2014 Stock Watch for Drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Week 12 Edition

Joe MenzerFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

2014 Stock Watch for Drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Week 12 Edition

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet and Danica Patrick in the No. 10 Chevy are worth keeping an eye on.
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet and Danica Patrick in the No. 10 Chevy are worth keeping an eye on.Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

    Now that Jeff Gordon has finally won his first race of the 2014 season, all seems right in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

    Well, at least it does for Gordon and his legion of fans.

    Meanwhile, there are many other drivers whose stocks are falling while the fortunes of those such as Gordon rise. Still others remain in hold mode, where it's too soon to tell for certain which way their seasons are headed.

    It's not all based on who wins. Some drivers who don't even own a victory yet deserve a closer look because they're starting to build momentum and confidence in the right direction and they drive for strong teams that are bound to put them in fast race cars. For others, the 2014 die seems cast in a way that won't allow them to sell many of their diecast cars when it's all over.

Joey Logano

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    There arguably has been no one better this season than Joey Logano.
    There arguably has been no one better this season than Joey Logano.USA TODAY Sports

    Take away a wreck at Talladega that wasn't his fault, yet relegated him to a 32nd-place finish, and a mechanical problem at Darlington that caused him to finish 35th, and Logano has been on a serious roll lately.

    In fact, after finishing fourth in three of the first six races this season, Logano sandwiched the debacle at Darlington with wins at Texas and Richmond and then finished fourth again at Kansas after getting taken out late at 'Dega.

    Those are the kinds of consistently strong finishes that indicate a special chemistry is being developed between Logano and his Team Penske crew chief, Todd Gordon. It's the kind of chemistry that generally vaults a driver into Cup championship contention.

    Verdict: Buy

Clint Bowyer

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    Clint Bowyer was looking to cap his big week by kick-starting his season in Kansas.
    Clint Bowyer was looking to cap his big week by kick-starting his season in Kansas.USA TODAY Sports

    Clint Bowyer had quite a week last week.

    First, it was announced that he had signed a contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing, which also announced the extension of contractual agreements with Bowyer's crew chief, Brian Pattie, and his primary sponsor, 5-Hour Energy. Then Bowyer, who only recently got married, announced that his wife Lorra is pregnant with their first child.

    But when it came to running in the race at Kansas Speedway that was also sponsored by 5-Hour Energy, the good karma ran out quickly for the native of nearby Emporia, Kansas. It soon proved to be just another disappointing race to add to a pile of them in 2014, as Bowyer finished 23rd on his home track.

    He has led a total of only 25 laps in his No. 15 Toyota over the first 11 races—and none at all in the last four.

    Verdict: Sell

Danica Patrick

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    If you haven't been sold on Danica Patrick, maybe it's time to reconsider.
    If you haven't been sold on Danica Patrick, maybe it's time to reconsider.Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    For stockholders who refused to sell Danica stock when advised repeatedly to do so earlier in the year, take heart. There may yet be hope that it will be a profitable year for Ms. Patrick.

    While it's true that it's only two races, she has run well in the last two events at Talladega and Kansas, respectively. She brought the crowd at Talladega to its feet while leading six laps early in the Aaron's 499 before falling off to finish 22nd—and at Kansas, she ran in the top 10 virtually all night before finishing a Cup career-best seventh.

    Afterward, according to Dan Gelston of the Associated Press, crew chief Tony Gibson told Patrick, "Chicks rule, huh?"

    Well, not quite. But the finish did move Patrick one spot ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch in the Sprint Cup points standings. (She's 27th, the former Cup champ is 28th after wrecking and finishing 29th at Kansas.) The fact of the matter is that Patrick finally is showing some signs of progress, worthy of seeing where it goes.

    Verdict: Hold

Kasey Kahne

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    Kasey Kahne's season could be about ready to catch on fire—the right way.
    Kasey Kahne's season could be about ready to catch on fire—the right way.USA TODAY Sports

    Sometimes in the stock market, you have to have a little faith and go on a gut instinct.

    When it comes to Kasey Kahne, this is one of those times. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team headed by driver Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis simply is too talented to keep struggling the way it has been most of this season.

    A third-place finish at Kansas, where Kahne led 22 laps, marked the first top-five finish of the season for the No. 5 gang. Now it's getting ready to spend a couple of weeks at one of its favorite tracks in Charlotte Motor Speedway, which will host the Sprint Cup All-Star Race non-points event prior to the Coca-Cola 600.

    Now is the time for Kahne, currently 17th in the points, to take a huge leap forward in his 2014 season. He seems poised to do it.

    Verdict: Buy

Kurt Busch

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    Kurt Busch's season has veered pretty severely off course.
    Kurt Busch's season has veered pretty severely off course.USA TODAY Sports

    It's a good thing Kurt Busch is doing double duty and running in the Indy 500 later this month on the same day he'll drive the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy in the Coca-Cola 600.

