Top-five most disappointing drivers of 2014

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images
Denny Hamlin leads a pack of cars on the final lap of the 2014 Budweiser Duel No. 2. Our Brandon Caldwell weighs in on the most disappointing drivers of 2014.






By Brandon Caldwell
Reporter
December 5, 2014
theracingexperts@aol.com

 

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

 

Every year NASCAR fans get excited before the Daytona 500. Their favorite driver’s plans are finally announced, and their sponsor lineup, for the most part, is set and ready to go. Everyone is always ready to get to go racing.

With those announcements, usually teams also announce their expectations for the upcoming season. Most of the bigger teams of course were expecting themselves to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, especially since it only took one win to get in, and the field was expanded from 12 to 16 drivers for the 2014 season.

Then there are the expectations of the fans themselves. This drives this article even more than the teams themselves. The fans place high expectations on a driver, usually based on hype that is produced by the media members of this business, and their assistance in trying to sell tickets for NASCAR. So the fans take those articles and run with them. And with those, sometimes they are extremely disappointed.

Using all of these scenarios, it’s very difficult to just come up with five, but here are the five most disappointing drivers of the 2014 season, and labeled with them will be the reason why. I will also give what I think is the necessary ingredient for success in 2015. Hope you all enjoy it, and debate until your fingers smoke.

         


5) No. 14
Tony Stewart




There’s no question Tony didn’t have the season he was hoping to have in 2014. The year was clouded by tragedy, and he was still recovering from his injuries earlier in the season. This year was a complete loss for Tony Stewart. All of his season totals were all career lows, and he failed to win a race for the first time in his career which dates back to 1999.

I think the expectations for the 14 car going into 2014 were to at least make the Chase. The three-time series champion is known as one of the best drivers to ever strap on a suit. The “one win and you’re in” policy seemed to play in his hands, because I figured out of the first 26 races, Tony Stewart could win any one of those.

It didn’t happen. He struggled early on with new crew chief, Chad Johnston. Johnston had an impressive resume of his own as he came over from Michael Waltrip Racing and this mix of he and Tony was expected to take its time early, but then go off like gang busters. But of course that didn’t happen. Instead, there were times throughout the year where I wondered if Tony made the right call on choosing Johnston, after I would have bet my house in February that he did.



Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Tony Stewart at Phoenix International Raceway in March.

Then came the weekend of Watkin’s Glen. There’s no need to go into it. Unless you were like Austin Powers, and were frozen throughout the entire 2014 calendar year, you know what happened with the situation from Tony Stewart, and Kevin Ward, Jr. I’m very sympathetic to the incident, and feel bad for all parties involved including Stewart. It was a horrible situation.

But I would be foolish to let that admiration and sorrow that I have for a champion like Stewart, cloud my judgment of his 2014 season. I think even Tony would say it was the biggest disappointment of his career.

Is Tony done? Absolutely not! This guy’s a racer, and he can win in anything, anytime anywhere. I’ve been watching this sport my whole life, and Tony is one of the top-3 talents to ever come into this business since 1990, no doubt about it. He’s not too old. I think you have to look at age in this sport, a whole heck of a lot differently than in any other sport in the world. I know he’s 43 years old. 




Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Tony Stewart turns laps at Phoenix International Raceway.

But he’s not done. Tony doesn’t have a wife, or kids. He’s got one thing; racing. That’s it. I always look at age and say to myself, “does this guy still have the desire to grind out a 36 race schedule and compete for a championship.” The answer from Tony Stewart will always be “yes!”

What needs to turn around in 2015 for Stewart is a lot of things. But with the rule changes coming aboard, it will definitely benefit a guy with the talent of Stewart, as there will not be as much down force on the front end of the car, making it harder to turn, and Tony will have to use his talent, which will give him an advantage over about 95% of the field. 

I think the big thing missing in Tony’s career is the Daytona 500. He’s 0-16 in the big race. He’s won the 400 mile July race 4 times. He’s won the Nationwide opening race 7 times! He’s won 2 IROC races at Daytona, 3 Duel races, and also 3 Budweiser Shootouts at the track. All-in-all, 19 wins in Daytona; however, NONE of them are the Daytona 500. If that doesn’t scream modern-day Dale Earnhardt, I’m not quite sure what does.

If Tony comes out focused in 2015, and can win the Daytona 500, the momentum off of all of that will be huge for him. It may lead to a championship for Stewart if he can do it. But it’s eluded him so many times before. I don’t think all hope is lost for Tony, and he can rebound. But if he doesn’t put this Ward thing behind him, who knows where his career will go? I think SHR will take off majorly in 2015, and the organization as a whole will be much better, and that will benefit Stewart. Pencil him into your Chase bracket in 2015, baring another completely unbelievable thing that makes him miss races like it has the last two seasons.

 

 



4) No. 3
Austin Dillon





Boy I’m hard on drivers, huh? Putting a rookie on this list? But you’ve all got yourselves and the media to blame for this one.

The hype for Austin Dillon coming into the 2014 season was so astronomical that even Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s win felt like an underdog victory. After Dillon sat on the pole for the Daytona 500, everyone was very high on Dillon, and 


Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Austin Dillon's American Ethanol paint scheme at Phoenix International Raceway. Dillon posted four top-ten finishes in his rookie season.

thought his season would be one for the ages, and he was the next up and coming star in the sport.

Meanwhile, I was trying to calm everyone down. After all, Loy Allen Jr. and Danica Patrick have also sat on Daytona 500 poles… That’s right, Loy Allen Jr.; look it up.

Remember, this No. 3 car was the same cars, people, and crew chief that won 4 races with Kevin Harvick the year before, and made the Chase and finished 3rd in the standings with. Austin Dillon took that car and finished 20th with it.



Austin Dillon

The feel good story of Dillon is understandable. Racing is a family business. It was my father who got me started on watching races, and probably yours too. The fact that Dillon is Richard Childress’ grandson feels good, and it’s always nice to see a new face have so much passion for the family company as he and his brother Ty do.

That being said, let’s call it like it is. I expected more from Dillon. You expected more from Dillon. The media expected more from Dillon, and I think even Richard Childress expected more from Dillon. And he didn’t produce. The 20th place finish was behind both Ganassi cars, who for the for the most part, aren’t the fastest cars in the world. He only beat Paul Menard by one position, and for the sake of the future of Richard Childress Racing, I sure hope he’s better than Menard.

My opinion on Dillon hasn’t changed. I took some heat from the RCR junkies because of my viewpoint on Dillon. He’s going to be a good driver, never great. May win a championship in this format, but he will never be one of the top drivers in this series. We see how much more advanced Kyle Larson is than he.


It was the expectations of the RCR lifers that put all of this hype on Austin Dillon, as well as the way Childress himself is making room for them, that put a lot of hype into the season for Dillon, and we just didn’t see it. Maybe 2015 will be better for Dillon, but then again, maybe it won’t, and this could be all that Austin Dillon is. Don’t kill me this time for saying that. There are no changes taking place, because Richard knows, just as well as everyone else, Gil Martin is a top-level crew chief, and this is the best team at RCR. It’s time for the driver to step it up.





 


3) No. 55
Brian Vickers



I know all of your jaws just dropped like Marley’s in Clive Donner’s version of A Christmas Carol, but please look at the facts first. What were you expectations for Vickers this year? You expected him to at least make the Chase, and so did Aaron’s. Remember, after his win in New Hampshire in 2013, Mark Martin was allowed out of his contract because the sponsors were so convinced Vickers could do the job? 



Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Brian Vickers (left) rides with Jeff Gordon during pre-race festivities at Phoenix International Raceway in March.

Teammate Clint Bowyer didn’t make the Chase either, but at least he contended for a shot at the post-season well into the regular season. Vickers’ name was never even thrown into the mix, after the two full-time drivers in the MWR stable ran well enough to make the Chase in 2013.

Vickers only had one top-5 finish on a non plate track, which was at Texas in April. After that, he didn’t have any top-5s at a non plate track. Vickers’ season was so disappointing because they had a big money sponsor behind them, that expected them to make the Chase, and honestly, I thought they would be one of the cars to squeak in.


Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Brian Vickers turns laps at Phoenix International Raceway.



Billy Scott came over for a departed Rodney Childers and he may have meant more for this team than originally thought. The fact that MWR couldn’t and didn’t retain Chad Johnston showed in this car, and if you’re going to make a Chase, or at least compete for a championship, maybe a crew chief with a little more experience is the way to go and we could see a change here if things don’t turn around by Daytona in July.


Expect more of the same from Vickers in 2015, as he may be a tad overrated at this point. Yes, I understand he’s a nice looking guy, and he is a really good guy, and has had illnesses out of his control derail his career quite a bit. At the same time, I expected more from Vickers in 2014, and I think the majority of the people in this sport did as well. He’s not number one on this list, but certainly belongs on it. 

 

 


2) No. 10
Danica Patrick



Again, just like Dillon above, you’ve all got yourselves to thank for this one. I, for one, have never put any higher expectations on Danica than a 25-30th place points finish, every year until I see a great improvement. But the aura of Danica and the perception people have of her because she is the only female driver in the sport.



Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Danica Patrick pulls her car down pit road during Saturday practice for the March Pheonix Sprint Cup race.

Imagine if your brother or sister had a significant other that is terrible to them. Imagine if the significant other didn’t care about him/her, and did terrible things to them. And you bring this to your brother or sister’s attention, and their answer is this… “Well, I still like them because they’re hot!”

You would be incensed, especially if you were an older sibling. Fans, please, stop being that person. Danica Patrick is what she is. She is here to sell tickets, which is fine. But to put this hype up on her is just unfair. She is in a Stewart-Haas Racing car, and yes, she did run well at times this year. But this was just another year where she didn’t even contend for the Chase. If she won a race we would have all been talking about whether or not she could remain in the top-30 to make that win count anyway.


Danica Patrick


She finished behind drivers like Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose, and even behind every other driver on this list. The reason why she’s not number one is because this is sort of expected now. Mears is with a single-car team at Germain Racing, who did one Hell of a job for what they have, and Ambrose was checked out in the final half of the season after learning he was going back to Australia for 2015, and she still couldn’t beat either one of those drivers.

Stewart-Haas was bad this year, but come to your senses a little. If you were to rank the SHR cars in order it would go 4, 10, 41, and 14, and the 41 made the Chase in a season that we think was worse than Danica, and she still finished 28th in points.

The crew chief change towards the end of the season really showed me what Tony Stewart and Gene Haas thought of her season. Tony Gibson was moved to Kurt Busch’s team, and they looked miles better than when Danica drove that car, in a much smaller sampling. 


Danica still has yet to record a top-five finish in Sprint Cup competition. The excuse that she needs more time is just a joke. She’s made 82 starts in this series, which is well over 2 seasons, and we’re still talking about how she’s underperforming. It’s time to call a spade a spade, and this is what she is.

Now I know what’s next. Comments like “you hate her!” “You only pick on her because she’s a woman.” But look at the facts people, and look at her statistics. I am not deterred by her beauty or the fact that she’s a woman. I rate her on everything once the green flag drops, and a 25th place driver is all she is.

If you want her off this list next year, let the hype die, and come the understanding that this is what Danica is, and she’s not getting any better. I think with Daniel Knost calling the shots in 2015, it could be a worse year for Danica. Yikes. Don’t count out her moving to Gene Haas’ new Formula One team either. Formula One is looking for an American Superstar, and who better than Danica to help sell tickets for them in the USA? It’s a possibility, and if she sees the handwriting on the wall too, don’t expect too much effort from her once September comes around. Two-thousand Fourteen could have been the best year of Danica’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, and everyone except me was expecting her to be better by now.

 

 


1) No. 17
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.






Number one on this list is Danica’s flame, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, and rightfully so. Remember the hype of this guy coming out of the Nationwide Series? Stenhouse had back-to-back Nationwide Series championships and that success was expected to translate to the Sprint Cup Series.



Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. participates in pre-race ceremonies at Phoenix International Raceway in March.

It didn’t. His rookie season was a disappointment as well, and we all kind of let him slide. He was a rookie, at a team that has been on the downside, without full backing. We gave him a break.


But just like Danica, and if I’m going to hammer her, then I have to be fair, the “he’s still a rookie” excuse is no longer suffice for Stenhouse.

Only one top-five finish for Stenhouse again in 2014, and only two more top-tens means Ricky really didn’t improve much. A crew chief change at the end of 2013 shocked me. I thought he and Scott Graves actually ran better in 2013 than in 2014, and they were EIGHT spots higher in points.


Stenhouse was the biggest disappointment for that reason. I’m not around the Roush Fenway Racing team 24/7, so I don’t know whether it’s a team issue entirely, or whether it’s a Stenhouse issue. I mean even teammate, Greg Biffle, who had a bad season himself, was still able to rally and make the Chase. Stenhouse was by far the worst Roush car in 2014, and maybe there’s more than just team for him.

Rock bottom for this team was at Talladega when they missed the race. This showed that they just didn’t put themselves in the right position to make the race, and honestly I wasn’t too surprised as this team just seemed to be behind the eight ball all season, and seemed to be very overmatched. Something that needs to change next season, and I put most of the blame of missing that race on crew chief, Mike Kelley.


Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the most important driver for his organization headed into 2015. Carl Edwards just jumped ship to Joe Gibbs Racing, and teammate Greg Biffle will be 45-years-old. Trevor Bayne, who will be in his first full season of Sprint Cup competition, will be replacing Edwards. Biffle only has 2-4 good seasons left. Stenhouse will now take on Edwards’ old sponsor, Fastenal for the majority of the season.

It is a big year for Stenhouse, and if he has another season like this expect some sort of change, maybe even at driver. Stenhouse is number one on this list because frankly, he deserves to be, we all expected more, and most of us are shocked from what we’re seeing from Stenhouse.




Who was the most disappointing driver of 2014?
Tony Stewart
Austin Dillon
Brian Vickers
Danica Patrick
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Someone else
Poll Maker