NASCAR

NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers in Need of the Biggest Turnarounds in 2016

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2016

NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers in Need of the Biggest Turnarounds in 2016

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    Greg Biffle (left) and Tony Stewart arguably need the biggest turnaround of all NASCAR drivers in 2016.
    Greg Biffle (left) and Tony Stewart arguably need the biggest turnaround of all NASCAR drivers in 2016.Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Say what you want about guys like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and the like, but it’s a fairly safe assumption they’re going to be in the Sprint Cup championship mix every season.

    But as the 2016 Sprint Cup season quickly approaches, there are several drivers who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re the ones who aren’t just in need of a comeback but a complete turnaround.

    They'll need to go from zeroes to heroes, you might say.

    Here are six drivers with perhaps the biggest need for a complete turnaround in 2016.

Tony Stewart

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

    Tony Stewart has one last chance to get it right in 2016, to return to the old form that led him to nearly 50 wins and three Sprint Cup championships.

    The reason is no secret: Stewart is retiring as a Sprint Cup driver at the end of this season.

    Stewart hasn’t won a race since 2013 and hasn’t made the Chase for the Sprint Cup since 2012.

    In a perfect world, Stewart would make such a turnaround that he’d win his fourth Cup championship and go out on top. But Jeff Gordon tried and came up a bit short. We can’t necessarily expect Stewart to go from 28th in 2015 to No. 1 in 2016.

    Honestly, if Stewart can win at least one race, make the Chase and finish in, say, the top 10 at season’s end, consider it mission accomplished.

Greg Biffle

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Greg Biffle is so much better than 20th place, which is where he finished in 2015.

    At the same time, Biffle is now the oldest full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series at 46.

    He maybe has one, possibly two more seasons left in his long career (notice I didn’t say he has one, possibly two more good seasons left in his long career).

    Biffle is one of the fiercest competitors in the sport. But at the same time, the cars and equipment he’s been in over the last couple of years have not been up to par by any stretch.

    All one has to do is look at Roush Fenway Racing in the 2015 Sprint Cup season: All three of its drivers finished between 20th and 29th.

    Biffle is so much than that. If RFR has truly improved its program during the offseason, we’ll see The Biff rise again.

    If not, retirement may not come soon enough, which would be a shame.

Kyle Larson

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Kyle Larson enters his third full-time season in Sprint Cup.

    Given his resume and experience, many must wonder why the California whiz kid still hasn’t broken out, let alone won his first race in Sprint Cup.

    After a Rookie of the Year-winning season in 2014, Larson regressed dramatically in 2015, finishing 19th. He never really had much of a chance at reaching the Chase, and a case could be made that he fell victim to NASCAR’s notorious sophomore jinx.

    That being said, there likely will be more eyes than ever on the driver of the No. 42 in 2016. And it looks like he’ll deliver—and deliver big.

    If Larson can get off to a good, strong start to the season, he should not only make the Chase for the first time, but he may even grab his first career Cup win—and maybe more than one.

AJ Allmendinger

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Can lightning and a feel-good story strike twice?

    AJ Allmendinger had a Cinderella-like season in 2014.

    He won his first career Sprint Cup race (in a thrilling battle with Marcos Ambrose) and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time. Everything looked promising for 2015 and beyond.

    Unfortunately, Allmendinger regressed performance-wise in 2015.

    He failed to win again, had just three top-10 finishes and ultimately wound up far from qualifying for the Chase, ending the season in a dismal 22nd place.

    Allmendinger has great talent, and with several offseason hires in the performance department, A.J. and JTG Daugherty Racing should both improve—as much as a single-car team can improve.

    If things work well, particularly on Dinger’s strongest tracks (road courses), he very well may qualify for the Chase again. And he may also win a race again, as well.

    But if he doesn’t see a rebound, it could be devastating to both his and JTGD’s future.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Will this be Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s season to finally break through to Sprint Cup stardom? Or will it potentially be his last season with Roush Fenway Racing?

    On one hand, Stenhouse’s lack of performance isn’t totally his fault. Roush Fenway Racing has struggled in the Cup Series for the last few years. But RFR has made several offseason hires that hopefully will bring back some of its former success.

    The key word there is “hopefully,” both for RFR and Stenhouse.

    On the other hand, team owner Jack Roush has been very patient with Stenhouse's development. If he hasn't been able to improve much by now, perhaps Stenhouse's future is with another team.

     

Trevor Bayne

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    Mark Almond/Associated Press

    Success came very early for Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500 just one day after his 20th birthday.

    After numerous starts in Sprint Cup from 2011 through 2014, he finally ascended to a full-time ride in 2015—and unfortunately finished 29th.

    Bayne is definitely much better than that. And like teammates Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., he should improve in 2016, provided RFR also improves. Unfortunately, it’s been the case over the last few seasons that as RFR goes, so goes its drivers.

    Let’s hope it turns things around in a big way for all three RFR drivers, particularly a guy like Bayne, who is too talented and experienced to end up 29th (or worse) again in 2016.

     

    Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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