2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Stock Watch: Week 21
Kyle Busch continues to taste the rainbow, winning his fourth (!) race in five trips around NASCAR’s circuit and his third in a row following the Brickyard 400. He's won on a road course, a mile course, a 1.5-mile track and a superspeedway.
Can he keep this pace up? And if he does and he manages to reach the Chase, will he have flamed out too soon? Will his stock go bust? If you bought him upon his return at Charlotte, you’re looking like Apple's Steve Wozniak.
In any case, after 20 races, there are drivers trending in the right direction and others tanking faster than Lycos circa 1999. There are only six races to go, so let’s get a sense of who’s worth buying, selling or holding.
Read on for Week 21’s stock watch.
Who’s that on the Chase Grid? Smiles McSmiles-a-Lot, Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer has four top-10s in the last six races and has methodically climbed his way onto the Chase Grid, supplanting Aric Almirola for No. 16 in the standings.
The No. 15 car managed to keep trending upward after its season-best third-place finish at Sonoma back on June 28. On that day, he was beaten on a late restart that made finishing third feel dispiriting.
“This is where we need to be running," Bowyer said in Jared Turner’s FoxSports.com story. "We need to be able to go to these regular racetracks and keep this momentum and confidence level up that we have when we come out here. It's unfortunate—you get that close and you want to get greedy."
He has kept up that much-needed momentum, which is a positive for him and Michael Waltrip Racing. He took 10th at the Coke Zero 400 and sixth at the Brickyard. When it comes to drivers starting to peak at the right time, Bowyer fits the bill in Week 21.
Verdict: Wait until Kyle Busch qualifies for the Chase and see where Bowyer stands on the Chase Grid.
The Jeff Gordon Farewell Tour looks like it will end in the Challenger Round of the Chase—that is, if he makes the Chase.
Gordon sits in 12th on the Chase Grid, but what’s alarming is that he’s a mere 37 points away from 16th.
Gordon’s return to Indiana for the Brickyard 400 was a cataclysmic disaster. In what looked like a rather benign wreck early in the race, Gordon lost his nose on the fence, lost time and lost any chance at adding to his record five wins at Indy. He finished 42nd.
“We tried to fix it on pit road and I went out and it was really far off, and I was having a hard time just staying out of the way of the competitors," Gordon said in Jared Turner’s FoxSports.com story. "They were probably cussing me on the radio, because I had my hands full and I couldn't even get out of their way."
Gordon hasn’t won this year and has an average finish of 15.7. It’s hard to buy Gordon stock at this point in 2015. Then again, maybe it is the best time to buy, because his stock is pretty low. That said, Gordon has done little to inspire visions of checkered flags.
So what if Gordon has six wins at this week’s Pocono? It's time to move off this blue chip.
Verdict: Sell all your Gordon stock.
Team Penske had itself a great weekend in Indianapolis with both drivers inside the top 10. Joey Logano took second place, and Brad Keselowski labored to finish 10th.
Of the two, Logano looks like he’s the most capable of winning the Chase. Logano starts well (7.4) and finishes strong (9.4). His ability to carry his speed from the beginning of the weekend through Sunday makes him a serious threat to reach Homestead in the Championship Four for a second year in a row.
His teammate, though a winner in 2015, hasn’t fared quite as well over the course of the season, with an average finish of 13.0. Don't ignore him. He has three straight top-10s, including a runner-up at Loudon.
One performs better than the other, but both are strong contenders for the Sprint Cup. You’d be wise to buy up Team Penske futures.
Kasey Kahne teeters on the fringe of the Chase Grid looking over the cliff in 15th place. He, like teammate Jeff Gordon, has yet to win a race in 2015.
Kahne finished 24th at the Brickyard and has only two top-10s in his last eight races. The most action he saw all weekend at Indy was when he inadvertently redirected teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the infield, souring the No. 88’s day.
As for Kahne, he’ll likely point into the Chase as he heads to Pocono, a track at which he has two wins, most recently in the summer race in 2013.
Still, like Gordon, what has Kahne done to prove he’s capable of doing anything special? That Hendrick Motorsports banner isn’t dragging him across the finish line first.
