Trio of NASCAR Cup champs struggling

Jimmie Johnson is heating up, but some past NASCAR champions are struggling these days.

After only two races in the 2010 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, we have some of our past champions already on the outside looking in. The first one that comes to mind is Matt Kenseth. Let’s face it, Matt didn’t make a whole lot of noise the entire season leading into the Chase.

Now when the season started, Matt actually was looking pretty strong. There was one point early on when he was sitting second in the points. I did an interview last week with Matt and he admitted he and his Roush Fenway Racing team aren’t where they need to be. What they have been very good at this year is finishing all the laps. If you look at those statistics, the numbers are pretty phenomenal.

That got them in the Chase, but it won’t do much for them in the Chase. Matt realizes that. He admits that the team is even behind where his Chase teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, are. I don’t think anyone was expecting a miraculous turnaround once Kenseth made it into the Chase. Unfortunately, the first two Chase races have born that out. The 2003 champion has had two lackluster performances so far.

Unfortunately, I still am of the belief that the No. 17 is the weakest of the 12 Chase contenders. To his credit, Matt will be the first one to step up and admit that, too. Tony Stewart is another one that has an uphill climb. At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he was just a little shy on fuel or he would have been our race winner. The race at Dover International Speedway saw just the opposite. He and his Stewart-Haas Racing team didn’t practice, qualify or race well.

Is Tony out of this 2010 deal? Well, honestly he is pretty darn close to being out. On the positive side, we are headed to Kansas Speedway, where the two-time Cup champion is the defending race winner. What will it take for him to win the title? Honestly, I believe eight top-five finishes, a win or two and some luck in the form of some others having problems.

If you are one of the drivers that are back there in 10th, 11th or 12th and more than 100 points out, it’s a double whammy. You’re over 100 points out, plus you have all those teams ahead of you that you have to try and leapfrog past. That’s just so tough with even eight races still to go.

Jeff Gordon is another one on my list that is just having mediocre runs. He had an OK run and OK finish at Loudon. A bad last pit stop late in the race Sunday kept the four-time Cup champion from a top-10 finish. So, like Loudon, Jeff only had an OK run and an OK finish at Dover. The bottom line is, he is not having runs that will win him the championship. Don’t get me wrong, he is still in it, but the performance is going to have to step up.

Now on the other end of the spectrum, Sunday you had our four-time reigning champion making a very strong statement. We all knew that Jimmie Johnson was going to have the car to beat at Dover. A year ago, he sat on the pole and won the race. This spring, he probably was the best car until a pit-road speeding penalty took him out of contention. His record at Dover is bad scary. He wins like one out of every three times he races there.

You only had to look at his runs at Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond leading into the Chase to realize he and his Hendrick Motorsports team were starting to get back on their game. They’ve been building a head of steam these past few weeks. Not to short-change anyone else, but I truly believe it’s Johnson vs. the Joe Gibbs Racing’s teams of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch for the championship.

Now I realize we only have two of the 10 Chase races under our belt and a lot can happen in these last eight events.

We still have those two wild-card races I always like to warn folks about. That’s the smallest track we go to – Martinsville Speedway – and it’s the biggest track we go to – Talladega Superspeedway.

Those two tracks you just can never predict what will happen. I also think that’s why they are always fan favorites.

Still, some of these past champions need to get going before we head to those.