While Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to the best start of his career and Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are looking to add another NASCAR Sprint Cup title to their respective resumes, so far the 2013 season has not been as good for some other big-name racers.
Five races at five very different tracks is enough for teams to know who’s been good so far and who hasn’t. Here are five drivers struggling to find their way in 2013.
1. DANICA PATRICK — She won the pole for the Daytona 500 and was third going into the last lap, but since then Patrick’s season has nose-dived in absolutely the wrong direction. In the four races after Daytona, Patrick finished 38th, 33rd, 28th and 26th to put her 29th in points. At least she’s trending in the right direction. But Patrick and her Stewart-Haas Racing team definitely need to step it up soon.
2. TONY STEWART — The dust-up with Joey Logano at Auto Club Speedway was a microcosm of Stewart’s season: Near the end of the race, Stewart was in a position to win, yet through circumstances and rotten racing luck, he finished 22nd and is now 22nd in points. Hard to believe, but the three-time Sprint Cup champion has just one top-10 finish, an eighth-place run in Phoenix. That said, Stewart can get red-hot on a moment’s notice.
3. JEFF GORDON — The four-time champion’s 2013 campaign is almost identical to Stewart’s, with just a single top-10 finish to his credit. Gordon was in great position to win at Bristol when a melted tire beat took him out while leading. Gordon put on a strong rally last summer to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2012 and will likely have to do the same again this time.
4. CLINT BOWYER — It’s looks as though Bowyer might be falling victim to the dreaded runner-up curse, where the second-place points finisher one year stumbles mightily the next. Bowyer was second last year, but is only 14th now after an engine failure at California left him 35th. He has led just one lap this season, and that was at Daytona.
5. JUAN PABLO MONTOYA — Three finishes of 30th or worse in five races is a huge disappointment for Montoya. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was expected to pick up the pace this season after a changeover to Hendrick Motorsports engines. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.