NASCAR Season Over Yet? The 10 Most Disappointing Drivers of 2010

Paul Carreau@@PaulCarreauAnalyst INovember 12, 2010

Is The Season Over Yet? The 10 Most Disappointing NASCAR Drivers of 2010

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    Every year, predictions are made, and every driver has certain expectations that he has to live up to. While some far exceed expectations, there are just as many that fail to meet them. And in some cases, they don't even come close.

    While there are still two races left to be run in 2010, there are some drivers that are more than happy to put this season behind them, and get ready for next year.

    While not every driver is expected to contend for a championship, some are expected to be top 20 performers, and others still are just expected to show signs of improvement.

    The following is a list of the 10 drivers that I feel, definitely did not live up to pre-season expectations. Whatever those expectations may have been.

10. Bobby Labonte

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    Bobby Labonte is a former Sprint Cup Champion, but over the last six or seven seasons, expectations for Labonte have been anything but that of a championship.

    After finishing up 2009 driving for Kevin Buckler, and his startup TRG Motorsports No. 71 operation, Labonte signed on to drive for the team for the 2010 season.

    No one thought this team would win a championship, and no one expected them to even win a race.

    But after finishing the 2009 season with four top 20 starts, and three top 20 finishes in seven races with the team, it was not a far cry to expect Labonte to put this car in the top 30 or even the top 25 in points.

    The season has been far from it. After the first 16 races of the season, Labonte only had a best finish of 21st driving for TRG Motorsports. Since that time he has bounced around for four different race teams, including TRG, and has even been forced to start and park a few different races.

    Next season, Labonte will be behind the wheel of the No. 47. And while Labonte's days of chasing championships appear to be long in the rear-view mirror, a move to a solid race team could at least rejuvenate his career.

9. Marcos Ambrose

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    Speaking of the No. 47. Marcos Ambrose's second full-time season in Sprint Cup was a big letdown when compared to how well his first season went.

    In 2009, NASCAR's first Australian-born driver qualified for all 36 events, and finished the season 18th in points. He was able to tally seven top 10 finishes, including four of them in the top 5.

    After his remarkable run, some people thought that he could factor into the Chase for the Championship. Those expectations never materialized.

    With two races to go, Ambrose only finds himself in 26th place in the standings, having scored just five top 10's with only two top 5's.

    Ambrose was well on his way to scoring his first Sprint Cup victory at Sonoma earlier this season, when under caution with just a few laps remaining, he inexplicably shut off the engine in an attempt to save fuel. He was unable to maintain pace lap speed, and was forced to fall back into line well behind the lead.

    The future for Ambrose remains cloudy as well. While he is signed on to drive for RPM Motorsports next season, with their financial problems, who knows what will happen to that team?

    If championships could be won on personality and likability, Ambrose would already be a multi-time champion, but unfortunately, they are not, and 2010 was definitely not championship-worthy for Ambrose.

8. David Ragan

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    After a breakout season in 2008, which saw him rack up 14 top 10 finishes, including six in the top 5, as well as a 13th-place finish in the season-ending standings, David Ragan has been in a free fall ever since.

    He followed up his career season with just two top 10 finishes and a 27th place finish in the points a season ago. Some people brushed it off as maybe Ragan had to many expectations that he just couldn't live up to. He had been everyone's dark-horse pick to get into the Chase last year.

    This season, expectations were tempered a little. While not many people expected him to be a Chase contender this season, there were hopes that he could rekindle some of the magic he had in 2008.

    Unfortunately for Ragan, there has been little magic. He currently sits a disappointing 24th in the points standings and has only accumulated three top 10 finishes.

    The only saving grace for Ragan, is that the season has actually gotten better as the season has gone on.

    Two of his three top 10's have come over the course of last four races, but that is little consolation for a driver who was once thought of as having Chase potential.

7. Jeff Gordon

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    By almost anyone else's standards, a season where you sit sixth in the points, and have 17 top 10's and 11 top 5's would be considered a good season. But Jeff Gordon is not almost anyone else.

    Jeff Gordon is a four-time Sprint Cup Series Champion, who has a total of 82 wins for his career. However, none of those wins have come in 2010. And that is why this season has been a disappointment.

    If Gordon fails to win either of the two remaining races, it will mark only the second time since his rookie season of 1993 that he failed to record a single victory in a season. And he has been close numerous times this season.

    Gordon has been the dominant car on the track several times, only to see things not work out. Whether it be a bad restart late in the race, or starting back in the pack after a mixed bag of pit stops, and then getting caught up in someone else's mess, things have just not panned out for Gordon to get into victory lane.

    There is no doubt that at some point Gordon will once again claim the checkers, in fact, I would venture to guess that he does so double-digit more times in his career, but the fact that he has yet to do it this season, makes 2010 a big disappointment for Gordon.

6. Matt Kenseth

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    Matt Kenseth is another case of a driver who is not having a bad season, he is just not having the type of season that you might come to expect.

    Kenseth, very quietly, currently ranks fifth in Sprint Cup points. But, much like Gordon, he has done so without the benefit of a victory. In fact, we are approaching two straight years since the last time that Kenseth visited Victory Lane.

    Kenseth has just 13 top 10 finishes this season, which is two less than any other driver in the Chase, and also less than two drivers, Joey Logano and Juan Montoya, who are not eligible for the Championship.

    He also has just six top 5's, which is tied with Jeff Burton for last place among those drivers running for the championship.

    After starting out the season red hot, with top 10 finishes in six out of the first seven races, things really cooled off for Kenseth. He then only scored four top 10's in the next 21 races while leading just 25 laps over that same stretch.

