As NASCAR enjoys its first off-weekend of the 2016 season, it’s pretty clear that Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch – who are ranked first through fifth – are off to a very good start.
Only 25 points separate Sprint Cup points leader Harvick from fifth-ranked Busch.
But look down the points standings and you find some surprising names ranking far lower than many might have expected at such an early point of the season.
Here’s a quick look at six drivers that we’re rather surprised are ranked as low as they are in the standings:
Ryan Newman, ranked 20th: Two years ago, Newman almost stole the Sprint Cup championship away from eventual 2014 champ Kevin Harvick.
But Newman has gotten off to a very rough start in 2016. He’s failed to earn even one top 10 in the first five races, with his best overall finish being 11th at Daytona and a worst showing of 39th two weeks ago at Phoenix.
Even worse, Newman has not won a Sprint Cup race since the 2013 Brickyard 400.
Kyle Larson, 24th: This is one of the biggest surprises in terms of disappointing starts in 2016.
After a terrible sophomore season in Sprint Cup last season, optimism was high that Larson would bounce back in the early races this season, and might even have a win at this point.
Sure, he started off strong with a seventh place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, but it’s been all downhill from that point on, including a season-worst 39th-place showing in the most recent race at Auto Club Speedway last week.
Greg Biffle, 27th: Much like Larson, we thought this was going to be the start of a big comeback season for The Biff.
Unfortunately, the lead driver in the Roush-Fenway Racing stable is actually the lowest ranked driver of the three-man RFR Sprint Cup effort.
Biffle needs to turn things around in a big way. He’s still without a top 10 finish (best showing in 2016 so far has been 11th at Atlanta), while his worst finish was just last week: 37th at Auto Club Speedway.
Danica Patrick, 29th: Much like Biffle and Larson, expectations were high for Patrick to get off on the right foot in 2016.
Unfortunately, that foot has led to nothing but stumbles for the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Patrick has been unable to finish any higher than 19th in a race this season (Phoenix), and like Larson and Biffle, she suffered her worst showing of 2016 last week at Fontana, Calif.
Clint Bowyer: 31st: One has to wonder if maybe Tony Stewart can be talked out of retiring, if for nothing else but to keep Bowyer from replacing him in 2017.
In other words, Bowyer is doing absolutely nothing to bolster his case as the supposedly best replacement for Stewart next season.
In five starts for HScott Motorsports, Bowyer is ranked 31st. He’s a massive 129 points (more than three full races of points behind points leader Kevin Harvick, as well.
What’s more, his best finish thus far has been 18th (at Fontana last week). Other than that, Bowyer has three finishes of 30th or higher and another finish of 22nd.
While there are still 21 races left to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Bowyer better get moving soon before he falls too far behind to catch up.
Chris Buescher, 35th: In a sense, it is not surprising to see Buescher ranked so far down in the standings at this early stage of the season.
While he won the Xfinity Series championship last season, Buescher did not appear to be ready to make the jump to Sprint Cup in 2016. He likely needed at least one additional season in NASCAR’s junior league before going up to the big show.
But because there was an opportunity for Buescher to be farmed out by Roush-Fenway Racing and drive for Front Row Motorsports in the Cup series in 2016, the Texas native had no choice but to seize the moment.
Even if he may not have been fully ready, that is. And if you don’t believe me, here are the numbers to back up that assertion: In five races thus far this season, Buescher has finished 39, 28, 26, 30 and 33.
As if that isn’t bad enough, fellow Sprint Cup rookies Chase Elliott (16th), Ryan Blaney (17th) and even Brian Scott (25th) are doing so much better than Buescher.
There’s an old saying in NASCAR that how a driver performs in his or her first five races is a good indicator of how the rest of the season may go.
If that old axiom is once again true in the case of these six drivers, and that they’re not able to radically turn things around in a hurry, there’s a good possibility that their respective seasons may already be over before they barely got started.
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