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You could fill a clown (Next Gen) car with all the guys who’ve won races in the Cup Series, but I read that six drivers who won last season have not won this season. At least half of them – Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola, and Martin Truex Jr. – never win again, right? (From S.P. via Yahoo mail)

First, nice parenthetical play on words. I see what you did there, and so did NASCAR. You’ve been fined 79 cents and docked 25 fan points for conduct detrimental to the image of the sport.

Now to the question at hand.

Given the way that the Next Gen car parsed out first-place finishes, it really is surprising that so many of last season’s winners have not been victorious this year.

Ryan Blaney is 28 years old and won races in five consecutive seasons, including three last year. I don’t worry about him finishing his career on an eternal oh-fer, though he continues to struggle to close out races. And if you want to be hyper-technical, he did win that freak show known as the 2022 All-Star Race.

Brad Keselowski walks onstage during driver intros for the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 23, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Brad Keselowski walks onstage during driver intros for the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 23, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Nor would I worry as much about Brad Keselowski, 38, as I did at the midpoint of the season. He may be overly immersed in improving operations for a team he co-owns, but the No. 6 Ford has won a pole and finished in the top 10 three times in the past eight races. That’s not a sure sign of future success, but no one has accused Keselowski of losing his touch behind the wheel. He’ll bounce back.

It’s at this point where things get very iffy.

AJ Allmendinger only raced five times last season, all on road courses, and got a huge helping hand from Chase Briscoe to win in Indianapolis. He ran a half-season schedule this year and threw lots of scares into the regulars on road courses. Allmendinger is 40 years old, but he comes across as a young 40 and should contend on road courses for several years. And, lest we forget, he’s also placed in the top 10 his last three times on ovals.

In a similar fashion, Michael McDowell has specialties. The winner of the 2021 Daytona 500 handles road courses just fine, and he makes his presence felt on the big ovals often enough to think he’ll have a shot one day.

On the whole, however, I’m bearish on Allmendinger and McDowell and would put them in the “no” column. That leaves Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr.

Almirola was supposed to be two weeks from retirement by now, but Stewart-Haas Racing talked him into returning, supposedly on at least a two-year contract. Almirola, 38, simply might not stick around long enough, particularly since SHR isn’t the strongest of multi-car operations these days.

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. | Getty Images
Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. | Getty Images

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. Were Exposed by Avoidable Blunders at Homestead

Martin Truex Jr., 42, won four times last season. Like Keselowski, there’s no concern about an erosion of skills. The primary issue in 2022 has been Toyota struggled out of the gate with the Next Gen car and continues to have challenges competing on road courses and short tracks. Toyota will get better in the offseason, but so will Ford and Chevy.

I do think MTJ squeezes out at least one win next season. If it doesn’t happen then, however, will he be back in 2024? I can’t imagine him being satisfied exiting with two winless seasons, but Joe Gibbs Racing might have other ideas.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].

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