There’s virtually no comparison between the process of hiring a driver in auto racing and hiring athletes for other sports. In racing, the formula is much more complicated than statistical analysis to determine future production, largely due to the fact that the cost of racing makes drivers with sponsor support more readily employable regardless of production. Having a familiar name helps, too. These facts make it nearly impossible to identify drivers facing tough conversations if they don’t produce. But it won’t keep us from singling out a few who should be worried.
First, let’s mention Denny Hamlin. Hamlin’s production last season (10 top 5s, four poles) is enough to stay employed in NASCAR for a long time. But it was also a winless campaign by the second-best driver at Joe Gibbs Racing. An offseason crew chief change leaves Hamlin with a few reasons to pick up the pace this year.
Likewise, Clint Bowyer needs to show elite pace while driving for an elite team. Sure, he won twice last season. But Bowyer had 14 fewer top-5 finishes than Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. That gulf is too wide.
Next, Austin Dillon may have won the Daytona 500 last year, but he starts his sixth full-time Cup season with his fourth different crew chief to go along with two wins and 34 top-10 finishes in 193 starts. Richard Childress Racing hasn’t been elite since Harvick left, but it should be better than that. Keeping it in the family, brother Ty Dillon has underwhelmed at the RCR-affiliated Germain Racing. After two full-time Cup seasons, Dillon has one top 10 to show for his efforts. Could someone do better in that No. 13? Another season of lackluster results should let us find out.