1. Greg Biffle Found himself in roughly the same position at Talladega as he was in at Daytona ... which isn’t bad when you’re clicking off top 5s like it’s the ARCA Series.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Doesn’t seem able to finish outside of the top 10 if he tries, but this is Dale Earnhardt Jr. we’re talking about, so only a win will keep the critics at bay.
3. Matt Kenseth Kenseth has roared to within five points of Biffle’s lead in the standings on the strength of four top 5s in the last five races.
4. Denny Hamlin Hamlin was running in the top 5 at Talladega when he was the victim of a block-gone-bad. It’s hard to factor the resulting 23rd-place finish into these standings, so I will not.
5. Brad Keselowski He may not have the most consistent team on the circuit, but it’s one that has proven capable of winning on any given weekend. Bristol and Talladega are proof of that.
6. Tony Stewart Like Hamlin, it’s hard to fault Stewart for a mid-20s finish at Talladega. Unlike Hamlin, Stewart was in position to win despite running out of fuel twice and battling overheating issues throughout the day.
7. Jimmie Johnson The roll-of-the-dice tracks at Daytona and Talladega are the only ones that can consistently keep Johnson from a top-10 finish. Take plate racing as the anomaly it is and move on.
8. Kyle Busch Consecutive runs of first (Richmond) and second (Talladega) find Rowdy’s stock on the rise. Could this be the beginning of a scorching summer run?
Photo by ASP, Inc.
9. Kasey Kahne A fourth at Talladega made it four runs in a row of eighth or better for Kahne and the No. 5 team. It would come as no surprise if they — not the 24, 48 or 88 teams — earned Hendrick’s 200th win.
10. Carl Edwards Cousin Carl’s streak of five finishes of 11th or better came to a grinding (and wreck-induced) halt at Talladega. Expect big things in Darlington and Charlotte.
11. Kevin Harvick He’s been notably quiet this season — in the sense that he may be about to break out. And he’s still fifth in points.
12. Martin Truex Jr. May deserve to be ranked higher, but honestly, the track records of those listed previously factored.
13. Clint Bowyer Didn’t lead any laps at Talladega, but snuck in a solid sixth — with clean sheet metal.
14. Mark Martin If you got to pick and choose your starts you’d be smart to take a pass on Talladega, too.
15. Paul Menard Bet you didn’t realize that Menard is holding steady at 14th in the standings, just on the cusp.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya
1. Greg Biffle Cemented his status as the points leader with an impressive win in Texas. Biffle has yet to finish worse than 13th this season, and is looking forward to Kansas — one of his best tracks — this weekend.
2. Jimmie Johnson Joins Biffle and the two Juniors — Dale Earnhardt and Martin Truex — as the only drivers on the circuit with five top 10s in seven races. Kansas will most likely make six.
3. Tony Stewart How does Stewart — who won at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway — tank to the tune of 24th at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway?
4. Matt Kenseth As steady as they come, Kenseth moves into a tie for second with a certain Most Popular Driver after a fifth at TMS. Of course, Kenseth’s Daytona 500 win trumps Junior’s, uh, zero wins … in 136 races.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. OK, so he hasn’t won in a long, long time. But Junior is averaging an 8.1-place finish, which is second best in the series. Still, it really is time to break that winless streak and move on.
6. Martin Truex Jr. Truex has averaged a 26.3-place finish at Kansas with zero top 10s. If he brings it home eighth or better like he has in five of seven races so far this year, we’re all on board.
7. Kevin Harvick Harvick’s only finish outside of the top 11 in any single race was a 19th at Martinsville. He’s been awfully quiet for running so well. Maybe Baby Otis has thrown him off his typically vocal ways.
It beats those creepy '70s-era family portraits. I guess. OK, maybe not.(ASP, Inc.)
8. Carl Edwards Edwards’ fifth- to 11th-place finishes are fine, but after seven races he still has not led a lap. Allow me to repeat that: Through seven races in 2012, Carl Edwards has not led a single, competitive lap.
9. Denny Hamlin Hamlin’s 12th-place run at Texas is far from cringe-worthy, but he’s finished between 11th and 20th in all three big intermediate track races this year. That’s not going to work.
10. Jeff Gordon A clean fourth-place finish in Texas. Is the rotten luck behind him?
11. Brad Keselowski Mechanical issues beginning to plague Penske’s Dodge camp. Kes is good for a couple more wins, though.
12. Mark Martin If he raced every week, Martin would rank in the top 5 on this list.
13. Ryan Newman When not finishing in the top 12, Newman finishes 21st. Seriously. It’s happened three times.
14. Clint Bowyer Still working out some kinks, but all things considered, this new bunch is holding its own.
15. Kasey Kahne See, when there are no cautions for wrecks, Kasey can drive his Chevy to a top-10 showing.
Just off the lead pack: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya
1. Greg Biffle Biffle’s team was the one under the Roush Fenway banner that laid low during the offseason. The result has been third-place finishes across the board. Bristol is usually good to them, too.
2. Jimmie Johnson It’s highly unlikely Chad Knaus’ appeal is overturned, but by appealing, Hendrick Motorsports bought Johnson a pair of top-5 finishes. Win or lose with the committee, this team remains a lock for the Chase.
3. Denny Hamlin We’ll take the 20th-place finish at Vegas as a hiccup. Although, after fourth- and first-place runs at Daytona and Phoenix, the dip at an intermediate track was notable.
4. Tony Stewart “Hey Darian, anything you can do, I can do better!” One week after Stewart’s former pit boss earned his first win with Hamlin, Stewart and new boss Steve Addington even the score.
