Ranking the 10 Most Disappointing Drivers of the Last Decade
Every driver that makes it to one of NASCAR's top divisions has dreams of fame and glory. For some, those dreams become reality, while for others, it is just the opposite.
Some drivers who come into the sport heralded as future stars turn into everything they were predicted to be and then some. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson are prime examples of former "potential stars."
Then there are those drivers like Joey Logano or Juan Pablo Montoya who enter the sport with equal fanfare, but never quite get to the level that some of their predecessors have reached.
It is not that all of these drivers completely failed at the top level, it is just that they never quite achieved the amount of success that we may have thought they would have.
In other cases, as the years pass, a driver's results begin to suffer drastically.
Gordon and Mark Martin are examples of drivers who have been able to withstand the test of time and continue to produce strong results, while other former top-tier stars like Bobby Labonte have seen their results diminish as the years continue fly by.
In the slides ahead, we will rank the 10 most disappointing NASCAR drivers over the last decade, whatever the reason may be. Some of these competitors make the list for failing to live up to expectations, some make it based on a declining career and others make it for situations that may, unfortunately, be out of their control.
10. Joe Nemechek
Joe Nemechek is a great example of a victim of circumstance. Never a true championship contender, Nemechek was still a very good driver who was more than capable of putting together some decent seasons.
Through 2005, Nemechek had posted four career wins, 59 top-10 finishes and had a career-best points finish of 15th in 12 seasons.
Then, financial problems set back his career. He drove for underfunded teams for a few years before forming his own team beginning in the 2009 season. Since then, he has primarily been a start-and-park driver, though he has run the whole race on a number of occasions this year.
His 32 last-place finishes put Nemechek in a tie for the top spot in that category.
Putting Nemechek on the list was a tough call. It is not so much that he is a disappointment, it is more that the tough economic situation that he has had to go through is the real disappointment.
9. Dave Blaney
Dave Blaney entered the Sprint Cup Series with far less fanfare than some of his peers. No one ever projected him to win multiple championships or go on to a Hall of Fame career, so it is tough to rank him much higher than ninth.
Blaney makes the list mostly because of his current winless streak of 463 races. He is the active leader in career starts without a victory, and it is a wide margin between him and the second-place driver on that list (David Gilliland has failed to win in 255 career starts).
Blaney's winless drought to begin a career is fourth all time.
For his career, Blaney has only posted 28 top-10 finishes, but since leaving Bill Davis Racing after the 2008 season, he has been driving cars for either start-and-park teams or owners that are severely underfunded compared to some of the top-tier teams.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While still the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also been one of the most disappointing over the last number of years.
Earnhardt has qualified for the Chase more times than not, but has never come close to winning that elusive first title.
While the championships have not been there for Earnhardt, it is the lack of race wins that are even more glaring on his resume. Since 2005, he has scored just four wins and only two since signing with Hendrick Motorsports starting with the 2008 season.
To put that figure in perspective, Earnhardt has the same amount of wins as a member of Hendrick's team as David Ragan and David Reutimann have each scored over the same period.
Earnhardt clearly has the talent, and he is a member of one of the top teams in the sport. His overall performance in recent years has been decent, but he is expected to contend consistently for wins and championships.
7. Joey Logano
No driver in the last decade has entered the Sprint Cup Series with as much hype as Joey Logano. While there have been a handful of wins, his development has taken longer than anyone could have guessed.
The 2013 season is the fifth full-time season for Logano. In 180 career starts, he has earned just three wins, and this year marks the first time that he has qualified for the Chase.
The 16 top-10s that he has posted this year tie his career best, and his 10 top-fives are three better than his previous best for a season.
Logano is still just 23 years old, so his career is still in its early stages, and he has plenty of time to improve.
While this year has been a breakout year for Logano, it is not enough to make us forget about the struggles that came in the four years prior to this one.
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya made headlines in 2006 when it was announced that he was leaving open-wheel racing to race in NASCAR.
Montoya ran his first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series in 2007. He finished with six top-10 finishes and earned his first career win at the road course in Sonoma. It seemed as if Montoya was on the verge of becoming a big star in the Sprint Cup Series and that the wins would begin to pile up.
Unfortunately for the Colombia native, the potential that was there but never materialized.
He has just two career wins, both on road courses. For years, the biggest question surrounding Montoya is to whether or not he could win on an oval. While he has come close many times, including two times earlier this year, the answer thus far has been a resounding no.
