled the seat provide some evidence.

I predict Mark will run well this year netting a top 20 in the points, but clearly not as well as he could do under different circumstances.

Ryan Newman

Ryan Newman is always hard to predict.  At times he's winning poles left and right, nabbing top 10 finishes and even winning a race or two here and there.  Other times he's way off and runs back in top 35 land.

The move from Penske to Stewart-Haas Racing seems to have taken its toll as Ryan struggles to find his rhythm with a new team.  Bristol was a good start to recovery, but I foresee Ryan taking about 10 more races until he finds the results that make Newman a top driver.

Sam Hornish Jr.

Sam Hornish Jr. falls into an interesting category.  You can't categorize him as a rookie anymore, yet he is still floundering like it is his first time on the track.  One would expect him to get the flow of things after a season under his belt but his current performance is proving otherwise.

I would almost classify him as another open wheel failure statistic, but I think it's too early to make the call.  He has a stellar open wheel career and is with a powerhouse team, yet it seems all the gears are not correctly aligned to produce a consistent performance.

I predict another year of mediocre performances with a top 20 finish in the points standings.

Scott Speed

Scott Speed is a driver that some thought might perform well, but I didn't expect much out of him and he hasn't disappointed me so far this year.  Scott is a classic statistic of an open wheel star trying to make it in the stock car world. That is, if you consider him to actually be a star with a lackluster F1 performance.

He has a superb team that can throw resources left and right, but all the money in the world won't make a driver win if the driver is the hindrance to success.  I predict a top 30 performance for his entire NASCAR career, however short that might be.