We have reached the halfway point of in the season, and more importantly we are just eight races until the Chase for the Championships begins. So seems like a good time to grade my preseason picks for the Chase are faring.
Preseason #12 Ryan Newman: C- (Currently 16th in the standings)
The bad news is...Newman is not currently in the top 10 in the standings, nor does he have a win (or two) to put him in contention for a Wild card spot. The good news is...Newman is certainly in position to get a win or two and work his way there. But all and all Newman has underachieved this season.
Preseason #11 Greg Biffle: B (Currently 8th in the standings)
Biffle has a win and is slightly higher in the points than I projected he would be at the beginning of the season. But with all due respect to Denny Green, the #16 team are what they thought they were. They have pretty much lived up to expectations.
Preseason #10 Carl Edwards: A- (Currently 3rd in the standings)
After a disastrous 2012, Edwards is finally running the way we all expect him to. He even broke his 70 race winless streak. After a hot start though, the #99 team is fading a bit recently, and that is what is keeping them from a perfect score.
Preseason #9 Jeff Gordon: D+ (Currently 14th in the standings)
It's hard to be this tough on the #24 team, because they have been as much a victim of some bad luck as they have been bad runs. But at the end of the day, you just expect the four time champ to run better and make the chase. Right now, he's not in position to get in the postseason, but the team is good enough to turn things around.
Preseason #8 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: B+ (Currently 5th in the standings)
Junior is another one of those Denny Green teams, he is what they thought they would be. To really impress, Junior needs to find his way to victory lane a little more often.
Preseason #7 Tony Stewart: C+ (Currently 10th in the standings)
Honestly Smoke is a three week run away from a possibly failing grade. But as always, as the temperatures began to heat up, so does Smoke. I'm not convinced that Stewart is a title contender this season, but he has certainly salvaged what looked early on the be a failing season.
Preseason #6 Kasey Kahne: C- (Currently 12th in the standings)
Like Stewart, Kahne is one victory away from a potentially failing grade. The reason he gets a C- and Smoke got a C+ is because the #5 team seams to be moving in the wrong direction right now.
Preseason #5 Brad Keselwoski: F (Currently 13th in the standings)
It's hard to call this season anything less than a disappointment for the defending champ. The good news for fans of the Blue Deuce is he is still well with in striking distance of making the chase, and with a couple of wins he could get right back in to the championship race. But they have to find what they seem to have lost in the first half of the season.
Preseason #4 Clint Bowyer: A- (Currently 2nd in the standings)
Bowyer is seriously a win away from an A+. He is having the best season of a runner up in the points of anyone that I can remember. Right now the #15 is on fire, they haven't finished out of the top 20 since Fontana.
Preseason #3 Matt Kenseth: A- (Currently 6th in the standings)
It might seem strange that I would give a team that is lower than I predicted in the standings such a high grade. But with four wins this season, the #20 team will be the number two seed once the chase starts, and its hard to be disappointed in that.
Preseason #2 Denny Hamlin: I (Currently 26th in the standings)
Hamlin gets an incomplete because it's hard to know what this team might have done, had he not been injured. The #11 probably gets an A- or a B+ pre-injury and a D post injury.
Preseason #1 Jimmie Johnson: A+ (Currently #1 in the standings)
It's hard to find anything to markdown over the first half of the season. He has four wins and a 49 point lead over second place Clint Bowyer. That means he could sit out an entire race and still be leading the points. Even more frightening, he is two restarts away from potentially having six wins on the season. The #48 has lived up to every expectation this season.
Extra Credit: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr. , Kurt Busch
These three get extra credit for currently being in position to grab a spot in the chase and exceeding my expectations. I had them 13, 16 and 24 respectively.