Montoya will be returning to the IndyCar Series driving for Roger Penske in 2014. With the 2013 season nearly in the books, he has just three races left to earn that elusive first non-road course win.
5. Elliott Sadler
Elliott Sadler had a career year in 2004. He scored two wins and posted 14 top-10 finishes. Sadler was one of the 10 drivers that qualified for the inaugural Chase that season, ultimately ending the year in ninth place.
Since then, Sadler's Sprint Cup career has gone downhill.
In the 219 races since the 2004 season, Sadler has failed to win and has not qualified for the Chase. From the 2006 through the 2010 seasons, he only posted 23 top-10 finishes and never ended the season higher than 22nd in the standings.
In the last three years, Sadler has been a Nationwide Series regular. He finished runner-up in the standings in both 2011 and 2012 and is currently in fifth place this season.
The sharp decline in productivity in the Sprint Cup Series combined with the lack of winning a championship in the Nationwide Series lands Sadler on the list of disappointing drivers.
4. Open-Wheel Drivers
Juan Pablo Montoya has posted some average results in Sprint Cup competition. Compared to the rest of the former open-wheel drivers to make the jump to stock cars, his results are Hall of Fame worthy.
The 2008 season saw Sam Hornish Jr., Dario Franchitti and Patrick Carpentier all make the full-time move from open-wheel racing to the Sprint Cup Series.
The results were less than desirable.
Combined, they failed to record a single top-10 finish. Two of the three drivers failed to finish the season as Sprint Cup drivers. Both Franchitti and Carpentier were released from their contracts prior to the conclusion of their rookie years.
In the years since, Hornish has made a home for himself in the Nationwide Series. Driving for Penske Racing, he has become a two-time winner in NASCAR's second tier.
In 2012, he posted 22 top-10 finishes and finished fourth in the standings. This season he sits second in the points, just eight markers out of the top spot.
While Hornish has found some success in NASCAR after early struggles, the rest of his former open-wheel stars cannot say the same.
3. Bobby Labonte
From 1995 through 2004, Bobby Labonte was one of the top drivers in NASCAR. Over that time, he scored all 21 of his career victories and posted 169 of 203 career top-10 finishes.
Since then, it has been nothing but a struggle for the 2000 series champion. After leaving Joe Gibbs Racing following the 2005 season, Labonte began driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Following three mediocre seasons driving for "The King," Labonte spent the next two years driving for underfunded teams, and his results were indicative of the lower-quality equipment he was driving.
Beginning in 2011, he became the newest driver for JTG-Daugherty Racing, a single-car team that had proved they were capable of running near the front of the field.
Sadly, Labonte's career has still yet to turn back around driving the No. 47 car. In three seasons, he has managed just four top-10 finishes and his lone top-five came in his first race with the team, the 2011 Daytona 500.
After such a strong run in the previous ten years, this past decade has clearly been a huge disappointment for a driver that was once one of the top competitors in the sport.
2. Recent Rookie of the Year Award Winners
Quick, can anyone name any of the last three drivers to win the Rookie of the Year award? If you cannot, you're probably not alone.
The last three drivers to take home the award were Kevin Conway, Andy Lally and Stephen Leicht. The three competitors combined to run a total of three races in the season following their rookie of the year honors.
Former recipients of the award are Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and a whole host of other top stars in the sport. In recent years, there has been a noticeable lack of new talent entering the sport, and the result has been subpar drivers taking home an award that was meaningful.
The last three Rookie of the Year's combined for just two finishes inside the top 20 in 73 starts during their rookie campaigns (Lally posted a 19th-place finish while Conway earned a 14th-place).
None of the last three award receivers have attempted a race in any NASCAR series during the 2013 season.
1. Postseason Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch is one of the best drivers currently in NASCAR. At just 28 years old, he has already scored 124 wins across the three major series. That ranks him second to only Richard Petty in total wins.
For as good as Busch is, his performance in the Sprint Cup Series Chase goes way beyond disappointing. They are flat-out ugly and shocking.
Now in his ninth full-time Sprint Cup season, Busch has only qualified for the Chase in six of those years. Only one of Busch's 28 career wins has come during the postseason. That lone victory came at Phoenix in 2005, a year that Busch did not even qualify for the playoffs.
In his five Chase appearances prior to 2013, Busch has a best finish of fifth in the standings while all four of his other year-end points finishes were eighth or worse.
Busch's postseason struggles have become inexplicable at this point. He has never entered the playoffs worse than the sixth seed and twice has started as the points leader, yet somehow he cannot carry the regular-season momentum and parlay it into a championship-caliber performance.