Analyzing Sprint Cup’s 11th to 20th ranked drivers after first 5 races of 2016 season

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While NASCAR enjoys its first off-weekend of the season, we here at NASCAR Talk thought it would be a good time to analyze how the top 30 drivers have fared in the first five races.

Friday, we gave you the top 10 drivers.

Today, we’ll feature drivers ranked from 11th through 20th: Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Newman

We’ll wrap things up with drivers ranked 21st through 30th on Sunday.

Here’s how those ranked 11th through 20th have fared thus far in 2016:


Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Martin Truex Jr.

Points position: 11th (-68 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick)

Best finish: 2nd (Daytona)

Worst finish: 32nd (Auto Club)

Laps led: 57 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: The transition to Toyota has been bumpy but not in ways that would have been expected. Roof flap violations at Atlanta and Daytona were distractions, as was crew chief Cole Pearn’s Twitter. Time to settle it down, kids.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Has four finishes in the top 15 and was running in the top five before incident with Joey Logano at Fontana is an impressive start considering the work in the offseason to switch from Chevrolet to Toyota. Also has done it without his crew chief for one race. Expect even better results as the season progresses.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 - Practice

Jamie McMurray

Points position: 12th (-70 points)

Best finish: 10th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 21st (Atlanta)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Candid to a fault, McMurray plaintively has noted the team’s lack of speed this season. Fontana (starting and finishing 10th) might be a step in the right direction toward regaining the Chase for the Sprint Cup form of 2015.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Chip Ganassi Racing has been among the most disappointing teams so far this season. Lack of speed on the big tracks is evident but there’s time turn it around.


Daytona 500 - Practice

Aric Almirola

Points position: 13th (-75 points)

Best finish: 12th (Daytona)

Worst finish: 24th (Las Vegas)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Seems to be maximizing what he has with no finish worse than 24th or better than 12th so far in five starts. That’s good enough for now, but Richard Petty Motorsports needs to give Almirola better cars for a realistic shot at winning.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Key for this team is to maximize its performance. Pit road penalties have not helped. Fix those issues and this team can get back into the Chase.



Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Points position: 14th (-76 points)

Best finish: 5th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 37th (Phoenix)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: That he has nearly as many top 10s (two) in five races as in all of 2015 (three) reveals how much better the No. 17 Ford is and how far Roush Fenway Racing has to go. At least the two-time Xfinity champion still has his edge.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Fontana was a step in the right direction and this team has shown progress this season.


Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth

Points position: 15th (-82 points)

Best finish: 7th (Phoenix)

Worst finish: 37th (Las Vegas)

Laps led: 99

Nate Ryan’s analysis: The most underperforming car in Sprint Cup, a confluence of mistakes by driver and team have negated several strong showings by Kenseth, who has only one top 10. A win would help, but the team just needs consistency first.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Should have at least one, if not two win  but results have not matched performance because of various miscues. Entire team needs to just have solid races and results will come.


Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Chase Elliott

Points position: 16th (-85 points)

Best finish: 6th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 38th (Las Vegas)

Laps led: 4

Nate Ryan’s analysis: If not for mistakes at Daytona and Las Vegas, this would be one of the most impressive rookie debuts in recent memory. Replacing a four-time champion is a virtually untenable situation, but Elliott has shown no signs of strain.

Dustin Long’s analysis: For all that he’s accomplished along the way, he continues to impress. Yes, there will be peaks and valleys but who would have predicted three top-10 finishes in the first five races this season?


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam 500 - Practice

Ryan Blaney

Points position: 17th (-85 points)

Best finish: 6th (Las Vegas)

Worst finish: 35th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0

Nate Ryan’s analysis: He is justifying Wood Brother Racing’s return to full-time competition. A late tire problem at Fontana prevented Blaney from notching three consecutive top 10s. the playoffs are a realistic possibility for the 22-year-old.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Been fun to watch on the track this season but even more so on social media. He’s helping take the Wood Brothers back to a level of prominence they haven’t been at in years.


Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Kasey Kahne

Points position: 18th (-86 points)

Best finish: 10th (Las Vegas

Worst finish: 28th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: This is a make-or-break year for Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports, and there already has been too much of the latter. The Fontana error that enraged Danica Patrick was inexplicably amateurish for a driver as accomplished as Kahne.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Pressure mounting on this team and driver to perform when his teammates are doing so at Hendrick Motorsports. If things don’t improve, how soon before changes take place?


Daytona 500 - Practice

A.J. Allmendinger

Points position: 19th (-108 points)

Best finish: 8th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 27th (Atlanta)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: As he can with a good car, Allmendinger has punched above his weight so far. It’s all about holding serve for this team until Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but pace of current results could earn a playoff berth by points.

Dustin Long’s analysis: He was the top car in the Richard Childress Racing alliance at Fontana and second best among the group at Phoenix. Still has work to do, though.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 - Qualifying

Ryan Newman

Points position: 20th (-100 points)

Best finish: 11th (Daytona)

Worst finish: 39th (Phoenix)

Laps led: 1

Nate Ryan’s analysis: There’ll be no points pathway into the playoffs for the third consecutive season if Newman continues to perform at this rate. He might need a win to contend for a championship – and to keep a firm hold on his ride at RCR.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Has one top-10 finish in his last 13 starts, dating back to last fall at Dover. No longer the fastest car at RCR.


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Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule


Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500


Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will seek to make his first Daytona 500 this month with The Money Team Racing, the Cup program owned by boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather.

The team also announced Tuesday plans for Daly to race in up to six additional Cup races this year as his schedule allows. Daly’s No. 50 car at Daytona will be sponsored by, a digital marketplace launching March 1. Among the Cup races Daly is scheduled to run: Circuit of the Americas (March 26) and the Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13, a day after the IndyCar race there).

“The Money Team Racing shocked the world by making the Daytona 500 last year, and I believe in this team and know we will prepare a great car for this year’s race,” Mayweather said in a statement. “Like a fighter who’s always ready to face the best, Conor has the courage to buckle into this beast without any practice and put that car into the field. Conor is like a hungry fighter and my kind of guy. I sure wouldn’t bet against him.”

Daly will be among at least six drivers vying for four spots in the Daytona 500 for cars without charters. Others seeking to make the Daytona 500 will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to attempt to run in the Daytona 500,” Daly said in a statement. “It is the most prestigious race in NASCAR and to have the chance to compete in it is truly an honor. I am also excited to be running the entire IndyCar Series season and select NASCAR Cup events. I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of whatever race car, boat, dune buggy or vehicle they ask me to drive. Bring it on.”

Daly has made 97 IndyCar starts, dating back to 2013. He made his Cup debut at the Charlotte Roval last year, placing 34th for The Money Team Racing. He has one Xfinity start and two Craftsman Truck Series starts.


Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?


LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”


After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”


While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law


Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.