Race Weekend Central

Grading the 2010 NASCAR Pack, Part III: Drivers Brad Keselowski – Brian Vickers

With the NASCAR season two-thirds of the way gone and the final off week now out of our way, we’re taking a brief moment of respite, grading all the drivers and teams once again on their performance so far in 2010. Tuesday, we covered an owner-by-owner breakdown of season results so far… all of which you can view here.

Today, we grade everyone from Brad Keselowski to Brian Vickers, the second half of an alphabet soup of top-40 drivers in the standings to date. Looking for drivers Allmendinger – Kenseth? Click here to jump to the other section.

So let’s get started. As with yesterday, this remains a dual effort between myself and site editor Tom Bowles, giving me a second opinion on which drivers passed or failed. Let us know whether you agree and disagree in the comments section below!

Brad Keselowski – 25th in Points
Danny: For a driver yet to score a top 10 in his first full season at Cup level, Brad K has certainly garnered his share of headlines. In fact, at times, it has seemed like the veterans were taking it in turns to mouth off or run over the young hotshot. All that said, Keselowski will likely learn from some rookie mistakes and show off his certain talent as a top-level Sprint Cup driver. Grade: C

Tom: Put so much stock in winning a Nationwide Series championship, you wonder how much Penske might have put everything on the back burner both equipment and chassis-wise. Can you believe this car has no top 10s when their teammate is sitting out there a significant threat to win the Championship? Expect 2011 to be different; Miller Lite won’t tolerate anything less. Grade: C-

Travis Kvapil – 32nd in Points
Danny: The driver with one of the greatest names ever has an average finish of 27.7 people. Next… Grade: D

Tom: When simply finishing on the lead lap these days is considered a major accomplishment, boy does your race team have some serious work to do for you. Grade: D

Bobby Labonte – 31st in Points
Danny: I’m just glad that Bobby gets a decent ride next season when he takes over the driving duties for the No. 47 car currently occupied by everybody’s favorite Aussie. It’s not been an easy couple years for the 2000 Cup champion, so here’s hoping 2011 is a lot brighter. Grade: D

Tom: Earned arguably the best Silly Season step up of all after JTG and Brad Daugherty gave him a vote of confidence – and their keys to the well-funded No. 47 car for 2011. But to get there, the 2000 Sprint Cup champ needs to navigate through 12 more races of vastly underfunded teams, non-competitive rides, and avoid the dreaded start-and-park. Grade: D-

Joey Logano – 21st in Points
Danny: Awww, Lil Joey is all growed up this year, although perhaps he should pick his battles more intelligently. Tangling with the big tough kids like Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick is not necessarily the best idea. That said, the fire in his belly is evident and you have to give kudos for that, for sure. One to watch, make no mistake, he’ll make the Chase in 2011. Grade: B-

Tom: Ya know, I’m really disappointed in Logano’s season. Remember March and April, when it looked like he and not the Hamlin/Busch duo would be the Chase threat out of the Joe Gibbs camp? This team really seems to have lost its way over the summer – its last top 10 finish came at Martinsville this March – and it turns out Logano’s real personality isn’t exactly “role model” heartwarming for NASCAR fans across America.

Jerry Springer, he’s not; but Mark Martin angel? Not that, either. Sometimes, we forget this guy is still 20, and he seems very much in that post-teenage mode of still trying to figure it all out. Grade: C

Mark Martin – 14th in Points
Danny: After a phenomenal 2009, it’s been a disappointing 2010 for Martin, with just five top fives and seven top 10s on the season and zero wins (compared to five by this time last year). Some of this has to come down to the realignment of key personnel in a futile attempt to help the No. 88 team. Regardless, it’s a shame for a true racing legend. Grade: C+

Tom: Even the cagiest 51-year-old veteran can lose his cool in the face of a media circus. Between ownership offers making it in the press, the Kasey Kahne questions getting shoved in his face, and no one in the media taking “no comment” for an answer, Martin simply wasn’t allowed to focus until it was far too late. Yes, the No. 5 team lost an engineer and had problems with the transition from wing to spoiler. But this mysterious summer, to me, can get traced back to one simple mistake from Martin’s boss.