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr.'s amazing season continues. He finished fourth at the Brickyard 400, this despite flubbing the last restart for Kevin Harvick. Truex was not a good doubles partner.
The No. 78 was supposed to give the No. 4 a good push, but instead gave Harvick so little that Harvick lost his track position and finished third instead of first or second.
"I apologize to Harvick," Truex said on ABCNews.com. "It cost him the race for sure. ... You hate to be the guy that didn't get it done."
Truex, despite that pitiful restart, has been the modicum of consistent goodness in 2015. From an average start of 11.4 he has finished 11.4. With 15 top 10s, Truex just keeps staying within a few car lengths of the lead and anything can happen so long as a driver remains in striking position.
Will this translate into a deep run in the Chase? He’s proven he can lead a bunch of laps (486) and that he can win. Truex remains a dark horse in the Chase.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Even if you remove what Kyle Busch has done, Joe Gibbs Racing is performing at a championship level.
More accurately, maybe Busch’s performances have elevated the mood in all four JGR garages. Does that make JGR fool's gold?
Three of the JGR drivers finished inside the top seven at the Brickyard, and the one who didn't (Carl Edwards) had won the pole. It has Joe Gibbs talking like the football coach he is. Gibbs said on ABCNews.com:
You can be on the top in pro sports, and a few little things turn, you can go right to being mediocre or in the back of the pack. It takes a lot of hard work to get back, and that's what I'm so proud of our team. It took us a full year-and-a-half, but we bounced back. In pro sports you see that, and really what you have to say about pro sports, the hardest thing is what? To stay up there.
And at this point in the game, that’s the challenge. Can JGR put more than one driver in the Championship Four at Homestead? At this point, it’s hard to overlook JGR as a team and, specifically, Busch’s July.
Verdict: Cash in the kids’ college funds and get it while it’s hot (college is overrated, anyway).
Ryan Newman is like a Target 2040 Roth IRA: steady growth over time. He’s not volatile like Kyle Busch.
For all the flash and the three wins in a row from Busch, he’s just as likely to finish 35th or worse in the next six races, too. He’s high risk and high reward. Meanwhile, Newman keeps plugging.
He clocked in 11th at the Brickyard 400—the site of his last win in 2013—and picked up another 33 Cup points. That’s what this guy does. He racks up points. Even in the face of being docked 75 Cup points for a failed tire audit, Newman chugged around the track and picked them back up.
The thing with Newman is that he’s a hard sell to win the championship, even after finishing second a year ago without a win. At some point, a driver needs a checkered flag.
He’s 13th on the Chase Grid, and once Busch claws his way onto it, Newman will be displaced to 14th or so. Should another driver from off the grid win a race, say, Tony Stewart (unlikely), Kyle Larson (hmm, maybe) or Greg Biffle (see Stewart), that will make Newman’s grind that much grindier.
Verdict: Buy, but allow to mature of 40 years unless you want to be subject to tax penalty.
Yes, we already riffed on Joe Gibbs Racing and how hot JGR is right now, but if it wasn’t for Kyle Busch, how much lip service would we be paying JGR?
Maybe some other driver on the team, whether it be Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin or Carl Edwards, could have won any four of the last five races, but what if they hadn't? Suddenly with the resurgence of Busch, he makes the entire organization look like the 1927 Yankees.
Despite this miraculous run, Busch hasn’t qualified for the Chase yet. That gives you an idea of how much of a hole Busch dug himself by obliterating his body in a concrete wall (NASCAR to SAFER Barriers at Daytona in February: We'll take our chances.).
Yet…here he is, just 23 points out of 30th place.
Thomas McKean of ESPN Stats & Information wrote, “Thanks to his hot streak, Busch is averaging 32.7 points per race. Busch now not only is on pace to get into the top 30, but also on pace to move to 28th in points, passing several drivers who have run every race this season.”
Busch’s stock keeps rising, but you get the sense that as the stock rises, so too does the Busch Bubble.
Verdict: Still buy, despite not winning at Pocono (four top-fives, though).
All stats come courtesy of Racing-Reference.info.
Say hello on Twitter @BrendanOMeara.