FORT WORTH, Tex. – Legendary baseball player Yogi Berra was known for his famous sayings, or “Yogi-isms.”
One of my personal favorites? “It’s getting late early.” Fresh off the season’s first short track race of the year, the teams have seen nearly every type of track they’ll encounter from now until November.
While NASCAR is about as far from America’s favorite pastime as you can get, the clock is ticking for several drivers who have struggled in 2016.
The 2003 champion finds himself 14th in points after six races, the farthest down he’s been at this point in a season since finishing the 2009 campaign 14th. But unlike the other drivers on this list, Kenseth’s problem hasn’t been speed: it’s a black cloud that’s been lingering over his No. 20 Toyota Camry since last October.
For those who don’t know, Kenseth’s season spiraled out of control when Joey Logano spun him at Kansas Speedway in the opening race of the second round of the the Chase. A crash at Charlotte the following week set the stage for their infamous run-in at Martinsville, where a frustrated Kenseth crashed Logano after he felt he was taken out by Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski.
Kenseth was less than a mile away from winning his third Daytona 500 this February before he was shuffled back to 14th in the mad dash to the checkers. The next week in Atlanta, Kenseth was again one of the cars to beat, leading 47 laps. A pit penalty for illegal fueling led to a communication breakdown on the team’s radio that saw Kenseth fall two laps behind and out of contention en route to a 19th place finish.
A crash at Las Vegas and another comedy of errors on pit road at Auto Club Speedway ruined strong runs for Kenseth. At Martinsville, he appeared to be well on his way to turning the ship around before a late-race restart saw him on the outside of teammate Kyle Busch. The result was a 15th place finish that spoiled a tremendous run.
Oddly enough, the race that Kenseth didn’t lead, Phoenix, saw him make it to the finish in one piece in seventh.
Kasey Kahne, Kasey Kahne, wherefore art thou, Kasey Kahne?
Once regarded as the next big thing in NASCAR, Kahne’s rise to the top is all but a distant memory in 2016. After finishing fourth in points in his debut season in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5, Kahne has failed to finish in the top 10 for three consecutive years. Kahne’s last victory came in 2014, when he won at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Through six races, Kahne has yet to lead a single lap and has just one top 10 (Las Vegas). Kahne qualified second at Martinsville last week, but dropped like a rock from the start and brought his Chevrolet home 22nd. It feels like every time we expect to see something from Kahne, he falls flat on his face and shows he’s a distant fourth in the Hendrick pecking order.
Kahne qualified 17th for the Duck Commander 500, but has seen success at Texas in the past. He finished eighth in this race last year, and does have a win at TMS. If you believe in fate, it should be noted that Kahne’s victory at Texas came 10 years ago to the day of the Duck Commander 500.
On the heels of a third-place run at Martinsville Speedway, it would be easy to remove Larson from this list. But when you look closer at the numbers, it’s easy to see why Larson isn’t out of the woods.
Larson has only posted back-to-back top fives once in his career, when he did so in September 2014. Taking it a step further, the Chip Ganassi prodigy hasn’t recorded consecutive top-10 finishes since last June.
The No. 42 Target Chevy has yet to lead a lap in 2016, and Larson has only advanced to the third round of qualifying once this season, including Friday, when he qualified 20th for the Duck Commander 500. Larson and crew chief Chad Johnston will hope for a run similar to 2014 at Texas, when Larson finished fifth in this race.
With the exception of Team Penske, Ryan Blaney and a couple of strong runs from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford has been behind Chevrolet and Toyota in the early stages of 2016.
Greg Biffle has hoisted the Texas six shooters twice in his career, last winning at TMS in 2012. Prior to the switch to the Generation 6 chassis, Biffle was a Texas master with nine top-10 finishes in 10 starts in the “car of tomorrow.”
If Biffle is ever going to re-establish himself as a frontrunner in the cup series, a trip to Texas might be exactly what the doctor ordered for the No. 16 team. Otherwise, it may be time for Roush Fenway to find a new lead driver.
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