Top-five drivers with 
something to prove in 2015

Photo by Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
 Jamie McMurray leads the field to the green flag at Sonoma Raceway in June. Our Brandon Caldwell talks about the five drivers with a chip on their shoulder in 2015.





By Brandon Caldwell
Reporter
January 9, 2015
theracingexperts@aol.com

 

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.



As great of a season as 2014 was for some drivers, it wasn’t too kind to other. Some of those drivers have decided to make changes. Some of them may have overachieved, and some may just have not run too good in 2014. In order to turn their careers around, and make sure that they don’t get labeled as a bad driver or team, 2015 needs to be much better.

This article highlights those drivers. The ones who need to prove something for 2015. The drivers who need to turn our judgments around and make us believers once again. I’ll explain why these drivers are the top-5 with something to prove in 2015.

First let’s start with an honorable mention:

Martin Truex Jr. No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet

Truex came over to the Furniture Row team from Michael Waltrip Racing. He had two moderately successful seasons at MWR before making the jump after sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts took off after “SpinGate.” Truex was informed he would not be back, very late in the off 2013-14 off season, and wound up signing with Furniture Row Racing. From the start it looked like Truex didn’t want to be at Furniture Row.

Things did start well though. An outside pole start in the 56th running of the Great American Race proved that the 78 team had fast stuff for Daytona, and everyone thought Truex would take advantage of that.

A blown engine on lap 30 had the 78 team finish dead-last in the Daytona 500. From then on, the season was a disaster for the Truex and the team.


Martin Truex Jr.

After a 2013 season that resulted in a win, seven top-five’s and 15 top-ten’s, he failed to duplicate finishes even close to that. No wins, 1 top-5 and 5 top-10s in 2014. Some may say that the team isn’t as good. Fair point, but don’t forget about Furniture Row Racing’s success in 2013.

Kurt Busch drove that car to a Chase berth and a 10th place points finish for this same Furniture Row team. Same chassis, same alliances, and even the same crew chief for Truex had him finish a measly 24th place in points. In one year, the only thing that changed with the Furniture Row team was the driver, and they were 14 sports worse in points, a performance that ultimately cost crew chief Todd Berrier his job.

Truex has a lot to prove in 2015. He needs to prove that he was the right hire for this team in 2014, and that they didn’t make a lapse in judgment in their talent evaluation of him. He needs to prove that is was his relationship with Todd Berrier that lead to the team’s struggles in 2014, and that he can put this car in or near a Chase berth in 2015. Another season like that one will lead to a driver change for 2016, no question about it, and where would Martin Truex Jr. go from there? The year 2015 is the most important season in Martin Truex Jr.’s career, yet.

5.) Carl Edwards No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Traitor! Unloyal! Ungrateful! Those are just some of the comments I have read about Carl Edwards since his announcement to join Joe Gibbs Racing was made official. Put yourself in his shoes for a minute, and then think again. Wouldn’t you do that same thing?

Still, Carl Edwards’ move to Joe Gibbs Racing made the most noise this silly season, no question. After 11 seasons at Roush Fenway Racing and being the company and brand ambassador for not only Roush, but also for Ford Motor Company, Carl joins Joe Gibbs Racing and their fleet of Toyotas for the 2015 season and beyond.  

The reason for the move is obvious. Roush Fenway Racing has struggled for a while now. Rumblings about the commitment of team patriarch, Jack Roush started on media day before the Daytona 500. Once media day was over, it was clear that Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle were looking to escape the turmoil for 2015.  



Carl Edwards

Carl was the one that got out. Joe Gibbs Racing, who tried to court Carl years before, finally got their wish, and put a deal together for Edwards to join a start-up fourth team at the organization. This time, Joe Gibbs outbid Jack Roush for Edwards.          

Gibbs, a man who once said he would never go to more than one car, will become a 4-car powerhouse in 2015. The added inventory and employees to make it all go were fueled by a big money sponsor in Arris joining the fold. Everything is set for Carl Edwards to have a championship run in 2015.

If the story sounds familiar, it should. Another former Roush driver pulled the same move two off seasons ago.  

Matt Kenseth made the same jump Carl did before the 2013 season. He had the most successful season a driver could have without winning a championship with seven wins to his credit. Is it fair to expect the same result from Edwards? Sure, but do expect it? No! Carl Edwards has been out of sync for the last couple of seasons. The nice guy persona that he puts on in front of the cameras has began to fold at times in his career, included in that is a run-in with former and current teammate Matt Kenseth. Carl needs to put his ego aside for at least the first part of the season. If he doesn’t don’t expect anything much more than the usual for him in 2015.       

Also, a brand new race team, right out of the box could be an issue for an organization that struggled to run up front in 2014, with just two wins among its three cars. If Gibbs as a whole fails to turn things around, it could be a long year for Edwards.

The reason why Carl Edwards is number 5 on this list is because he felt he needed something better than Roush Fenway Racing. Carl’s ego is astronomical for a driver without a Sprint Cup Series championship.  It’s time for him to prove to us that he can win one, and that he made the right move for his career. He’s come close so many times; prove it was Roush Fenway Racing that was holding you back.




 4.) Kasey Kahne No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy



Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the No. 5 car is still a Hendrick Motorsports entry, contrary to the way they have been running the past two seasons.



It was a Labor Day Weekend win at Atlanta Motor Speedway that locked this team into the 2014 Chase, but let’s be honest; they were never really a championship contender in the first place.



