Stock Watch: Buying or Selling NASCAR's Top Stars in 2015
With apologies to William Shakespeare, when it comes to the fortunes of NASCAR drivers, instead of “To Be or Not to Be,” it’s more “To Buy or Sell, That is the Question.”
During the 2014 season we saw a number of aberrations from drivers, some good, some bad. Some drivers had breakthrough seasons, others had season’s they’d rather forget.
As we begin to look ahead to 2015, we have to look back at 2014 and whether we think their performance is likely to happen again, or if 2014 was an anomaly.
As always, we’d love to hear your comments, as well.
Kevin Harvick, Buy
How do you pick against the 2014 Sprint Cup champ going into the 2015 season?
You don’t, plain and simple.
Harvick has long been a champ-in-waiting and finally attained that achievement after 14 years of trying.
He’s not going to stop now.
Honestly, Harvick has the talent, the experience and the team behind him (Stewart-Haas Racing) to easily win again in 2015.
And at this point, until the 2015 season starts, he’s the best driver in NASCAR, not to mention the No. 1 driver at SHR.
Jeff Gordon, Buy
What Jeff Gordon did in 2014 was not an aberration. He showed us arguably one of his best seasons since his fourth and most recent championship in 2001.
Had it not been for the tangle with Brad Keselowski at Texas in early November that ultimately contributed to his elimination from the Chase the following week, Gordon arguably would have given Harvick all he could handle in the final championship-deciding race.
Gordon has never been one to quit in his career. If he came as far as he did in 2014, you know darn well he’ll come back with a full head of steam in 2015, looking to do even better and finally achieve his long-held “Drive For Five (championships).”
Jimmie Johnson, Sell
One year after his sixth championship and countless accolades and touts as the Greatest of All Time, where does Jimmie Johnson stand heading into 2015?
Frankly, 2014 may very well have been the beginning of the end for Johnson. Without question, it was not a JJ kind of season. And there just didn’t seem to be the same kind of passion to win another championship displayed by both Johnson and Knaus.
Rather, they seemed to have a “if it happens, it happens” approach, which is 180 degrees different than their “win at all costs” mindset that led them to six championships in eight season.
Sure, Johnson could bounce back into his old form. He failed to win titles in 2011 and 2012, then stormed back to win in 2013.
Who knows, maybe 2014 was just an off-year.
But until we see some of the old spark from JJ and Knaus, we’re going to think in the negative rather than the positive.
Brad Keselowski, Buy
This was the toughest decision we had in this exercise.
Keselowski has alienated many fellow drivers with his ways and his racing, which would have put him in the “sell” category.
But at the same time, how can you ignore a series-leading six wins in 2014?
Sure, he came up short of reaching the championship round, but Keselowski was a factor from the season-opening Daytona 500 until he was eliminated two weeks ago at Phoenix.
If he can tone down his criticisms of other drivers and give respect to get respect, Keselowski could very well finish in 2015 what he started (but came up short) in 2014.
Matt Kenseth, Sell
Matt Kenseth’s series-leading seven wins in 2013 were an aberration for a guy who had never won more than three races in a single season.
He did that while in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, which was a significant accomplishment when you consider he had to develop a new kind of chemistry and communication with a brand new crew chief and pit crew.
Kenseth was very consistent in 2014, doing what he had to do to remain among the points leaders, making it all the way to the Elimination Round before he was knocked out.
But at the same time, you could make a case that 2013 and 2014 may have been Kenseth’s last hurrah’s, with the potential that 2015 may be a significantly less successful season.
Face it, Matt’s not getting younger, much like several of his peers.
While we’d love to see him rebound and still win yet another championship, Kenseth will have to significantly up his game in 2015. The question is, can he?
Kyle Busch, Sell
There’s no question Kyle Busch is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR. What he’s done in the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series is uncanny.
But what Busch has done in the Sprint Cup Series is an entirely different situation.
He’s good in the Cup series, but has not shown the kind of greatness that he’s displayed in the NNS and CWTS.
Coming into virtually every season, Busch has been seen as a Cup champion-to-be, but when it comes to the Chase time, invariably he folds.
He continued that dismal trend in the 2014 Chase.
He may very well never, ever win a Cup championship in his career, which would arguably tie him with Mark Martin as the best drivers to never win a Cup title.