How many “I’m sorry” cards can one accumulate over the course of their career? Grade: C

Jamie McMurray – 13th in Points
Danny: Exiting his vehicle at Bristol, Jamie Mac was asked about his view on the points situation and his chances to get into the Chase. His response basically suggested that he didn’t really care. And frankly, on one level he’s right; He’s won the biggest race and arguably the second biggest race of the year, resurrected his career and to top it all off, he’s about to become a Dad. Chase or not, 2010 has been good for Jamie Mac. Grade: A-

See also
Dialing It In: Jamie McMurray Chooses Career Wins Over Chase Berth

Tom: This January during the Sprint Cup Media Tour, there were some who thought McMurray might be headed out the door at Chip Ganassi by this year’s Brickyard 400 instead of sitting there kissing the bricks. One of the nicest guys racing in the sport today, the last thing McMurray would ever do is stand up and gives his critics the finger. But with two of the sport’s biggest trophies on his mantle, it’s fair to say he’s the one who got the last laugh at those reports proclaiming the death of his career – all of which were a little premature, right?

P.S. – He won’t make the Chase. P.P.S. – Guess what; he doesn’t really care! Grade: A-

Paul Menard – 23rd in Points
Danny: I’ll tell you one thing Menard does win: best sideburns in the sport. Not sure I’ve got a lot else for you here. Grade: C+

Tom: The summer months have been a bit of a letdown, but still high on the list of “Most Improved” in my book for 2010. Yeah, Daddy’s Money will make Richard Childress happy next year, but for once Paul himself is actually doing enough to earn his keep. Grade: C+

Juan Pablo Montoya – 19th in Points
Danny: It’s been an up and down year for Montoya after his early Chase fireworks in 2009. Yes, he picked up his second victory at Cup (at Watkins Glen), but once again he spectacularly blew it at the Brickyard. The EGR cars have, though, had speed this year and with a little more luck JPM would be right in the Chase mix for sure. Grade: B

Tom: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; by far, the sport’s biggest wild card entering the Chase. DNFs, not lack of speed, caused Montoya’s absence from this year’s playoffs, an August victory at Watkins Glen not only rubber-stamping a roller-coaster season but giving the No. 42 bunch a much needed boost of confidence.

The way Montoya’s driving, though, the wreckers or checkers philosophy will either have him winning three more races before the year is out or turning the Earnhardt Ganassi fleet into a massive Target scrap metal sale. Either way, I can’t wait to find out the Chaser that gets caught up in this man’s awful mess. Grade: B-

Joe Nemechek – 37th in Points
Danny: 22 races, 22 DNFs. Need I say more? Grade: F

Tom: With all the attention given to PRISM, you forget Mr. Nemechek hasn’t lifted a single finger towards finishing a race this year, either. How much longer before we start calling Front Row Joe a Front Row Schmo? Grade: F

Ryan Newman – 15th in Points
Danny: Newman snapped a long winless streak with his victory at Phoenix this year, but unless things seriously go in his favor, he’s not making it two for two as a Chaser this year. Stranger things have happened, but with only seven top-10 runs in 24 attempts, you have to feel it’s wait until next year for the No. 39 team. Grade: B- (B for the win)

Tom: Did Newman win a race? Really? It’s honestly one of the sneakiest yet forgettable green-white-checkereds in the history of the rule. What else do we know about Mr. Newman this year. A) He got fined by NASCAR and doesn’t want to talk about it; B) His wife is pregnant and he doesn’t want to talk about it; C) His team is struggling and he doesn’t want to talk about it. OK then, Mr. Newman. We’ll just give you a freaking grade and move on, then… but don’t expect a Chase bid to go along with it. Grade: B-

Max Papis – 38th in Points
Danny: I’ve always liked Mad Max and I was sad to see him just miss out on a maiden victory in Montreal. Still, I think the Truck series should suit him (he’ll run a GEICO Tundra in the full 2011 schedule) and the wins will come next year for sure. Grade: D

Tom: Yes, I know it’s been more than one year, GEICO. No, I already have GEICO as my own car insurance. Grade: INC

David Ragan – 24th in Points
Danny: OK yes, Roush Fenway Racing had a slow start, but one top 10 all season? Ragan is beginning to make the RFR version of McMurray look like a cross between Cale Yarborough and King Richard. Grade: D

Tom: At this point, the best thing to happen in Ragan’s season is UPS couldn’t find a way to ship him on out of the no. 6 car. Could this be the Jamie McMurray career, Part II? If that’s the case, boy, Ragan better start adding to his resume right quick. Grade: D+

