Midterm report cards: Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports top the class

The No. 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 88 Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. from Hendrick Motorsports have been two of the fastest cars in the first half of the 2014 season.

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With 19 of 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races in the books and an off week at hand, it’s time for FOXSports.com’s Midterm Report Cards. 

Following are our grades for teams who have drivers in the top 30 in points. 

TEAM PENSKE, GRADE: A — With five combined victories from drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Team Penske has gone back and forth with Hendrick Motorsports as the best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team this season. Fast virtually every week and killing it in qualifying. 

HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, GRADE: A — Jeff Gordon leads the points standings, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second and Jimmie Johnson fifth. Collectively, the three Hendrick drivers have won six races. The team’s only blemish so far is Kasey Kahne’s 17th-place ranking. Still, they will be tough to beat down the stretch. 

JOE GIBBS RACING, GRADE: B+ — Although JGR has won just two races and is clearly slightly behind Hendrick and Penske, it looks as if all three of its drivers — Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth — are locks to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. No other team right now has all of its drivers in the Chase. 

STEWART-HAAS RACING, GRADE: B — Lots of good here, a little bad. The good includes two victories by Kevin Harvick and one by Kurt Busch. The bad is both those drivers have struggled for consistency and mistake-free races at times. The worse is that Tony Stewart is 19th and winless and Danica Patrick, while improved from last year, is 27th in points. 

RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS, GRADE: B — Aric Almirola’s Daytona victory was huge, as it all but guarantees RPM its first spot in the Chase. And with Watkins Glen coming up, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Marcos Ambrose could make it in, too. Regardless, a big season already for RPM.

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RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING, GRADE: B — While RCR hasn’t had a whole lot of speed in its cars so far this year, the team has been very consistent, week in and week out. Ryan Newman is a near-lock to make the Chase, Paul Menard has a good chance to make it in and Austin Dillon could, too. 

CHIP GANASSI RACING WITH FELIX SABATES RACING, GRADE: B — This is a tough team to grade — their cars have usually been fast, but they haven’t always finished well. The good news is that rookie Kyle Larson looks like a star in the making and Jamie McMurray won the Sprint All-Star Race. Borderline Chase team.

JTG DAUGHERTY RACING, GRADE: C+ — AJ Allmendinger already has three top-10 finishes, which is as many as this one-car team had in 2012 and ’13 combined. Much improved from last year.

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MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING, GRADE: C+ — Honestly, given that Clint Bowyer was second in points two years ago and was highly competitive last year, he and his MWR teammate Brian Vickers have been somewhat disappointing so far. 

GERMAIN RACING, GRADE: C+ — Twenty-fourth in points, driver Casey Mears has one top-five and two top-10 finishes so far in 2014. Last year, he never once finished in the top 10, so this year is an improvement.

TOMMY BALDWIN RACING, GRADE: C — A low-budget team compared to the big boys, TBR’s rookie driver Michael Annett has finished in the top half of the field in four of the last six races. 

HSCOTT MOTORSPORTS, GRADE: C — Like TBR, a small team with modest resources. Driver Justin Allgaier has had some good runs and kept the team in the top 30 in points. 

ROUSH FENWAY RACING, GRADE: D+ — This, admittedly, is kind of a harsh grade, given that Carl Edwards has won twice already this season. But most weeks, the RFR Fords aren’t in the same league with the Penske Fords. And right now Greg Biffle is outside the Chase and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is having an awful year, currently ranked 28th in points. 

FURNITURE ROW RACING, GRADE: D — Last year, Furniture Row was the first single-car team to make the Chase. This year, Martin Truex Jr. is a disappointing 23rd in points, without a top-five finish.

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