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It’s Never Too Early To Have Half-Baked Opinions

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 31 2012

Is this the season Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans have been waiting for? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The five-week mark is kind of, sort of a significant point in the Sprint Cup season. It is the cutoff point for those using the previous year’s owner points to get free entry into race fields. And it does mark a point where the teams have competed on every kind of  track except road courses.

So what better time – heading into race No. 6 at Martinsville  this weekend – to draw half-baked, shoddily researched conclusions about teams and drivers and their 2012 seasons?

– Surprise driver of the 2012 season who is doing better than expected: Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s third in points and has three top-10 finishes. He has finished in the top 15 of all races and has been fast enough in almost all of the races to get the victory. People have been waiting for Earnhardt to post these kinds of numbers since he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, what, like 108 years ago?

Will he be in the top three in points 31 races from now? Yes. Will he win a race this year? If he really, really wants to.

– Surprise driver of the 2012 season who is doing worse than expected: Jeff Gordon. His best finish is eighth. He is 25th in points this week. Three times he’s finished off the lead lap. Ahead of him in the standings are drivers like Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard. Even Mark Martin is ahead of Gordon and

Jeff Gordon off to slow start. (RacinToday/HHP by Brian Lawdermilk)

Martin has only raced in four events.

Will he be 20th or worse 31 races from now? No way. Gordon will win a race or two this season to boot. He will be in the Chase, he will not be a legit contender for fifth championship.

– Driver off  to the the most disappointing start: Kasey Kahne. Hmmm, another Hendrick driver. A lot of us were rubbing our hands together in anticipation of Kahne getting into a Hendrick car. He’s a guy with skill, Hendrick is a team with speed. Great combo. Heightening expectations was the way Kahne finished the 2011 season with lame duck Red Bull. But heading to Martinsville this week, Kahne is 27th in points and looking for his first top 10.

Will he still be considered a disappointment 31 races from now? Yes. Not because he will suck the rest of the year and not because he won’t make a bid for the Chase, but because anything short of a top-five finish will be considered a letdown.

– Surprise team of the 2012 season who is doing better than expected: Michael Waltrip Racing. There were lots of changes at MWR over the offseason. Like adding top-tier drivers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin. But this week, holdover Martin Truex Jr. is fifth in points and Bowyer 10th and that exceeds expectations. Add to that,  Martin has two top-10s in just four starts. Which may point to a third addition to the team for 2012 – competition director Scott Miller. Imported from Richard Childress Racing, Miller appears to have MWR headed in great direction.

Will two MWR teams be in the Chase? No. But one will and it’s tough to say which one it will be.

– Surprise team not performing as had hoped: Penske Racing. A lot of folks figured that parting with former champion Kurt Busch would be addition by subtraction. A lot of us thought an AJ Allmendinger/Brad Keselowski would be dynamite. So far, not happening. Keselowski does have the

Clint Bowyer helping Michael Waltrip and himself. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

victory at Bristol going for him but he sits 16th in points. Allmendinger is 26th and still looking for a top-10 finish.

Will Penske head into the Chase without a driver in the hunt? No. Keselowski will be there because he already has one win and will get at least one more before the Chase. Allmendinger will spend the final 10 races of the season helping to block for Keselowski.

– Team mysteriously still stuck in the mud: Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. After a superb 2010 season and then a superbly disappointing 2011 season, you had to figure Ganassi would figure things out for 2012. It’s what Chip does. But both Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya continue to flop around on the dock. They have three top-10s between them and Montoya is the top points guy at 18th.

Will EGR remain stuck up to its hubs for the test of the year? Kind of. It is tough to imagine either driver making the Chase. Too many good teams and drivers ahead of them. While that could be good news for jet dryer drivers at Chase tracks, it could be bad news for people working at EGR and includes the drivers.

– Chase, I would like to introduce you to: Paul Menard. He’s been mighty steady for an improved Richard Chrildress Racing team.

– Chase, say good-bye to: Kurt Busch. Not quite enough fuel in the Phoenix tank.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 31 2012
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  • Tony Geinzer says:

    I feel Kahne and Francis is not who we thought they where and Ganassi could be angling to break out of Chevy and Free Themselves of Montoya.