We don’t know if it’s the pressure of the Chase that gets to the younger Busch brother or what, but until he proves he can win that long-elusive Cup crown, he’s on our sell list.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sell
This is nothing against Earnhardt’s new crew chief, Greg Ives, but we just don’t see Junior achieving the kind of success in 2015 that he did in 2014.
With many drivers, a perfect combination with a crew chief comes along once in a racing career. Earnhardt had that with Steve Letarte, who had an uncanny knack of bringing out the best—and then some—in Junior.
With Letarte having moved to NBC as a TV analyst in 2015, Ives will do his best to pick up where Letarte left off, but there’s one very important fact: Ives is not Letarte.
Ives obviously showed great success with Chase Elliott in the Nationwide Series, but he seems to be a bit quieter and somewhat less diplomatic than Letarte. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, but I have to wonder if he’ll be able to bring out even half in Earnhardt that Letarte managed to do.
Time will tell, but until we see otherwise, Earnhardt is a sell.
Carl Edwards, Buy
Ever since he tied for the Cup championship in 2011, only to lose on a tiebreaker (most wins) to Tony Stewart, Edwards has been but a shadow of himself from that season.
In his last two seasons with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards had a great crew chief in Jimmy Fennig, but for whatever reason just couldn’t achieve great success.
Much like Kevin Harvick with Richard Childress Racing, Edwards ultimately decided he had gone as far as he could go with RFR and will be part of the expanded, four-team Joe Gibbs Racing camp next season.
The change very well could be just the thing Edwards needs to become the Cup champion he has so desperately sought to be.
If Harvick could win a championship in the first season with his new team, there’s no reason Edwards can’t do the same, as well.
Kyle Larson, Buy
We can’t say this enough: Buy, buy, buy Kyle Larson.
With what he showed in his rookie season, unless Larson falls victim to NASCAR’s notorious sophomore jinx, he could very well become one of the fiercest competitors for the Sprint Cup championship.
Team owner Chip Ganassi has long had an eye for young talent and with Larson, he has hit the jackpot. Just 21, Larson could very easily become a Cup champ in the next two to three seasons, if not in 2015.
But he won’t stop there. We envision Larson winning at least three Cup championships in his career. And considering he probably has at least another 20 to 25 years of racing, our vision of three future Cup championships may actually be on the lower end of the scale.
Larson is the real deal. No doubt about it. Take it to the bank.
Joey Logano, Buy
We have some apprehension that Logano can repeat his 2014 breakout season in 2015, but he’s still a “buy” in our mind.
Logano stepped up his game in an outstanding way in 2014, winning five races and reaching the Championship 4 round.
Had it not been for a broken jack on pit road late in the championship-deciding race, Logano could have given Kevin Harvick a significantly greater challenge for the championship.
Joey will have a lot to live up to in 2015. I’m not 100 percent sure he’ll be able to equal—if not surpass—what he did in 2014, but it’ll be fun to watch, for sure.
Denny Hamlin, Sell
Much like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin is a very good driver, but once again he fell short of becoming a Sprint Cup champion in 2014, essentially letting it slip through his hands in the championship-deciding race at Homestead.
And with the potential of a new crew chief in 2015, we just don’t see Hamlin doing much in the coming season.
Sure, he’ll probably make the Chase again in 2015 and, if things once again fall his way, could make it to the final round of four. But we just don’t see the hunger or the attitude in Hamlin that we see so fervently in the eyes of guys like Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson.
Given that he’s such good friends with NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (video), maybe Denny can ask Mike his secrets to win a championship, given that MJ won six titles in his career.
Tony Stewart, Sell
It pains us to say this, but Tony Stewart’s greatest days are behind him.
Sure, there wasn’t much we could do in 2013, when his season was cut 15 races short by the mangled leg he suffered in a sprint car race.
When 2014 debuted, Stewart was still not 100 percent behind the wheel and it showed.
As the season went on, Stewart just could never seem to get going. He drove well at times, but not enough and in the fashion of the celebrated Smoke that his millions of fans love to cheer for.
Then came the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, something that shook Stewart’s life and career to the core.
To cap off 2014, Stewart failed to win at least one race in a Sprint Cup season for the first time in his career, dating back to 1999.
While we’d love to see Tony have an emphatic comeback, including winning his first-ever Daytona 500 in 2015, we’re preparing for yet another winless season.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski