Grading out the NASCAR Season

Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson lead a pack of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. [Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images]

Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson lead a pack of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. [Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images]

Turk’s Tracks

A Few Loose Lugnuts from Pit Row

Rating the First Third of the NASCAR Season

Prior to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, I wrote an article outlining the new rules package and the change in the points system as it applied to the races being divided into three segments. In that article, I also mentioned that I would do a series of reviews on how the season was progressing and the effect the new point system had on the driver’s rankings. NASCAR has completed 11 races by the running of the ALL-STAR race, which is just about 1/3 of the season in the books. So, how have I evaluated the season so far?

Overall, I am giving NASCAR a strong B up to this point. The new rules have led to some close racing with drivers fighting for every position in the segment races. It’s hard to justify just running in the back of the pack for 70% of the race and then making a charge to the front the last 25 laps that might have worked under the old rules. The other thing that seems to have worked out well is that the crew chiefs now know when to plan for a pit stop to make adjustments on the car at the end of a segment compared to random stops dictated by caution flags. I think that alone allows for more cars to be competitive as the track conditions change during the race. The things that I have not liked so far are too many rule infractions, fines, owner points taken away, crew chiefs suspended and too many multi car crashes. Now let’s get down to specifics and take a look at how some of the drivers are doing up to this point.

1.     Kyle Larson – I’m giving Kyle an A. He leads the field with the most points, has a win along with five top five finishes and seven top 10 finishes. His Target team seems to give him a fast car almost every race and he continues to make the most of it.

2.     Martin Truex. Jr. –  Again, another A for Martin. He has two wins, three top 5s and seven top 10 finishes. Again, a very good start to the year that finds him in second place.

3.     Brad Keselowski – Brad is in third place in points. But I’m giving him an A+. I’m basing that on his two wins, winning segment races and his seven top five finishes (the best) and his nine top 10 finishes (also the best). He seems to have one of the fastest Ford’s this season.

4.     Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie is in eight place. I’m giving him a B-.His year started off a little slowly, but came on strong with back to back wins. To his two wins, he has added only two top 5s and four top 10s. But I never count him out to win a race or another championship. I expect him to come on strong in the second half of the season.

5.     Clint Bowyer – Clint had big shoes to fill when he took over the number 14 car. I always thought that Clint is a talented driver and has shown some good runs when driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. He has had some good runs, like at Bristol, so I’m giving him a strong C. He is in tenth place with two top 5s and five top 10 finishes.

6.     Ricky Stenhouse Jr. –  His winning the pole and race at Kansas gives him a strong C+. The #17 crew seems to be giving him a very good race car and his three top five and five top 10 finishes indicates that he is leading the charge for the Roush Fenway team. Ricky is in 13th place in points.

7.     Dale Earnhardt Jr. – The start of the year has not been kind to Dale. I know that many fans were shocked when he announced his retirement at the end of the 2017 season. I understand why he decided to retire and I was not all that surprised by the announcement. He is now 42 years old, newly married and returning to racing after a long recovery from an injury. I think that he realizes that his best years are behind him and he most likely win not win a championship this year. He has only one top five and one top 10 this year. He finds himself in 25th place in points. Sorry folks, but a D is the best I can do for NASCAR’s most popular driver.

8.     Danica Patrick – D-.  Danica finds herself in 38th place win no wins, no top 5s and no top 10s. At the start of this year’s racing season, I stated that Danica really needed this year to be a breakout year for her. Sadly, it’s been far from that. She seems to have a knack of being at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets caught up in a wreck. She can have some good qualifying runs, but yet can’t finish a race on the lead lap – usually three or four laps down. Nothing seems have improved from last year.

Well, I am all graded out for now! Stay tuned for a review of the race teams next time and more drivers.

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