We are almost a third of the way through the 26 race regular season schedule. Some drivers have been crazy impressive so far this season like Hamlin and Truex. However, there have also been plenty of disappointing starts for a handful of teams. Consider this a “Reverse Power Rankings.” Definitely a list where you do not want to be #1.
I will rank the most disappointing drivers so far from the major teams and their satellite teams. For those who are not familiar with all of the big teams we have:
- Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) who has #4 Harvick, #10 Almirola, #14 Briscoe, and #41 Custer. They could have their own article about a disappointing start and will be heavily featured in my rankings.
- Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) drivers are #5 Larson, #9 Elliott, #24 Byron, and #48 Bowman.
- Team Penske has a team of three full time drivers #2 Keselowski, #12 Blaney, and #22 Logano. They also have a satellite team, Wood Brothers Racing, who is a one car operation with #21 DiBenedetto.
- Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has four full time drivers #11 Hamlin, #18 Kyle Busch, #19 Truex, #20 Bell. Hamlin also co-owns 23XI racing with Michael Jordan and they have one car #23 Wallace. They are a bit of a satellite operation to JGR sharing some parts and research.
There are many other smaller teams in NASCAR and I will mention some of them, but I will focus on the teams with the highest expectations. I will try to keep this as objective as possible using three main stats, average finish, points standings, and green flag speed. Ryan has a cool metric that combines green flag speed over the last five races.
1) Aric Almirola – Aric has been as consistent as anyone in the Cup series and always seemed to be in the Top 10 last year. This is what makes his lack of success such a surprise. This year he has had his fair share of bad luck and slow race cars. He is ranked 28th in points and average finish, sitting behind the likes of Eric Jones, Ryan Preece and Daniel Suarez who all belong to much smaller teams. Almirola is the most senior member of SHR on this list. His veteran knowledge of the Cup circuit, combined with his lack of results, earns him the top spot.
2) Bubba Wallace – Bubba is one of the most polarizing drivers on the circuit. Some people love him for his stance on social justice and others don’t believe he belongs in a Cup car at all. Both can be true, but I think he still deserves a chance to prove himself with a solid team, which he is getting at 23XI racing. Coming over from a subpar #43 car, many people (including me) thought Bubba would have success in a car with a JGR alliance. Wallace has finished between 15th and 27th in every race this season, so he hasn’t been terrible. Unfortunately for him, that’s only good enough for 19th in points and 23rd in average finish. Some people speculate that the 23XI team doesn’t have great equipment since the Next Gen car will debut next year. Time will tell, but Bubba has had a rough start to his season full of high expectations.
3) Chase Briscoe – Another SHR makes the list, and we may even see one more. I tried to cut the rookie some slack, since having success as a rookie in the Cup series is extremely difficult. However, he has landed a spot on a top team because he is billed as one of the top young drivers in NASCAR. He won his fair share of Xfinity races, even against stiff competition of Custer, Bell, and Reddick. I understand struggling during your rookie season, especially early. However, his numbers have been extremely disappointing for a top tier team. Chase is ranked 27th in points and average finish as well as 28th in speed. Not the type of results you expect from a car that was in the playoffs last year when Clint Bowyer was the driver.
4) Cole Custer – Cole is the final SHR driver on the list. Thankfully for that organization, Harvick is still driving very well despite everyone else’s lack of speed. Custer won Rookie of the Year honors last year after his win at Kentucky. His sophomore slump is real to start 2021. He is ranked 24th in points and 21st in average finish, the year after making the playoffs. Custer has yet to crack the Top 10 this season (Harvick has the only Top 10s for SHR.) He is so far back in points that he will likely need to find victory lane in order to secure a playoff spot. For now SHR is just hoping to find a Top 10 let alone a victory.
5) Alex Bowman – Yes the #48 team has finishes of 10th, 9th, and 3rd so far this year. But they also have finishes of 35th, 27th, 22nd, and 34th. While Bowman has run into some bad luck, he needs to find consistency and finish races on the lead lap. He ranks 17th in points (the first spot out of the playoffs) and 18th in average finish. The rest of the Hendrick cars are Top 7 in points, so sitting outside of the playoffs at this stage of the season has to be a disappointment.
6) Kyle Busch – This one may be a stretch, but hear me out. Kyle considers himself one of the top drivers in the Cup series, and rightfully so. He gets very frustrated when he doesn’t compete for wins week in and week out. After eight races, he is ranked 11th in points and 13th in average finish. If you were to ask him if he’s happy with that, I believe he would respond with a definitive no. He is the low man in points in the JGR garage, which you know doesn’t sit well with him. It has to especially sting that he dismissed his crew chief, Adam Stevens, in the offseason. Stevens is now the crew chief for fellow JGR driver, Christopher Bell. Bell and Stevens won at Daytona Road Course and Kyle still hasn’t seen victory lane since the 2019 Championship Race. Kyle even got beat in a Trucks race by 23 year old John Hunter Nemechek earlier this season at Las Vegas. While JHN and Bell are both very talented drivers (more on JHN to come) I’m sure Busch is unhappy getting beaten by a couple of young drivers.
7) Matt DiBenedetto – The #21 Wood Brothers car has been solid the last five weeks with an average finish of 13.2. The issue was the three races prior where Matty D finished 33th, 38th, and 28th. He has raced well over the last six weeks, but still sits 22nd in points and average finish. He will need to continue to stack success and cannot afford any more finishes outside the Top 25 if he hopes to repeat his playoff appearance of 2020.
Here are a few of the lower tier teams that don’t necessarily expect to make the playoffs, but have been disappointing nonetheless.
8) Anthony Alfredo – The #38 car is part of Front Row Motorsports (FRM) along with McDowell. McDowell won the Daytona 500 and finished Top 8 in the first three races of the season. Since then he has not finished better than 12th. McDowell is still 16th in points and 12th in average finish. I say all that to set the table for how terrible Alfredo has been this season. Anthony ranks 29th in points and average finish. He is 120 points behind his teammate in points which is a crazy gap for two cars in the same equipment. Alfredo is a rookie, so no one expected big things from him this year. But sitting 29th in points with an average finish of 28.9 is still disappointing given how well McDowell has performed. FRM has to be begging John Hunter Nemechek to come back and drive the #38 car, simply because no one can be worse than what Alfredo has done so far this season.
9) Corey LaJoie – Corey left Go Fas Racing after 2020 and joined Spire Motorsports for the 2021 season. The equipment downgrade is quite obvious as LaJoie used to be a mid-20s type driver. He now sits 30th in average finish and points through eight races. After a 9th place finish in the Daytona 500, his best finish is 27th. He also has four results of 26th place or worse, which is truly impressive. I’m sure he is disappointed that he has turned into a back marker instead of a “middle of the pack” driver.
10) Kurt Busch – The Busch brothers have definitely underperformed this year. Kurt is part of Chip Ganassi racing along with Chastain. They are a mid-tier team, but Kurt is a former Cup Champion. He expects to contend for Top 10s every week and ultimately a playoff spot. Busch is barely in the playoffs, ranking 15th in points and 16th in average finish. The disappointment has to be due to some of the bad luck results he’s had so far this season, most notably at Atlanta. Kurt had a legit Top 5 car and was dumped on a restart after a combination of mistakes by his brother Kyle and Denny Hamlin. His car was wrecked and he finished 39th. Smaller teams can’t afford poor results like that when they are Top 5 worthy. He only has two finishes inside the Top 15 and will need to find more if he hopes to secure a playoff bid.