David Reutimann – 17th in Points
Danny: There’s something about the Reut that is just so likable and I’d wager there weren’t many more popular victories this season than his at Chicagoland. At the very least, it stopped all the talk about his first rain assisted win. An outside bet for the Chase at the start of the season, his finishes have lacked the necessary consistency. But, with the win under his belt and a contract extension, it’s still been a good year for the Reut. Grade: B

Tom: For a man who this Spring seemed on the outs at Michael Waltrip Racing, a phenomenal summer highlighted by a Chicagoland victory put him firmly in the catbird’s seat for a contract extension. A well-deserved deal was followed up this August by another near-victory at Bristol, the type of performances that send a telephone message to your local NAPA store that Martin Truex Jr. isn’t the only potential Chase-contending driver at MWR. Needs to grow a bit more of a backbone, though – and consistency! That’s the real missing piece. Grade: B-

Elliott Sadler – 29th in Points
Danny: On his way out at RPM and not exactly going much of anywhere at the moment. At least a possible ride in Trucks with KHI shows promise for one of NASCAR’s more lovable characters. Grade: D

Tom: I’m just happy he’s alive after a devastating wreck at Pocono nearly ended his Cup career. Sadly, his current physical well-being isn’t going to do enough to still stop that from happening, either. He’s looking forward to a great career in Nationwide and Trucks, though! Grade: D+

Regan Smith – 30th in Points
Danny: The New York native recently inked a two-year extension to drive for FRM. With no top 10s and an average finish of 29.9, the good news is that the only way is up. Now he has the chance to prove that. Grade: C+

Tom: Honestly? I expected a little more from this group because of their technical alliance with RCR. In case you haven’t noticed they are spanking the field right now. So why is this single-car team so behind with their same equipment?

Scott Speed – 27th in Points
Danny: Had a great start (relatively speaking), dyed his hair a stupid blue color, then his form tailed off. That’s about all I have to say about Speed. Grade: D

Tom: I worry about his future in Red Bull. Heck, I worry about his future in NASCAR at this point. But no matter what happens, he’s still Kyle Busch‘s friend. Does that make him a future candidate for sainthood? Grade: D+

Tony Stewart – 6th in Points
Danny: A rough start but a solid summer has Smoke on the radar screen once again. Come Chase time, watch out: after all, he’s already a two-time champion. Grade: B

Tom: Stewart’s been in a bit of a cantankerous mood all season; who knew the sophomore slump would come packaged with a cantankerous mood, a little PMS and public emotional regression (I.E. – Using the media as your own personal punching bag?) With that said, Stewart has scored five of his six top-five finishes in a sizzling summer and is suddenly on the verge of peaking at the right time.

I asked him a couple of weeks ago whether he’d want to be leading the points again or simply building momentum at this point in the season – he chose option No. 2. After going through the misery of last year’s Chase, you wonder whether the No. 14 team has learned some more lessons than many of us might think. Grade: B

David Stremme – 39th in Points
Danny: I’ve got nothing for you here dear readers, nothing, zip, nada, zilch. Grade: INC

Tom: Finally came to his senses after he realized his check was being paid in Monopoly money. I hear there’s a lot of that going around the No. 26 team lately. Grade: D-

Martin Truex Jr. – 20th in Points
Danny: It’s been a solid if unspectacular first season as the new NAPA pitchman, but just six top 10s and 13 laps led are not the sort of numbers that get you a spot in the Chase. Given time, Truex could yet develop into a genuine title contender – he’s just a little ways off as of now. Grade: C+

Tom: Since Mr. Truex likes to sing karaoke, let’s do a little NAPA Know How jingles of our own. “Broken heart, Jeff Gordon helps ya. Missed that Chase, Don’t know what to tell ya. I may not know how to get you to the moon, But I sure do know that you were better than Mikey soon. Firing order is, for your engine shop. Your spark plug wires, well they just keep going pop. Yeah that’s the kind of stuff I think about… na-na-na-na-napa not now, napa no win now.”

And for a guy that raised hell about Jeff Gordon, I have yet to see the revenge most every fan would seek after that Sonoma mess. Grade: C

Brian Vickers – 36th in Points
Danny: One of the sport’s good guys, it was fantastic to hear that Vickers will be able to resume racing duties in the new year. How exactly Red Bull Racing will look still remains to be seen, especially with the arrival of Kahne. All told, though, it will be nice to see Vickers back behind the wheel of a stock car. Grade: INC

Tom: Doing all the right things on and off the track to ensure he’s back in time for February’s Daytona 500. The way he absorbs problems without letting them outwardly affect him is pretty impressive. Grade: INC

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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