Monster Energy has just entered the NASCAR universe, taking over sponsorship of the Cup Series from Sprint. However, if these five competitors don’t get a win, they could very easily be scared away after this upcoming season…
Dillon is under intense scrutiny and pressure, being the first driver since the late Dale Earnhardt to wear the number 3 on the side of his car. Only adding to the attention on Dillon is that he has yet to produce anything like Intimidator numbers, tallying no wins, 6 Top 5’s and 22 Top 10’s in 121 Cup Series races. Finally, the scrutiny intensifies only further when you realize that Dillon is the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, whose team has not seen a win since Kevin Harvick did so in the penultimate race of the 2013 season (though teammate Ryan Newman came within one point of capturing the 2014 title). If Dillon wants to tune out the cries of unworthiness and nepotism, he needs a win this season.
Lost in the commotion of Hendrick Motorsports’s eventful 2016 season…Jimmie Johnson capturing his record-tying seventh title, Chase Elliott picking up right where Jeff Gordon left of in the #24 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s injury, Gordon briefly returning to relieve Dale Jr…was Kahne, who suffered through another mediocre season. Since finishing 4th in the final 2012 standings, Kahne has mostly struggled, having gone win-free in his past 83 races, and just missing the playoff cutoff last season. Plenty of other drivers would kill to have a seat at Hendrick, and Alex Bowman, having also filled in nicely for Junior last season, could be waiting in the shadows. In a place where winning is commonplace, to the tune of a dozen Cup Series titles, Kahne needs to score at least something this year.
Now four full years into her Cup Series career, Patrick has yet to obtain a Top 5 finish. Small signs of progress, however, were hidden in her stats last season. She had no Top 10 postings, but set career highs in laps run, laps led, average finish and a career low in DNF’s (Did Not Finish). With Tony Stewart’s retirement over at Stewart-Haas Racing, the spotlight on Patrick will be bigger than ever. She’s already had troubles with sponsorship, as her dispute with Nature’s Bakery has been talking point all offseason. A win would take the focus off such issues, as well as silence her many critics.
With royalties to Richard Lewis, 2016 was the year from hell for Bowyer. Cast off from the sinking ship that was Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer latched on with the underfunded HScott Motorsports, where not only did he suffer the worst numbers of his career, tallying career lows in pretty much all major categories, but he also ended up suing the team for $2.8 million in unpaid prize money, a case that was eventually settled out of court. A runner-up in the final 2012 standings, Bowyer will take over for Stewart in the #14 car this season. There would be no better way for Bowyer to officially announce his return to major racing than with a win, which also would be a great way to show the NASCAR world that 2016 was just a mulligan, not a norm.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse is probably best known for being Patrick’s boyfriend…and that should tell you all you need to know about his Cup Series career. A two-time winner of the “minor league” Xfinity Series, Stenhouse has had a bumpy ride on the major circuit. He did manage a career-high 4 Top 5’s and 6 Top 10’s last season, but had another dismal finish at 21st in the standings, around the same place he has hovered in since entering full time Cup Racing in 2013. Now the de facto face of the once proud Roush-Fenway organization, Stenhouse needs to get his first career win as soon as he can.