Very little discussion was necessary to give Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch A+ grades in the first half of the regular season. They have combined to win nine of 13 races and are building a treasure trove of playoff points that could make getting to the final round of the playoffs an easy task.
“Look at what Kyle Busch has done,” NASCAR America analyst Kyle Petty said. “All of the second and third-place finishes. You look at the wins, but let’s look at how he has run – how competitive he’s been. We’ve heard Kevin Harvick’s name. You don’t go to the race track without ‘Kevin Harvick’s at the top of the board’, ‘Kevin Harvick’s the guy’, ‘Kevin Harvick’s freaky fast’, ‘Kevin Harvick’s this’. So those two guys have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. So, for me it was a no brainer. Maybe they have not done everything right, but they have done enough right to have A+’s.”
And while Harvick and Busch required little debate, the same could not be said about the remainder of the playoff contenders.
“Truex, you have to put him as the other driver that you look at that right now is competing at a high enough level,” NASCAR America analyst Dale Jarrett said. “If we want to compare it to last year – it seems like he is having an off season in not leading a lot of laps, not getting the stage points and wins and all that stuff – but when you have two drivers dominating, like what we have with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, has made it more difficult.”
Truex earned an A from Jarrett and Petty. NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte gave him an A-.
“I gave a B- because (Ryan Blaney) is not getting the results,” Jarrett said. “I expected better results from him right here. He is so very talented. I just want to see more here.”
Perhaps the most controversial grade was handed out to Jimmie Johnson. The difficulties faced by Chevrolet drew C’s from Jarrett and Petty, but Letarte, a former Hendrick Motorsports’ employee, handed out a D.
“I grade on expectation,” Letarte said. “And here is the one stat I’ll tell you. The man has won seven championships. The man has all these stats: He hasn’t led a single lap this yet. Not one lap in 13 races.”
The panel graded the remainder of the most likely playoff contenders. Erik Jones earned a B- from Jarrett and Petty. He received a C+ from Letarte.
“I gave Erik Jones a C+ because I feel like his equipment is proving that it can go out and dominate when you look at what Kyle Busch is doing,” Letarte said. “I know he has yet to get that career win. I guess I just have high expectations – probably too high for the amount of experience he has.”