Kasey Kahne

After a second disappointing season in a row, a crew chief change was imminent. And it came! Keith Rodden was brought back over to Hendrick Motorsports from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Former crew chief, Kenny Francis was reassigned within the Hendrick organization. Kahne and Francis had been together since Evernham Motorsports was alive and well—yup!

In a shocking move, Kasey Kahne was signed to an extension to remain in this 5 car for the near future. Everyone was expecting Kahne to be the one who got the short end of the stick when young Hendrick driver, Chase Elliott finally makes his jump to Sprint Cup, full-time. And his struggles over his entire tenure at Hendrick Motorsports only furthered these suspicions. So the move was definitely a shock to all.       

Why Kahne is on this list is more Rick Hendrick’s fault than Kahne’s. Hendrick brought in a new crew chief, and signed Kahne to an extension. Moves that usually show confidence in the driver, and showing that he thinks it may have been the 5 team overall, rather than just Kahne. Rick Hendrick clearly has confidence in him. But imagine another bad season. That could lead to him being fired even with a contract extension. It’s time for Kasey Kahne to show us all what Rick Hendrick sees in him.

         


3.) A.J. Allmendinger No. 47 JTG/Daugherty Racing Chevy

The feel good story of A.J. Allmendinger and a single-car operation making the Chase was well known in 2014. A win at the road course in Watkin’s Glen got them in, only to be eliminated after the first round.         

Even with the 2014 season on his resume, the jury is still out on Allmendinger’s ability as a driver. There are plenty of people around this sport still questioning whether or not he has what it takes to be among the elite in this business. But a second Chase berth, in back-to-back seasons would quiet most of those naysayers.     

Allmendinger needs to prove to everyone that 2014 wasn’t a fluke, and that the Chase berth is a beneficial to small teams if they can make it in. Once they get in, they need to put up more of a fight than they did in 2014, or we will all feel exactly the same way about this 47 team as we do now.


A.J. Allmendinger


 2.) Greg Biffle No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Biffle was the other big name at Roush Fenway Racing that dipped his toes into foreign waters during the 2014 silly season. By mid-summer, it was a foregone conclusion that Greg Biffle was taking his business elsewhere for 2015.

But at the last minute, the deal with thought Biffle had fell through, and his sponsor, 3M decided to go with 4-time series champion, Jeff Gordon rather than stay with Biffle.

Once that happened, Biffle was left without a ride, and without a sponsor. He was left with no other option than to return to Roush Fenway Racing for 2015 and beyond.

Greg Biffle will be 45 years old once the green flag drops in Daytona, which will make him the oldest full-time driver on the circuit. This is clearly his last contract in which he has a shot at a championship.


 

Greg Biffle

Now being the veteran of the ground, and being the front man at the refurbished, Roush Fenway Racing, Greg Biffle has more pressure on him than ever before.

Roush Fenway Racing brought in young driver, Darrell Wallace, Jr into the fold for 2015, a move that will also put pressure on “The Biff,” where if he doesn’t get going, he could be replaced as early as 2016.

It is be default that Greg Biffle is back at Roush Fenway Racing. But ultimately, it could have been the right move for both parties as it appears there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for the organization with the moves they’ve made in their infrastructure for 2015.

Greg Biffle has a lot to prove in 2015, first and foremost, that he isn’t too old to compete for a Sprint Cup Series championship, and also, that keeping crew chief, Matt Puccia with this 16 team was the right move as well. If Roush as a whole turns it around, and this 16 is still struggling, we will be questioning the ability of Greg Biffle. Something he can’t afford to go through at this advanced age.


 1.) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Hey everyone, remember when this guy won back-to-back Nationwide Series championships? Me too, but that feels like light years ago!

Instead, recent history makes us feel like all Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has ever been is a struggling Sprint Cup Series driver, with a high profile, equally as struggling, girlfriend. That all needs to end really soon.

There’s no question in anyone’s mind, Stenhouse can get the job done in Cup. So what is the issue? I think the struggles as Roush Fenway as a whole really affected this team internally; especially because they were the ones who were the team being ran out of Jack’s pocket for most of the year.

With Edwards’ exit, this is the team that has reaped the benefits. Fastenal, the main primary sponsor for Edwards the last few seasons, has joined the 17 team for 2015. The team is now fully funded, and that excuse of being run out of Jack’s pocket is no longer applicable.


 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Another thing that happened between Stenhouse’s rookie season, and sophomore season was a crew chief change. That change loomed large for all of 2014. Mike Kelley, who was the crew chief for Stenhouse during both of his Nationwide Series championships, joined the fold, even after it seemed that Stenhouse, and former crew chief, Scott Graves seemed to hit on something in 2013. That move alone proves to me that it was Stenhouse, not the organization, that was behind the crew chief change before 2014. And as my mother always says, “lay in the bed you made!”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr has a lot to prove, and the most of any driver in the Sprint Cup Series because we’re already questioning what’s wrong with this team. We’ve already seen a crew chief change, and Roush has made the proper moves to make this team a contender, and they are now fully funded. It’s time for Stenhouse to prove to us he can win, and time for him to focus on racing, and get to the grind. The immediate future of Roush Fenway Racing lies in the hands of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and it’s time for him to prove to all of us, he’s the right man for the job. 

Which driver has the most to prove on-track in 2015?
 
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