Ranking the Biggest Disappointments of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season so Far
While it's been a great season thus far for guys like Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, a number of other Sprint Cup drivers have started off far worse than expected.
Granted, we've gone through just 11 races of the 36-race season—just a hair under one-third of the way through—but for all the good surprises we've seen, there is an equal number of disappointments.
It's the latter that we focus on in this exercise of sorts. How are drivers who you'd expect to be ranked and performing at a much higher level at this point essentially wallowing?
That's what we try to explain as we look at the five drivers who have been the most disappointing of all.
Sure, you could make a case for a guy like Jimmie Johnson having a disappointing season. After all, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion has yet to reach Victory Lane in 2014.
However, he's still in the top 10 in the overall standings and has had a consistent season for the most part to date. There's nothing disappointing about that. And remember, this is Jimmie Johnson. The wins will come. It's hard to put the word "disappointment" in the same sentence whenever you're talking about JJ.
As you go through the five picks, you may wonder why Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch's names are not on this list, given that they're 27th and 28th in the Sprint Cup standings.
You may find it hard to believe, but Patrick has indeed shown progress—albeit incrementally. A career-best seventh-place finish last Saturday at Kansas, climbing from 29th to 27th in the standings, could very well be the kind of showing that begins to start turning things around for her.
As a result, we're giving her the benefit of the doubt that she will continue to improve—which is more than we can say for some who are on this list.
Then there's the elder Busch brother. He was kept off the list because for as far down as he is in the standings, he still has one thing that the rest on the list don't, not to mention guys like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne. Namely, a win.
And even if Busch remains below the top 20 in the standings, as long as there are not more than 16 different race winners by the time the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins 16 races from now, Busch will make it.
So without further adieu, let's look at the biggest disappointments thus far in 2014 and why:
5. Clint Bowyer
If you would have said Clint Bowyer would be both winless and in 20th place in the standings after the first 11 races of the 2014 season, I'd say surely you were talking about some other driver.
But the facts are the facts. Bowyer has had a fairly decent season to an extent, with one top-five, two other top-10 and four other top-16 finishes in the first 11 races.
Unfortunately, he's had two heartbreaking finishes of 42nd at Daytona and 43rd at Richmond that have gone a long way toward pushing him downward in the standings.
Further, he's suffered two of his worst finishes in the last three races.
Of all the drivers we've looked at in this exercise, Bowyer is the one guy we can see bouncing back big and fast. We can see him winning at upcoming places like Dover, Michigan, Sonoma and New Hampshire.
The question is, will he?
4. Tony Stewart
We knew it would be rough on Tony Stewart in 2014, coming back from last year's devastating sprint car wreck that severely broke his leg but also forced him to miss the last 15 races of the Sprint Cup season.
Stewart came into this season admittedly not fully recovered, but he valiantly mustered on. Unfortunately, he's only had brief moments of the Smoke of old and definitely not enough to get him into the Chase if it were to start today.
Stewart currently sits 22nd in the standings. He's managed two top-five and two other top-10 finishes. That's the good news.
The bad news is he's really struggled in the last three races, finishing 25th, 43rd and 20th. Add in finishes of 35th at Daytona and 33rd at Las Vegas, and Stewart is off to the worst start of his Sprint Cup career.
At the same time, Stewart is one of the best momentum drivers out there. If he manages to earn a win in the next, say, five races, that would go a long way toward picking up his overall performance—not to mention enhance his chances to make the Chase.
Don't forget, he failed to win even one race in the first 26 races leading up to the Chase in 2011 and then went out and won five of the 10 races en route to his third Cup championship that year.
We're not ready to throw a tag day for Smoke just yet, but he could use a handout of some good luck going forward.
3. Jamie McMurray
When Juan Pablo Montoya left Chip Ganassi Racing and returned to the IndyCar Series after last season, Jamie McMurray was presented with a golden opportunity to essentially become the No. 1 driver at CGR.
Unfortunately, that golden opportunity has seen some of the luster go off its sheen, not to mention the outstanding start new teammate Kyle Larson has had in his rookie season in the Sprint Cup series.
To be fair, McMurray hasn't been all THAT bad. But when he has been bad, he's been real bad.
The fact he has two top-10 finishes, three other top-15 and two top-20 showings in the first 11 races prove McMurray hasn't forgotten how to drive.
But finishes of 29th, 38th, 39th and 42nd in four of the last eight races has really sent him spiraling downward.
And while he's ranked 24th, there still is time for McMurray to climb back upward in the standings. He actually isn't as bad as the numbers indicate. Perhaps the best way to say it is he's the best 24th-ranked driver in NASCAR today.
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 25th in the Sprint Cup standings, which isn't all that unusual.
After all, he's the latest driver to have had a decent rookie season, only to follow it up with a mediocre sophomore campaign on the Cup circuit. That's where Stenhouse is now and likely where he'll continue to be.
Consider this: Since earning his only top-five finish of the season thus far (second at Bristol), Stenhouse has had finishes in the succeeding seven races of 34th, 40th, 26th, 20th, 38th, 10th (Talladega) and 22nd.
Considering that track record, it's actually a surprise he's not ranked lower. At that rate, Stenhouse will be lucky to finish the season in the top 25, if not drop down below the top 30.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
When Martin Truex Jr. was forced to find a new team for 2014, being innocent in the race-manipulation scandal that cost Michael Waltrip Racing the primary sponsor for what had been Truex's car, it appeared Truex was ultimately going to a better place.
After all, he was following Kurt Busch at the single-car Furniture Row Racing operation. Busch was the first driver from a single-car team to ever qualify for the Chase, having done so last season.
Unfortunately, Truex has had nothing but trouble this season. Even when he's had a good start, like starting on the outside pole in the season-opening Daytona 500, he wound up suffering mishaps (finished 43rd at Daytona due to a broken oil line).
He's managed just one top-10 finish (10th at Richmond three races ago) and three other top-20 showings. All of the seven remaining finishes have been 22nd or worst.
While there are still 21 races left to try and salvage the season, it's pretty clear that unless Truex wins a couple of races between now and Richmond, his hopes for the Chase and even finishing the season in the top 15 are just about over—almost as soon as they began.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski