One of the most unusual things about the 2017 NASCAR season to date is that the big dogs of the sport aren’t doing as well as expected so far.
Neither Hendrick Motorsports nor Joe Gibbs Racing has won one of the first six races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The last time that happened was way back in 1994, when Terry Labonte broke the winless streak in the seventh race of the season at North Wilkesboro, where he drove his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to victory.
Last year, these two teams combined to win 18 of 36 points races.
This year, they’ve combined to go 0 for 6.
And although their situation hasn’t gotten as much attention, Stewart-Haas Racing has had a significant performance drop off since Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 and Kevin Harvick dominated but didn’t win at Atlanta.
SHR kicked the season off with Kurt Busch’s huge Daytona 500, but since then the bright spots have been few. Busch, Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick collectively have one victory, two top fives and seven top 10s.
Bowyer is eighth in points, Harvick 10th, Busch 19th and Patrick 29th for an average of 16.5 — nearly identical to JGR’s average.
The laps-led numbers are a little more complex. SHR has led 344 laps or 19.03 percent of the total run this hear. But 342 of those 344 laps led belonged to Harvick in the first two races of the season. He hasn’t led since.
Busch led only one lap – the last one – in the Daytona 500 and one lap in the five races since. Bowyer and Patrick, meanwhile, haven’t led all year.
First and foremost, all three teams have work to do. That much should be obvious by the numbers.
Secondly, each time has one driver who is producing consistently better results than his teammates: Elliott at Hendrick, Kyle Busch at JGR and Bowyer at SHR.
The lack of laps led at Hendrick is indicative of the cars needing more speed, which is also a problem of late at SHR.
JGR has been hurt by the abrupt departure of first driver Carl Edwards, one of the top shoes of this era, and then crew chief Dave Rogers. Daniel Suarez has filled in admirably for Edwards but there was bound to be a drop off this season and so far, it’s been a pretty big one.
Right now, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott seem like the best bets to win soon, but don’t count Johnson, who is the real wild card in all of this. He can got hot any time and when he does, it’s usually lights out for the competition. And don’t sleep on Harvick, either. He and crew chief Rodney Childers are a dynamic pairing.
So will one of these teams step up and get back on track this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway? We’ll find out Sunday, when pre-race coverage for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 begins at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.