    Things have started to turn back around for Kenseth. Over the last six races, Kenseth has been in the top 10 in half of them, and that includes a runner up finish last weekend in Texas. But, much like Gordon, not finding Victory Lane has made 2010 a disappointment for Kenseth.

5. Scott Speed

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    The Scott Speed experiment for Red Bull Racing has not worked out. Speed is a very likable person, but his progression in Sprint Cup has been minimal over the course of two plus seasons.

    In his first full time season, 2009, Speed managed just one top 10 finish, a fifth place at Talladega. He also failed to get the No. 82 Toyota into the coveted top 35 in owner's points, meaning he would be forced to qualify for the first five races of this season on time.

    To his credit, Speed managed to qualify for all five of those events, and was well inside the top 35, so making the shows was never an issue.

    In fact, after the first four races of this year, Speed actually held a position in the top 12 in points. Unfortunately, the results soon dropped.

    Speed has only scored two top 10 finishes this season, both of them being tenth place runs. He has only led a total of 21 laps this year, and 19 of those laps came in the first three races of the year. He currently sits 29th in the points.

    The future for Speed is uncertain, as Kasey Kahne will be taking over his ride next year.

4. Mark Martin

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    Mark Martin was the feel-good story of the year in 2009. The then 50-year-old Martin won five races, his most in a season since 1998, and he finished second in the season ending standings for the fifth time in his career.

    When compared to last season, and what was expected of Martin as an encore, 2010 has been a major disappointment. And if not for a late-season surge, Martin could easily be higher on this list.

    Martin currently sits 13th in the standings, making him the top driver not in the Chase, but it has been a tough climb to get to that point. Martin started off the season picking up right where 2009 ended.

    He earned the pole for the season opening Daytona 500, and had five top 10 finishes in the first nine races of the season. Then Martin hit an 18-race cold streak.

    Over that span, Martin only earned two top ten finishes and led just 18 laps. Last season, Martin captured a series-best seven pole positions, but this season has just managed the one.

    Martin has since turned it around, but it is too little too late. Over the last seven races, Martin has three top 10's, but all seven races have resulted in top 15 finishes. And that does include possibly the best comeback of the season.

    At Martinsville, after being involved in a wreck that dented both sides of his car, and tore the fender off of the No. 5 Chevy, Martin rallied to a second-place finish, that saw him gain 15 positions over the last 100 laps, and has clearly been the highlight to an otherwise disappointing season for Martin.

3. Sam Hornish

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    Much like the Scott Speed experiment seems to be a failure, the same can be said for Sam Hornish. In three full seasons with Penske Racing, the results have just not been there.

    Most people agreed that if Hornish was going to make it at this level, this was the season that he needed to show vast signs of improvements. And, unfortunately for Hornish, that was definitely not the case.

    With two races to go, Hornish is only 28th in the point standings, and has managed just one top 10 finish, a 10th place run at New Hampshire in the Chase opener.

    For his career, Hornish has run 106 races, and managed just eight top 10 finishes, and has only led 55 laps over that time.

    There have been a few bright spots for Hornish this season. He qualified on the outside pole for the spring race at Texas, and then almost stole a victory at Pocono with some pit strategy, but it just seems like those bright spots are very few and far between.

    So, while a spot in the Chase was never expected of Hornish, the expectations were to see some signs of improvement, and that didn't even seem to materialize.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Some might think that I am being too hard on Junior, but the fact is, he has probably been the most disappointing driver over the last couple of seasons. If nothing else, this season has at least been better than the debacle that was 2009.

    As of right now, Earnhardt Jr, currently sits 19th in the points standings, and this will mark the third time in four seasons that he failed to crack the top 15 in points.

    While some would argue that this type of season has become the norm for Junior, and that he currently only fields mediocre expectations to begin with, I would tend to disagree.

    Whether it is from his team, Rick Hendrick, the media, or just the fans, the expectations for Dale Earnhardt Jr. are extremely high. Fair or not, the expectations are there. He is expected to contend for wins and is expected to be a factor in the Chase for the championship.

    This season has been yet another in a long string of disappointing ones for Junior. He has only earned eight top 10 finishes, with just three of them being top 5's.

    After finishing second in the season opening Daytona 500, many people thought that that would be the turning point to get Junior back on track. But since then, he has only had a best finish of fourth place. And further more, in his last 16 races, Earnhardt has managed just five top 20 finishes.

    Whether people like it or not, the bar is set very high for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and just has been the case for each of the last six seasons, he has failed to live up to expectations.

1. Kasey Kahne

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    A year after qualifying for the Chase, and winning two races, Kasey Kahne is in the midst of one of his worst statistical seasons since joining the Sprint Cup Series. And aside from his on track troubles, Kahne has been at the center of a lot of scrutiny for his departure from RPM Motorsports.

    The combination of struggles on the track, and his unprofessional and unceremonious departure from the No. 9 Ford make Kahne the most disappointing driver of 2010.

    Kahne, now driving for Red Bull Racing, finds himself in 21st place in the points, which is the lowest he has been since 2005.

    While Kahne has earned three poles, and has nine top 10's, seven of which have been top 5 finishes, he has failed to find victory lane this season and has only recorded two of his top 10's over the course of the last 15 races.

    The on-track performances have only been slightly below what would normally be expected of Kahne, but it is the off-track events that led to his departure from Richard Petty Motorsports that earn Kahne the honor of most disappointing driver of 2010.

    Once it was announced that Kahne would be driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and the search for his 2011 ride began, it seems that Kahne gave up on his current team.

    When Kahne refused to get back into his wounded race car at Charlotte, the writing was on the wall, and it was apparent that his time behind the wheel at RPM was over.

    I never thought I would see the day that Kasey Kahne gave up on his team, and that was the biggest disappointment of all.