Gary A. Vasquez Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
NASCAR’s annual West Coast Swing saw some exciting action both on and off-track with a Las Vegas scuffle, a long drought ended in the desert, and a dominant performance by one driver throughout the trip.
Looking at a few numbers like average finish and points gained, along with how they performed against expectations, check out the 15 drivers who have to feel positive as NASCAR heads back East to Martinsville Speedway.
After the West Coast trip, Almirola sits 18th in the points standings, which isn’t a bad spot at all for the single-car Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. The No. 43 finished in the top 20 in all three Western races and it’s been a solid start to 2017 for RPM.
The fans in JR Nation aren’t happy that their driver hasn’t cracked the top 10 this season but let’s take a dose of reality. Earnhardt was out of the car for about eight months while recovering from a concussion.
He’s been back a little over a month and continues to get back into racing form. He finished 16th (twice) and 14th during the West Coast Swing. He’s had fast cars and will put together a complete effort and grab some top 10 finishes sooner than later.
After a rough start to the season in the Daytona 500, Hamlin enjoyed some consistency on the West Coast, with finishes of 6th, 10th, and 14th. Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t been nearly as dominant as recent years but should slowly come around as the season goes on.
The results don’t show how strong Jones and the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota has been in the past three weeks. Jones had a top 10 ride each race but only finished there once (8th at Phoenix). In the other two weeks, Jones slipped out of the top 10 late because of a loose tire on pit road and a poor pit stop. This kid can drive and the veterans of the sport should take notice.
In the past two weeks, Suarez has appeared out of thin air for a seventh-place finish. His 20th-place finish at Las Vegas wasn’t too bad for the rookie, either. The question for Suarez remains – does he actually make adjustments to have a top 10 car at the end of the race or has some good fortune contributed to these finishes?
After trying to punch Joey Logano in the face everything was great for Busch afterward. He had one of the best cars at Phoenix and stayed in contention in Fontana. Busch looks to be the best JGR driver so far in 2017. Don’t be surprised if he repeats last year’s performance at Martinsville.
There wasn’t anything Logano could do to prevent his tire from blowing at Phoenix, but he had a great car all race up to that point. Outside of that mishap, Logano has been one of the most consistent drivers to start the season and should feel good about how the aftermath of the Kyle Busch incident played out.
Blaney and the Wood Brothers have a top 10 car every week. A late pit road speeding penalty cost him a good finish at Phoenix but he finished 9th and 7th in the other two West Coast races. He’s on the list of next drivers to grab a win this season.
While his teammate takes the racing world by storm, McMurray quietly finishes up front week after week. He averaged a top 10 during the Western swing and sits sixth in the standings heading to Martinsville.
In his best finish since 2015, Bowyer continued to trend in the right direction at Auto Club Speedway. He finished 13th and 10th in the other two West Coast races and has been the top Stewart-Haas car this season.
Grabbing your first win in 127 races definitely gets you a high spot on the list. His other two finishes of 17th and 15th were consistent with how Newman has run the past two years, though. It doesn’t matter, he’s in the playoffs.
Consistency has been the name of the game for Elliott. He’s had a top five Hendrick Motorsports Chevy each week this season. The results haven’t always mimicked his speed but everyone expects Elliott to get his first win in the coming weeks.
Keselowski was two laps away from winning at Las Vegas until a parts failure knocked him to fifth, grabbed another top five at Phoenix but didn’t pass post-race inspection, and overcame contact on Lap 1 to recover for a runner-up finish. Resiliency is the word to describe the West Coast trip for the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.
The Vegas winner had a car with potential to win each race during the West Coast Swing. His worst finish was 11th at Phoenix and he led 73 laps before finishing fourth at Auto Club. The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota looks to be a championship contender once again.
Nobody has come close to the dominance and consistency that Larson and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy has shown in 2017. He’s been in the top two in the final laps of every race this season. He came close in the first two West Coast races before breaking through at Auto Club for his second career win.
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