Predicting who is going to finish at the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings is much easier than predicting which drivers will struggle. Each season a driver comes into the season with high expectations only to finish well below where most people predicted at the start of the season.
Two years ago, Denny Hamlin was coming off a runner-up finish in the 2010 point standings. Hamlin was predicted to compete for the championship in 2011, but ended up a disappointing ninth.
Last season Carl Edwards was a favorite to win the title after he lost the championship on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart in 2011. Edwards missed the Chase and finished the season No. 15.
Here is a list of eight drivers who enter the 2013 season with high expectations, but will end up disappointments.
It is important for a NASCAR team to have momentum entering the season. There is no driver in NASCAR who enters the 2013 season with less momentum than Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt got off to a great start in 2012. Earnhardt finished in the Top 10 in 12 of the first 15 races. He ended his 143 winless race drought with his win at Michigan. In August, his momentum slowed down.
Earnhardt entered the Chase with hopes of winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. After suffering a concussion at Talladega, though, Earnhardt chose to sit out the next two races. Some people questioned Earnhardt’s passion for the sport. ESPN Analyst and former NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace said Earnhardt needed to “Man up and drive the car.”
Earnhardt must come into the season focused and ready to take his driving to the next level if he ever wants to win a championship. The competition in the sport is too strong for him to be driving to please Junior Nation.
Kevin Harvick enters his lame duck season at Richard Childress Racing. Harvick will leave his team at the end of the season for Stewart Haas Racing.
Harvick has been at Richard Childress Racing his entire career. He could be on a mission to win a championship for Richard Childress Racing before he leaves for Stewart Haas Racing, but I doubt that is the case.
Richard Childress Racing is starting to fall behind the dominant teams in the sport (Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, and Penske Racing). Harvick is not receiving much support from his teammates at Richard Childress Racing either. Jeff Burton has not made the Chase since 2010 and Paul Menard’s best finish was his No. 16 finish last season.
It is easy to see why Harvick left Richard Childress Racing.
Harvick has made the Chase for three consecutive seasons. He will be a disappointment this season and miss the Chase as he prepares for life at Stewart Haas Racing.
Jeff Burton does not have as high of expectations as his teammate, Kevin Harvick. When you drive for Richard Childress Racing, you are still expected to make the Chase. Burton will not only miss the Chase, but he will also be lucky to crack the Top 20 in 2013.
Burton was once one of the best drivers in NASCAR. His days as an elite driver are over. The 45-year-old driver must start thinking about what his plans will be after racing because his post-racing career is not far away.
Burton only has two Top 5 finishes in the last 80 races and his contract will expire at the end of the 2013 season. If his struggles continue this season, Richard Childress Racing will be forced to replace him with another driver.
Burton has been a disappointment the last two years. Nothing will change in 2013.
Joey Logano will have a lot of pressure on him in 2013, but the young driver is used to it.
When Logano first entered the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series he was named “Sliced Bread,” because he was supposed to be the best driver to ever enter the sport. Now Logano will be teamed with the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Brad Keselowski at Penske Racing.
Logano’s switch from Joe Gibbs Racing to Penske Racing may be just what he needs early in his career. Logano was often in the shadows of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing. Now Logano will be able to share the spotlight with Keselowski at Penske Racing.
Many fans believe Logano will have his best season in 2013. I do not see that happening.
Logano will be in a new environment getting used to a new team. Logano just may not be the “Sliced Bread” that everyone thought he was at age 18.
What would make a disappointing season for Kurt Busch in 2013?
Not making the Chase? Not finishing in the Top 15? I would say not finishing the season with Phoenix Racing.
Busch is a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. He has the talent to drive the car. He just does not have the control over his emotions to handle being the star driver for a single car operation.
Busch will drive for Furniture Row Racing in 2013. The team owner, Barney Visser, desperately wants to succeed in NASCAR. The problem is that the team does not have the equipment to compete with the big boys in the sport.
When Busch drove for Penske Racing in 2011, he complained about his car. The next season Brad Keselowski drove the same Penske equipment to the championship. What will Busch do when he finds out he cannot compete in the No. 78 car?
I am sure it will not end well for him.
Tony Stewart comes into the 2013 season with many distractions.
The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion will be looking for sponsorship on his No. 14 car for nine races. He will also have to deal with the addition of Danica Patrick to the Stewart Haas Racing team this season, and Kevin Harvick to the team next season.
Whether or not Stewart has a disappointing season in 2013 will depend on how well he will be able to manage the distractions he will have to deal with this season.
Stewart will make the Chase in 2013, but he is a driver who is expected to compete for the championship. He will not dominate in the Chase as he did in 2011, but will finish near the back of the Chase standings which will be a disappointing season for Smoke.
Ryan Newman is another Stewart Haas Racing driver who will be looking for sponsorship in 2013. Currently, Newman has sponsorship for 28 races. That leaves eight races unfunded for the team. If this issue is not address early in the season, it could become a distraction for them.
The other distraction for Newman is that he signed a one year deal with Stewart Haas Racing. Does this mean Kevin Harvick will take over the No. 39 car next season, or will Newman be back? All indications are that Stewart Haas Racing wants to keep Newman and add Harvick. Who drives the car in 2014 will depend on the availability of sponsorship for a fourth Stewart Haas Racing car.
Newman may win a race in 2013, but it will be another disappointing season for The Rocket Man.
Clint Bowyer’s name on this list may raise some eyebrows. Last season Bowyer finished second in the point standings, and if it were not for an incident with Jeff Gordon, Bowyer may have won the championship.
Last year was a career year for Bowyer. It was the first time since 2008 that he finished inside the Top 10.
Bowyer is a good driver, but he is not consistent enough to be considered a contender for the championship. Since Bowyer is predicted to be one of the drivers near the top of the standings, the 2013 season will be a disappointment for Bowyer.
Bowyer will make the Chase, but he will finish closer to No. 12 than No. 1.
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