As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 this Sunday there are 17 of the 36 races remaining in the 2013 season. Motorsports 101’s writers debate which driver has the most to prove in the second half of the season.
Mr. Popular Needs a Big Second Half – By Clayton Caldwell
There are several drivers with a lot to prove in the second half of the 2013 season. Look at guy like Brad Keselowski who won the championship a year ago and may miss the Chase a year later. Ryan Newman is looking for a ride in the 2014 season and he has to prove that he can still win races and can be a factor to win a championship. Jeff Gordon has to prove that he can still do it at the ripe ole’ age of 41. Danica Patrick has to prove she can be at this level at all. Yet, there is one driver who has the most to prove out of anyone and that driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If you look at Earnhardt’s 2013 season you would see a lot of inconsistency through 19 races. He had five consecutive top ten finishes to start the season and it looked like his season was going in the right direction. Since Martinsville, however, his season has been up and down.
His highlights of the last 14 weeks have been a third place finish at Pocono, where Earnhardt ran up front all day long and had one of the fastest cars of the afternoon and at Michigan where Earnhardt led a ton of laps and was leading when his engine blew and he finished 37th. However, JR Nation began the year with higher expectations.
Prior to the 2013 season, Earnhardt spoke out about the new race car. He said the car was similar to what they drove prior to the COT or Generation 5 car that was driven from 2008-2012. That statement led fans to believe that Earnhardt would find the winning ways that he had prior to the 2008 season and the COT. That hasn’t happened and 19 races into the season it makes you wonder if he will find victory lane at all. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, has been spot on this season and has won a ton of races. Johnson is also one of the favorites to win the championship. Earnhardt’s cars come from the same shop as Johnson’s yet the results are significantly different.
At the age of 38 Earnhardt is getting a little high in the age department. He is six years removed from a top five points run. Steve LaTarte is Earnhardt’s fourth crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports. While his fans are extremely passionate and are behind him 100 percent you have to wonder what they are thinking in the back of their minds.
A strong second half would erase all those naysayers and bad thoughts. A bad second half though will make people notice that more and make people wonder if he can win a championship in 2014 at the age of 39. He would only change the thoughts if he had a couple of wins in the last 17 races. If he doesn’t do that it could be an interesting off-season for many of the people around the Jr Nation camp.
Danica Patrick Needs to Show Improvement – By Mark Eddinger
There are plenty of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers that have a lot to prove in the second half of the 2013 season. Juan Pablo Montoya and others need to prove they deserve a ride in 2014 and Brad Keselowski needs to prove his 2012 championship was not a fluke. But the driver that has the most to prove is Danica Patrick.
Through 19 races Patrick only has one top ten finish and that came in the season’s first race, the Daytona 500, when she finished eighth. Since then her best finish with the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has been 12th. She also has a 13th and 14th place finish but all of her other finishes are worse than 20th.
Over the second half of the season, where the Sprint Cup Series will go to a lot of tracks for a second time, Danica needs to show improvement and prove herself a capable Sprint Cup Series driver.
Job security right now is not a problem for Patrick as she has the backing of GoDaddy.com and she is one of the most popular drivers the sport has. Stewart-Haas Racing is already keeping her around instead of Ryan Newman for 2014. Newman has eight top 10’s this season and has scored 137 more points than Danica has this season. Even so he is the driver searching for a ride in 2014.
Stewart-Haas Racing will have two championship contenders in Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick needs to prove that she belongs in the same equipment as those two drivers.
Her body of work with crew chief Tony Gibson over the final 17 races of the 2013 season will go a long way to proving herself as a deserving Sprint Cup Series driver.
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