Danica Patrick among NASCAR’s biggest disappointments so far in 2012 Here’s a look at NASCAR’s seven most disappointing drivers after 15 races:
1. Jeff Gordon
That Gordon is 20th in the standings 15 races into season is almost incomprehensible. The four-time Cup champion has never been this low in points at this point of the season in his 20-year career—not even as a rookie in 1993.
Gordon’s luck has perhaps been worse than any driver this year, miring him in the standings and leaving him desperate for wins just to earn a wild card into Chase. If not, he will miss the playoffs and finish outside the top 10 in points for only the second time in his career.
Gordon, who has 85 career victories, could still reel off a couple of wins and make the Chase, but the way this season has gone, it’s a long shot. Not only have he and his Hendrick Motorsports team made critical mistakes and been the victims of horrible luck, but Gordon has been inconsistent and has not run up front as often as he usually does.
It doesn’t help that each of his three Hendrick teammates have won a race and that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are both in championship contention.
2. Carl Edwards
It’s strange to see Edwards on this list a year after he had one of the best seasons of his career and nearly won his first Sprint Cup championship.
Edwards is 11th in the standings — just two points outside the top 10. But the fact is, he has not been the same Carl Edwards who led the standings for 21 weeks last year and had a record average finish of 4.9 in the Chase.
Edwards hasn’t exactly struggled, but he hasn’t been all that good either, scoring just two top-five and eight top-10 finishes. He’s led just two races and struggled just to finish at the back end of the top 10 in most races. He’s also been in a couple of wrecks and suffered the kind of misfortune he managed to avoid last season.
While Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are at the top of the points standings, Edwards is battling just to make the Chase—a stark contract from last season.
3. Danica Patrick
After showing flashes of potential in the Nationwide Series last year, Patrick was expected to make great strides in her first full NASCAR season this year.
Instead, she seems to have taken a big step back.
Though Patrick is tied for 10th in the series standings, she has just one top-10 finish (eighth at Texas), has been in several wrecks and has four finishes of 30th or worse in 13 races.
A year ago, she had three top-10s—including a fourth-place finish that was the best ever for a female driver—in just 12 Nationwide starts.
Though Patrick has run well at times, she has struggled more often than not and has gotten into her share of incidents, including three spins last week at Michigan.
Her much-ballyhooed Sprint Cup start has been even worse. In her first three Cup races, she has finished 38th, 31st and 30th. Though she got swept into a multicar wreck that wasn’t her fault at Daytona, she finished a combined 11 laps off the pace at Darlington and Charlotte.
Though Patrick has shown she knows how to handle a stock car, she is struggling at making adjustments to her car and running competitively for a full race.
Will she get better? Stay tuned.
4. Kasey Kahne
Maybe expectations were too high, but the ultra-talented Kahne was supposed to be an immediate threat and a serious championship contender when joining Hendrick Motorsports.
Jeff Gordon is 20th in the standings through 15 races. He has finished outside the top 10 in points only once in his career. (AP Photo)
Though he did win the Coca-Cola 600, the rest hasn’t happened.
Kahne got off to a terrible start—29th or worse in four of his first six races—and was buried in a deep hole (31st in the standings) early in the season. He fought back with seven straight top-10s, including the win at Charlotte, but setbacks the past two weeks have left him 16th in points.
Not exactly what Kahne and Rick Hendrick envisioned when they signed up together two years ago.
Though Kahne could win again and still make the Chase, he hasn’t been as competitive nor as consistent as expected.
5. Kyle Busch
With all the things that have gone wrong for him this season, the biggest surprise for Busch this season is that the volatile driver has kept his cool and not yet lost his temper.
Busch got off to a bit of a slow start and was 16th in points after six races. Then he came roaring back, scoring six straight top-10s, including a win at Richmond, to climb into the top 10 in the standings.
Then his team suffered engine trouble in three straight races, saddling him with a trio of finishes of 29th or worse and dropping back out of the top 10.
But despite his bad luck and ups and downs, Busch has just not run like Kyle Busch this season. He has led just 264 laps in 15 races and been in contention to win only a handful of those.
At this point last season, he had two wins and had led 924 laps.
Will Rowdy—or his Joe Gibbs team—wake up soon?
6. Kurt Busch
OK, so everyone knew Kurt Busch might struggle this season with Phoenix Racing, a single-car, underfunded team.
But one top-10 finish? Six laps led? And 27th in the standings?
With his immense driving talent, the former Cup champion was expected to elevate the mid-pack team and at least run well enough to finish in the top 10 on occasion and perhaps contend for a win somewhere along the way. But it hasn’t happened, which has caused frustrations to mount and lead to all sorts of trouble.
The big question for Busch entering the season was whether he could clean up his act, repair his damaged reputation and stay out of trouble after being released by Penske Racing after last season.
At that, he has failed miserably.
After wrecking at Darlington, Busch sped angrily through Ryan Newman’s pit stall and bumped Newman’s car on pit road after the race, igniting a scuffle with Newman’s crew, an incident that led to a $50,000 fine and landed him on probation.
Then he threatened Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass during an interview at Dover, which got him suspended for a race. Two weeks later, he had another confrontation with an ESPN reporter.
In a year when he was hoping to resurrect his career and set himself up for another elite ride, Busch’s performance on and off the track has been disappointing.
Disappointing, but perhaps not surprising.
7. AJ Allmendinger
This was supposed to be Allmendinger’s big chance. In five years in the series, the former Champ Car star had shown flashes of potential but had raced mostly for struggling, mid-pack teams.
When he replaced Kurt Busch at Penske Racing, it was his first shot with a top team and his best opportunity to show what he can do.
The answer, so far, is not much.
In his first 15 races, Allmendinger has been anywhere from mediocre to awful. He has one top-10 finish—second at Martinsville—but six finishes of 31st or worse.
To be fair, he has had his share of bad luck with mechanical failures and getting swept into accidents not of his doing, which has sunk him to 24th in the standings. But he also has led just three races and has not run near the front on a consistent basis.
It doesn’t help that teammate Brad Keselowski has two wins and is 10th in points.
Allmendinger appears to be feeling the pressure to perform in his new ride. And to make matters worse, he has just a one-year contract, so he likely has to step up big-time in the second half of the season or see his career take another step back. Sporting News