Yes, we're getting down toward the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, with just three races left starting with Sunday's 3 p.m. race on ESPN at Texas. And while we can't quite be sure who the top driver will be this season, you know it's either going to be Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski, we do have a pretty good idea of some drivers who have without question had disappointing seasons.
So, here's a look at five drivers that easily fall into that disappointing category based on the expectations they had coming into this season.
1) Carl Edwards: He finished in a tie for the title last season, only to lose the tiebreaker to Tony Stewart for most wins. But Edwards hasn't won since the Las Vegas race in the spring of 2011, a span of 66 races. And this season, he has just three top five finishes and 10 other top 10 finishes. What's more disturbing is he has rarely contended for a victory this season. He missed the Chase and is 14th in the points standings with an average finish of 15.8. It would be fair to expect a rebound season from him in 2013.
2) Kyle Busch: This isn't so much a reflection on the driver as much as a team that had an endless string of bad luck. Busch is certainly still capable of being a championship driver, but the No. 18 Toyota has had numerous mechanical issues this year, and then in the final race of the regular season, a questionable call late in the race by crew chief Dave Rogers left Busch on the outside of the Chase. While Busch has an average finish of 14.2 this season and sits 13th in points, one sign that the team still has a quality program is that the Busch has led 928 laps this season, the third most in the Sprint Cup. Yes, he'll be considered a title contender again next year.
3) Joey Logano: This was a contract year for Logano at Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Toyota. And while he did win the first race at Pocono this season, that was really about his only highlight. Logano, who certainly seems like one of the nicest guys on the circuit, sits 17th in points with an average finish of 17.4 And what's more disturbing is that he has just one other top five finish and 10 other top 10 finishes in 33 races this season. Also, he's led just 25 laps this season. He'll be in the No. 22 car for Roger Penske next year and at age 22 Logano certainly has potential. But potential will only last so long when the results don't follow.
4) Kevin Harvick: It's true, he is in the Chase, so you can't say this season has been a complete disaster. But many thought he would be a legitimate contender to win the Sprint Cup title this season. But he has no wins this year and just four top five finishes and seven other top 10 finishes in the 33 races this season and he's rarely been a legitimate contender to win. It's been a disappointing year for the Richard Childress Racing team as Harvick, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton have combined for just seven top five finishes without a win in their 99 combined starts. The team clearly has a lot of work to do before hitting Daytona in February.
5) Juan Pablo Montoya: No, I wouldn't have picked him to win the title this season, but he's a talented driver with a team that looked ready to at least contend for one of the 12 Chase spots coming into the season. But his highlight moment came at Daytona when a suspension piece broke on his car on a yellow flag and he crashed into a Jet Dryer causing a the now famous Jet Dryer fire. Montoya's average finish is 21.4 this year and he sits 22nd in the standings with no top five finishes and just two top 10 finishes. Whether it's the team or the driver or maybe a combination of both, Montoya is simply too talented of a driver to almost never contend for a top five spot.
In these final three races each of these drivers still has a chance to salvage a victory, and maybe go into 2013 with a little positive momentum, something Edwards did two years ago before he went on to contend last year. But if they haven't already, these teams are going to be asking a lot of questions about what went wrong, rather than talking about all the things that went right.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
It's Week 8 of the Chase and as the Sprint Cup series heads to Texas it is now without question a two-driver race for the title with three races remaining. It's between Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson as Johnson has a two-point lead. Next in line are Clint Bowyer at 26 points back and Kasey Kahne at 29 behind. The largest comeback in NASCAR history in the final three races came when Dale Earnhardt rallied from 49 points down under the old points system to beat Mark Martin for the title in 1990. If that was converted into today's points system, Earnhardt would have been 12 points back. Last year, Tony Stewart was eight points behind Carl Edwards with three races to go before winning two of the final three races and taking the title on a tiebreaker. So, yes, it's really a two-man race at this point.
Here's a look at this week's picks:
1. Jimmie Johnson. He has an average finish of seventh in the last five races at Texas and with a title on the line, it's hard to imagine him not finishing in the top five.
2. Brad Keselowski. It's impossible not to pick him, even though the numbers are telling us something completely different. In his last five trips to Texas, Keselowski has an average finish of 30th and has not finished on the lead lap,. But he's been breaking down personal barriers all season, so we'll go against the numbers here.
3. Denny Hamlin. Yes, his title chances got short-circuited with last week's electrical issues, but he's still been very good at Texas, with two wins in the last five races with an average finish of 9.8.
4. Greg Biffle. Things haven't gone well for him in the Chase, but he does have a win, three other top five finishes and another top 10 finish in the last five races at Texas. Can't ignore that.
5. Matt Kenseth. It's pretty much been all or nothing for Kenseth in the Chase. He has an average finish of 6.4 in the last five races with a win and three other top five finishes at Texas. So, he could be in feast mode, which means he could have three wins in eight Chase races and still have no shot at the title. That would be hard to do.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda: Tony Stewart. His Chase has gone pretty much the opposite of last year when he won five of the 10 races, but Texas has been a good place for him, including winning this race last year and since he's back in 10th in the standings, he'll not be afraid to gamble late and go for the win.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared in Week 7 of the Chase at Martinsville..
Denny Hamlin - 33rd. May have had the best car, but getting caught twice speeding on pit lane and eventually going to garage with electrical issues put him way back in the pack.
Jimmie Johnson - 1st. He was at or near the front all day, and five-timer may become six-timer in a few weeks.
Jeff Gordon - 7th. Was near the front much of the day, but got caught in the dreaded outside lane on final restart and fell back a bit.
Brad Keselowski - 6th. Tried the old stay out and get track position trick late to go for the win, but he'll take sixth considering his past history there.
Clint Bowyer - 5th. It looked like he might win, leading 154 laps, but stalled in pits and never got all the way back to the front again.
Here's a look at my results after 33 races and 165 picks.
51 top 5s
77 top 10s
Grade for the week: A-. Finally, I got you the winner and four of the top seven. And Hamlin would've been a top five car if it hadn't quit running on him.
One last thing: Johnson's win broke an 11-race winless streak for Chevrolet. The last time Chevrolet went 11 or more races without a win was 12 races in 1993.