Pressure's on these also-rans
Ten races remain in the Sprint Cup season and drivers can be generally categorized into three groups: the 12 in the Chase for the championship who have had a successful year; the middle class who challenged for the Chase (some, like
Keselowski and Hornish drive for Penske Racing and neither has a top-10 this season. Out of the 31 drivers who have started all 26 Cup races,
This is Keselowski's first full season in Sprint Cup and with Penske. He was highly coveted on the free agent market last year after strong Nationwide seasons with JR Motorsports. He's best known for his first Cup victory at Talladega last year when, driving for
Keselowski's arrival at Penske came with high expectations, maybe not the Chase, but certainly some top-10s and top-20 in the points. With new crew chief
Keselowski is 26th in the points and is undoubtedly frustrated.
"We're trying so hard," Keselowski said after finishing 15th at Richmond last Saturday. "We can't seem to get that top-10, but it isn't for the lack of effort, that's for damn sure. A lot of heart and a lot of hard work have gone into our program, but we haven't gotten there yet. We just don't have quite enough speed in our cars. We've got to find some speed."
Keselowski's Dodge has been primarily sponsored by team owner
Hornish's job is clearly in jeopardy. Penske knew it would take time for Hornish to make the transition from IndyCar, where he was a three-time series champion who won the 2006 Indianapolis 500 driving for Penske, but 26 races into his third full Sprint Cup season, he's not made substantive progress. Hornish was 35th in the points without a top-10 in 2008, but jumped up to 28th with two top-fives and seven top-10s in 2009. He's 28th in the points and, worse, has only four top-15s. It's the wrong year to go into a regression.
Penske's signing of Shell/Pennzoil forced Hornish's Mobil 1 sponsorship to move on and the team hasn't been able to find a replacement. If Penske isn't able to put together a new deal for Hornish, and time is short to do it, it's very likely he won't return. Roger Penske has deep pockets and is very loyal, but there are limits. After a year of running teams in Cup and IndyCar partially financed with his company money, he needs a sponsor in order to keep Hornish, who could help with some better results, a selling point of late-season progress.
Ragan has three Roush Fenway Racing teammates in the Chase and he's 25th in the points with one top-10 this season. Team co-owner
Ragan and UPS are under contract for 2011 and the driver, only 24, needs to prove he belongs with a high-profile team and sponsor. The Chase would be an opportune time for a turnaround.
Speed started this season with some promising runs: 11th at Auto Club Speedway in California and 10h at Atlanta. He's had one top-10 since, a 10th at Daytona, and eight finishes of 30th or worse. He is 27th in the points.
This is Speed's second full season in Cup. He was fifth at Talladega in 2009, had no other top-10s and was 35th in the points. Red Bull rushed him into its Cup program, discarding
Speed's situation is similar to Hornish's, a former open-wheel driver who needs to make progress. Red Bull will evaluate Speed at the end of the season and then decide whether to keep him.