    Maybe he'll have a shot at doing something spectacular in the open-wheel race.

    Yes, he has one race win this season on the other side, so he's already virtually guaranteed a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup that determines the champion at season's end. But other than a third-place finish at Fontana and his victory the following week at Martinsville, Busch has run terribly.

    It's no wonder he has fallen one spot behind Patrick in the standings. In the five races since winning at Martinsville, he's finished between 23rd and 39th every time, with three finishes of 31st or worse. The fact that now he will spend this month splitting time between stock cars and IndyCars isn't encouraging for improvement on the NASCAR side, which obviously could use his undivided attention.

    Verdict: Sell

Jimmie Johnson

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    Jimmie Johnson's 2014 season has not gone according to plan—yet.
    Jimmie Johnson's 2014 season has not gone according to plan—yet.USA TODAY Sports

    Panicky investors might have dumped stock in Johnson already—especially after he basically wrecked himself and seven others at Talladega with a rare bobble in the middle of the pack.

    But it would be a mistake to completely dismiss the terrific twosome of Johnson the driver and Chad Knaus the crew chief this early in the season, even if they haven't won a race yet. That is especially true as Johnson, who won his sixth Cup championship last season, heads to one of his favorite tracks in the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

    Give him more time. But given that this has been said repeatedly this season, and Johnson has not yet delivered that first victory, it should be noted that time stands still for no man—even a six-time champ who is struggling.

    He and Knaus need to pull the No. 48 team's season together, and sooner rather than later.

    Verdict: Hold

Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick has been freaky fast for most of this season.
    Kevin Harvick has been freaky fast for most of this season.USA TODAY Sports

    Honestly, if there is a better sponsorship tandem in sports than subs and Buds, we don't know it.

    So Kevin Harvick, whose primary sponsors include Jimmy John's and Budweiser, already has a couple legs up on his Sprint Cup competition. He's also one of only two drivers thus far with two victories in hand (Joey Logano being the other).

    He has struggled at times, but when wily crew chief Rodney Childers hits the setup right, look out. In just 11 races together, Harvick has led a total of 672 laps in his Childers-prepared No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy. That already is the second-highest total of laps led Harvick has had for an entire season in his 14 years of driving in the series.

    Take that in and then remember that these two are just getting started. They haven't even worked together for a full third of one season yet and very well could be NASCAR's next garage power couple, with two of the most popular sponsors to go along with them.

    Verdict: Buy

Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart appears to have strapped in for a rough ride this season.
    Tony Stewart appears to have strapped in for a rough ride this season.Ralph Lauer/Associated Press

    Tony, where art thou this season?

    Not running at the front of many races, that's for sure. Whether he returned too soon from a sprint-car accident or it's for some other reason, this just hasn't been Smoke's season. Stewart is mired in 20th in the points standings and has finished 17th or worse in four of the last six races, including 20th or worse in three straight.

    Of greater concern: He has led laps in only one of the first 11 races. That came when Stewart led 74 at Texas after winning the pole, only to fall to 10th by the end. 

    Usually where there is Smoke, there is fire. But this year, Stewart's season isn't even smoldering.

    Verdict: Sell

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a great season but needs to avoid a summer swoon.
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a great season but needs to avoid a summer swoon.Colin E. Braley/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Don't get upset, Junior Nation, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been downgraded after being the hottest stock in NASCAR earlier in the season.

    Call it a hangover from the Talladega Incident, when it appeared he had a car fast enough to make a late run at a victory, but he ultimately decided to hold back instead. The result was a disappointing 26th-place finish on a day when his 26 laps led were the second-most in the race.

    He's still having an overall fine season after opening by winning the Daytona 500 in dramatic fashion, and he rebounded from the 'Dega debacle with a strong fifth-place run at Kansas.

    But Earnhardt now finds himself in the unusual position of having his willingness to do whatever it takes to win placed in serious question, despite three second-place runs and the series-high total of six top-five finishes already this season.

    Verdict: Hold

Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon finally converted his season of speed into a victory at Kansas.
    Jeff Gordon finally converted his season of speed into a victory at Kansas.Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    Gordon's win at Kansas came after a number of frustrating close brushes with victory failed to end the way the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy team would have liked.

    Take away a 39th-place finish at Talladega, where it's always a crapshoot, and Gordon's win at Kansas clearly culminated an impressive run that began with a fourth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and has included finishes within the top nine in eight of the 11 races run this season. And in two of the others, Talladega being the only exclusion, he finished 13th at Fontana and 12th at Martinsville.

    More wins are on the way, as Gordon's once-rocky relationship with crew chief Alan Gustafson clearly has been resolved.

    Verdict: Buy