Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Class of the cup

Grading drivers’ performances at NASCAR’s midseason mark

July 5, 2007

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Saturday night's Pepsi 400 marks the midpoint of the 2007 Nextel Cup season, but we're already well past halfway to the cutoff for the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

So let's go ahead and hand out thatsracin.com's midseason report card to the full-time Nextel Cup teams:

¢ Drivers: Jeff Gordon (car No. 24), Jimmie Johnson (car No. 48), Denny Hamlin (car No. 11)

¢ Comments: Gordon and Johnson lead the league with four victories apiece. Gordon has 14 top-10 finishes and was so far in front in the standings a 100-point penalty at Infineon didn't even serve as a bump in the road. Six race suspensions for their crew chiefs offer a summertime challenge, but these teams will be loaded for bear in the Chase. Hamlin moved up into this top group with his New Hampshire victory on Sunday.

Grade: A

¢ Drivers: Matt Kenseth (car No. 17), Carl Edwards (car No. 99), Kevin Harvick (car No. 29), Martin Truex Jr. (car No. 1)

¢ Comments: Kenseth got a win at California and Edwards won at Michigan to carry the Ford banner. Both are all but Chase locks. So, too, is Harvick, who won the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge. Truex has as much momentum at midseason as anyone after getting his first victory at Dover, a win that helped steady the ship at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Grade: A-

¢ Drivers: Tony Stewart (car No. 20), Jeff Burton (car No. 31), Kyle Busch (car No. 5), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (car No. 8)

¢ Comments: Burton won at Texas, and he and Busch battled on the final laps at Bristol before Busch won. Like Busch, Earnhardt Jr. has to deal with the distractions of being with a team he won't be on next year as he tries to fight for a Chase spot this year. Stewart still hasn't won, which is one of the year's big surprises.

Grade: B+

¢ Drivers: Mark Martin/Regan Smith (car No. 01), Casey Mears (car No. 25), Clint Bowyer (car No. 07), Juan Pablo Montoya (car No. 42)

¢ Comments: Mears and Montoya got their first career victories, Mears with fuel strategy at Charlotte and Montoya on the road course at Infineon. Martin came up a few feet short of a win in the Daytona 500 and was brilliant in his first stretch before turning the car over to Smith for selected events. Bowyer seems capable of winning any time now.

Grade: B

¢ Drivers: Ryan Newman (car No. 12), Kurt Busch (car No. 2), Jamie McMurray (car No. 26)

¢ Comments: Newman and Busch, teammates at Penske Racing, seem to be on the verge of bringing that team back toward the top tier of competition. McMurray flirts with that, too, in his second year at Roush Fenway Racing. He's already got six top-10 finishes.

Grade: B-

¢ Drivers: Robby Gordon (car No. 7), Greg Biffle (car No. 16)

¢ Comments: Give Gordon the plus for being in the top 25 as the owner/driver of a single-car team. Biffle is still looking to find his form from two seasons ago.

Grade: C+

¢ Drivers: J.J. Yeley (car No. 18), Bobby Labonte (car No. 43), Tony Raines (car No. 96), David Stremme (car No. 40), David Ragan (car No. 6), Reed Sorenson (car No. 41), Ricky Rudd (car No. 88), Kyle Petty (car No. 45), David Gilliland (car No. 38), Jeff Green (car No. 66), Johnny Sauter (car No. 70)

¢ Comments: Most of the drivers in this grouping have had some good moments this year, but they haven't been able to string things together enough to move off mediocrity.

Grade: C

¢ Drivers: Elliott Sadler (car No. 19), Kasey Kahne (car No. 9), Sterling Marlin (car No. 14), Joe Nemechek (car No. 13)

¢ Comments: Hard to figure where things bumped off track for Evernham Motorsports teammates Sadler and Kahne, but they both just haven't been able to get things going. Sadler hasn't yet had a did-not-finish, but that hasn't done him a whole lot of good. Ginn Racing teammates Marlin and Nemechek just haven't been factors.

Grade: C-

¢ Drivers: Dave Blaney (car No. 22), Bill Elliott/Ken Schrader (car No. 21), Scott Riggs (car No. 10), Paul Menard (car No. 15), Ward Burton (car No. 4), Kenny Wallace (car No. 78), Mike Bliss/Chad Chaffin (car No. 49)

¢ Comments: These teams can't get passing grades because they haven't been able to make it into the races each weekend.

If you don't race, it's hard to get better.

Grade: D

¢ Drivers: Brian Vickers (car No. 83), A.J. Allmendinger (car No. 84), David Reutimann (car No. 00), Dale Jarrett (car No. 44), Jeremy Mayfield (car No. 36), Michael Waltrip (car No. 55)

¢ Comments: Each of these Toyota teams are brand-new teams racing a brand-new manufacturer's car. By any fair standard, they're not doing well.

But after just 17 races, it's hard to pass judgment.

Ask again after a full season.

Grade: Incomplete

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