Opinion: Slow Starts for Many Drivers
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 5, 2017 | 9:55 A.M. EST
MRN's Pete Pistone says there are a number of drivers who need to get their 2017 seasons headed in the right direction, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images)
There are a number of drivers who need to get their 2017 seasons headed in the right direction.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this week for the seventh race of 2017. While it’s still early, with 20 races remaining in the regular season, the freshness of the new year is starting to become rather stale for these five drivers:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Erase health or physical issues from the equation when assessing Earnhardt’s slow start. He has repeatedly said he's at the top of his game with no lingering effects of last year’s concussion. Earnhardt has been involved in two accidents over the first six races, in the Daytona 500 and last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. There have been moments when the No. 88 showed a glimmer of life but overall, a lack of speed and poor handling are holding Earnhardt back. He’s already buried back in 25th place in the point standings, yet to post a top 10 finish. It’s time to find a way out of the slump.
Earnhardt isn’t alone inside the walls of Hendrick Motorsports trying to figure out a way to shake off a poor start to the season. None other than defending champion Jimmie Johnson is also flailing with mediocre-at-best performances. Johnson has only one top 10 and even at Martinsville, where he has nine career wins, he was off the pace and not a factor in racing for the win.
"What if I told you" (he said, in his best "30 for 30" narrator voice) that after six races this season, the organization that won 12 races last season is still looking for its first trip to Victory Lane? That organization is Joe Gibbs Racing - with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Kenseth all shut out so far. Kenseth is the farthest down the list on the points sheet and heads to Texas tied for 22nd, thanks to being eliminated by accidents from the final two races on the recent western swing. But a top 10 last weekend at Martinsville and decent runs at times should be reason for some optimism.
Ryan Newman finally got Richard Childress Racing back to Victory Lane after more than three years away with his Phoenix win. Austin Dillon knocked down a top five at Martinsville. But Menard is still trying to recover from the slump that he was mired in last year. Since making the playoffs for the first time in 2015, it’s been an uphill battle for Menard, who is tied with Kenseth for 22nd place in the standings.
Things have not gotten any better for Patrick, who continues to lag behind her Stewart-Haas Racing teammates. Overall, SHR is down by the organization’s standards but does have a Daytona 500 win with Kurt Busch. Kevin Harvick has been dominant at times and Clint Bowyer is, by far, the most improved driver in the series. But Patrick’s bright spot so far has been a 17th-place finish in Atlanta. She’s presently in a three-way tie for 27th in the standings, 77 points outside the top 10.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.