NASCAR does not reward mediocre drivers, but there is a group of them who should be recognized for their performance that did not live up to expectations.
There are varied excuses that could be bantered about as to why they just cruised through the season, despite having good equipment, strong team owners and the ability to at least finish in the Top 10 regularly and maybe even win.
Some of these drivers faced extraordinary circumstances one could say detracted from their ability to secure finishes that would be expected of them.
The position these drivers hold in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings is not the criteria for this list. The mediocrity recognition is based on the fact these drivers have shown ability to win, place or show in the Cup series—nationwide or other series. They have had quality equipment, and in some races, they run like bandits only to finish mid-pack or worse.
Let's take a look at the leading candidates for missing expectations, given the opportunities they have had to showcase their talent as drivers in NASCAR's top-tier of racing.
The drivers are listed in no particular order.
Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Nationwide Championship this year with his Penske Discount Tire Dodge.
Roger Penske is giving him a ride in the legendary Blue Deuce next year when his teammate, Kurt Busch, moves to the Shell Pennzoil ride.
He is a talented driver but has not shown much ability in the Cup series. With the equipment and funding he has behind him from Penske, he failed to meet expectations.
Keselowski is ranked 25th in the point standings with only 2 Top 10 finishes and an average finish of 22.1. Let's hope he doesn't drop the ball next year when he takes over the blue Dodge.
A.J. Allmendinger was part of a four-car team for Richard Petty Motorsports, and the lead driver was Kasey Kahne. Suddenly, it seemed all the drivers except for Allmendinger announced plans to leave a sinking ship like rats.
He was driving the famous No. 43 for RPM with expectations he would be the lead driver next year with Marcos Ambrose joining him as a teammate.
Now, he wonders if he will have a ride at all and if Richard Petty can salvage some sort of team for next year as the current ownership battles its way through mountains of debt.
Allmendinger showed he could run well and quite often would be seen in the Top 10 cars on the track. He looked as though he was auditioning as the lead driver and had all the qualifications, but his stats show one Top Five, seven Top 10 finishes and an average finish of 18.2. He is currently ranked 20th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.
Distractions may have been a factor with the chaos at RPM, but he remained upbeat despite a few harsh words between he and Petty which apparently were quickly resolved after the heat of the moment.
Kasey Kahne must be classified as one of the young superstars of NASCAR after being hand picked by Rick Hendrick to drive for him even though he didn't have a slot at HMS in which to put him.
Kahne had bursts of great runs in many races but failed to win with Richard Petty Motorsports. Certainly the fact he was a lame duck there played a factor, but he did try to perform well even when he had no idea where he would drive in 2011.
His No. 9 Budweiser Ford was expected to make a showing in the Chase by many until his world as he knew it went awry.
He was a man without a country for a while until it was announced he would drive for Red Bull Racing in 2011. Things suddenly deteriorated at RPM, so he took the opportunity for a running start at Red Bull Racing, where Rick Hendrick stuck him for a year. Poor Kahne will more than likely have one more mediocre season with RBR as he awaits the glory days at Hendrick Motorsports.
His stats this season show seven Top Five and nine Top 10 finishes with an average finish of 19.0 and a ranking of 21st in the point standings.
Marcos Ambrose is the wheelman for the No. 47 car owned by JTG Daugherty Racing. He has shown his talent as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but for some reason, failed to close the deal to capture a win this season.
He decided, after five years, it was time to move on, so he managed to sign a contract with Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose thought it was a good idea at the time, but now, his upcoming season is a bit questionable with the chaos at RPM.
His stats show two Top Five, five Top 10 finishes and an average finish of of 22.5 with a ranking of 26th in the point standings.
Ambrose has had solid equipment, and his ability should have enabled him to rise above mediocrity this season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 2010 season is ranked mediocre, but at least, it isn't as dismal as last year. The reasons for his performance or lack thereof are as varied as the people who expound theories about the driver who carries the name of a legend.
His move to Hendrick Motorsports and pairing with crew chief, Lance McGrew, usually are at the top of the list, but others say he doesn't have the will to win, or his equipment is not equal to that of his teammates.
Regardless of your opinion about Earnhardt Jr., the fact is he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, has winning credentials to back up his ability and has shown he can drive the wheels off a car that is set up properly.
Expectations for this driver at least would have him in the Chase, but his statistics show three Top Five, eight Top 10 finishes and an average finish of 18.4. He has continued his slide from being in the Top 12 of the point standings to 19th place.
Failure to qualify well and have cars unload race-ready has been an issue. Communication between driver and crew chief has been less than desirable.
Junior has one year to make a showing, before the spotlight falls on Kasey Kahne in 2012 at HMS. It remains to be seen if his crew chief will return next year and if a serious run for the Chase and wins will be on the agenda.