Race Weekend Central

Going Green: April Showers Bring May Concerns for NASCAR Drivers on the Hot Seat

The month of May is one of my favorite times of the race season. The Indy 500-Coke 600 doubleheader on Memorial Day marks the biggest the weekend of the year for motorsports and the All-Star Race is a nice, enjoyable break from the stresses of points racing on a week-to-week basis.

Additionally, this is the point on the calendar where there are enough races on the books so that the statistics for each driver are no fluke, good or bad (exception: Jeff Gordon). It is right before the summer stretch, where teams try to either make up or hold their ground on the top 10 in points. With NASCAR’s new wildcard rule, drivers also feel a greater sense of urgency to get to victory lane in hopes of qualifying for the Chase.

See also
Monday Morning Teardown: The Case of Jeff Gordon's Voodoo Curse

Additionally, team owners and sponsors begin to take note of driver performances this far into the schedule. They may already be looking ahead to next year, trying to figure out their commitments and partnerships for the future. Some racers need to dread this part of season for fear that the sponsors and owners may be looking for a replacement.

Now that we are almost a third of the way through the schedule this year, it is time to look at which drivers should be concerned about their short-term status with their current rides, starting with the ones most likely to be on the move soon.

Joey Logano

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread needs a slight name change. He needs to drop the “Sliced Bread” part and replace it with Casey Atwood. Now in his fourth season, it’s beginning to look like Logano might be one of the biggest busts in Sprint Cup history.

Whether it’s because he was rushed into the Cup Series too soon is a whole different topic, but going back to Nationwide, where he has performed admirably, full time may be the best option for the 2009 Rookie of the Year. In NASCAR’s top tier, things haven’t gone as well, and his rain-shortened victory at Loudon three years ago remains his lone win.

Car owner Joe Gibbs has certainly been patient with the 21-year-old after Logano was faced with the difficult task of taking over a ride left empty one of the sport’s greatest drivers in Tony Stewart. Logano picked up his first top 10 since Las Vegas on Saturday and sits 15th in points, but he should be doing better than that at this point, especially with the success of his JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

A new, yet familiar crew chief from the Nationwide Series in Jason Ratcliff doesn’t appear to be helping Logano become a contender either, and more time to gel with him on the Cup level may be the only reason why Logano stays in the No. 20 car any longer. You have to imagine Home Depot is getting tired of being beat by competing sponsor Lowe’s week in and week out and is probably wanting a proven winner sooner rather than later.

Kurt Busch

This one is really a no-brainer, as no one expects the 2004 Sprint Cup champion to be paired with James Finch longer than a year. From a racing standpoint, Finch would probably love to keep Busch as he has given the No. 51 Chevy some of the best runs the team has ever had only to have bad luck take them out of a good finish at the end.

An expiring engine at Kansas robbed Busch of what was almost certain to be a top 10 and the last two weeks at Talladega and Darlington Busch had a chance to win or place in the top five with just a handful of laps remaining, only to wreck out. As a person, it’s hard to tell if he has improved with the lack of television time.

However, he appears to be just as animated on the radio as he has ever been and the post-race activity with Ryan Newman last week doesn’t do him any favors, no matter how blown out of proportion the incident may be. If he thought he had it bad with Penske’s racecars, it won’t be too long until realizes how bad it is now and finally snaps. If Logano can’t make it the whole season in his ride, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Busch jump ship and head over to JGR.

AJ Allmendinger

After being named as Busch’s replacement at Penske, Allmendinger was looking to have a breakout year. After three seasons driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, he had shown great signs of improvement and had a career-high ten top 10’s and a personal best 15th-place finish in the points in 2011. With the keys to a top ride this past winter, many expected Allmendinger to score win number one and to be a serious threat for the Chase.

While both could still happen, it seems more likely that he could be a one year temp at Penske. With just one top 10 (a second at Martinsville) in 11 starts this year, Allmendinger has taken a step backwards from previous seasons and currently sits 22nd in the standings.

If Sam Hornish Jr. can continue to be competitive in the Nationwide series, you have to wonder if the Captain will give the three-time IndyCar champion a second chance in Cup and dump the ‘Dinger after one year. At this rate, it seems likely.

Jamie McMurray

What a difference two years can make. It seems forever ago when McMurray had his dream season in 2010, winning the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 along with the fall race at Charlotte. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, McMurray has posted more DNFs (seven) than top 10s (six) since his career year in 2010 and numbers like that will have you out of a ride before too long.

However, it’s not so much the performance or lack thereof that should concern the Joplin, Mo. native. Outdoor sponsor Bass Pro Shops has never seemed to be a good pairing with McMurray and their current affiliation with others teams such as Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing should have both Chip Ganassi and McMurray worried about their sponsor jumping ship when their deal is up.

Jeff Gordon

Just kidding. But seriously, with the way Gordon’s season has been, you have to wonder what is going through his mind. It’s not like Gordon hasn’t been competitive; he led 338 laps at Martinsville last month and has been running towards the front in most of the races this year. But Gordon has had what can only be described as some of the worst racing luck one driver can endure.

Jimmie Johnson, despite having his championship streak end last year, looks just as good as he ever has, and Gordon’s other Hendrick teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, are enjoying hot streaks as well while Gordon continues to fade.

It has certainly been his worst year to date, and you have to believe that the four-time champ would rather stay at home and be with his family than have this kind of year. For you Gordon fans, I wouldn’t worry too much. He will get out of this slump and will still be in the No. 24 car next year.

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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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