5. Kevin Harvick Worst finish so far this season is 11th. Harvick and the re-tooled No. 29 team have an uncanny knack for always being “there.” A couple wins in the next month or so could be on tap.
6. Matt Kenseth Kenseth was on the business end of a Carl Edwards late-race move once again. For some reason, those never work out too well for the 2003 champ.
7. Carl Edwards “The Aggressor” raced on to a fifth-place finish, his second top 10 of the year. Strangely, Edwards has yet to lead a lap this season. Is another hangover in store for last season’s championship runner-up?
8. Mark Martin Says he’s OK with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after their dust-up in Vegas. The odds of anything spilling over to Bristol would have already been long — and those odds are off the board since Martin won’t even run there.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. The dominating run in the first half of the Vegas race was encouraging, but fading to 10th was all-too-familiar. Bristol should be another top-10 performance, though.
10. Kyle Busch “Rowdy” is ranked here more on 2012 potential than 2012 accomplishment. Bristol may change that.
11. Joey Logano So far, so good for the new Logano/Jason Ratcliff pairing. Wonder if he’ll be looking for the 24 this weekend?
12. Brad Keselowski A fifth is sandwiched between two 32nd-place finishes. Again, potential/accomplishment. And again, that could change this weekend.
13. Paul Menard Has quietly enjoyed two top-7 runs at Daytona and Vegas. He was fifth in last year’s spring Bristol race.
14. Martin Truex Jr. If this team ever learns how to finish a race, it’ll be dangerous.
15. Marcos Ambrose An excellent Bristol darkhorse, Ambrose has three top 10s in six Cup Series starts.
Just off the lead pack: Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman
"Seriously Kyle, Scottsdale would do you a world of good." (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
Like every other NASCAR landing page on the web, Athlon Sports has a little fun each week ranking the drivers and teams of the Sprint Cup circuit. Our rankings go beyond how each finished the weekend prior and/or where they sit in the official championship standings.
The rankings you’ll see here represent what we (read: I) think are the strongest overall teams on tour, from top to bottom, based on performance, resources, strength of team/organization, overall talent of driver and, yeah, a tip of the cap to a job well done if they won the last race. Think of it as Athlon’s NASCAR version of the college basketball Top 25.
Keep in mind these are subjective, and often done somewhat tongue-in-cheek (depending on my mood), so have some fun with them and take them for what they are: a weekly spin around the circuit, highlighting the best teams and their drivers.
Oh, and our rankings have a cool name … why no one thought of “Horsepower” Rankings before is beyond me. That said, kick back for five minutes of leisurely reading that require no real thought on your part. Agree? Disagree? Have a better witty comment for any given driver? Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
1. Denny Hamlin Let’s not overreact here, but Hamlin and new crew chief Darian Grubb led the most laps at Daytona prior to finishing fourth and followed it up with his first win since June 2011. Solid start for a team that needed one.
2. Greg Biffle Consecutive third-place runs to start the season from a team that had only three top 5s all season in 2011. And with Vegas on the horizon, it’s no stretch to think that Biffle may improve upon those results.
3. Kevin Harvick Seventh- and second-place showings for the driver some have made a championship favorite this year (ahem, myself included). That’s all the more impressive considering he has a new crew chief and retooled pit crew.
4. Matt Kenseth On SPEED’s post-race show following Phoenix, Kenny Wallace told Hamlin that his fourth- and first-place finishes to start the season were “unprecedented.” I bet Kenseth’s 2009 season would take exception to that.
5. Jimmie Johnson Johnson and the boys did what they needed to do at Phoenix (fourth) after a disastrous Daytona — which included wrecking on Lap 2 and possibly losing the crew and car chiefs to NASCAR-mandated vacations.
6. Mark Martin Back to a partial schedule, Martin has kicked off his tenure with Michael Waltrip Racing is style, with finishes of 10th (Daytona) and ninth (Phoenix). Don’t kid yourself, a big part of that is the driver.
7. Joey Logano Logano, also with a under the guidance of a new crew chief, is getting off to the start he needed in a contract year. His ninth- and 10th-place runs are the best results to start the season in his young career.
8. Kyle Busch Rowdy was strong at Daytona — leading 52 laps — before finishing 17th when the craziness started near the end. A sixth at Phoenix was a respectable follow-up. Dare I say … Kyle is flying under the radar?
9. Carl Edwards Edwards and company will find their footing soon enough, but having led zero laps with eighth- and 17th-place finishes to their credit is a little more quiet a start than anyone expected.
10. Brad Keselowski Much like Busch, Keselowski’s shot to win the Daytona 500 was ruined late but he rebounded nicely with a fifth-place run in the desert.
"Pssst, Junior, I put Icy Hot in Stevie's headset ... because I can!" (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
11. Tony Stewart Stewart got off to a slow start last year too, and look how that worked out.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Being happy with a top 15 in Phoenix isn’t exactly what you want to hear out of the team. Unfortunately, it looked like a lot of the same ’ol, same ’ol from the 88.
13. Jeff Burton A good run went bad when the engine went up in smoke late. Otherwise, the 31 team has had a promising start.
14. Jeff Gordon Made the most of a mediocre day at PIR with a solid eighth-place finish, which is what Jeff Gordon does best.
15. Marcos Ambrose The results may not show it, but Ambrose and his RPM bunch have been pretty racy so far. They may not be flashy, but don’t be surprised if the top 10s start to pile up as we go forward.
Just off the lead pack: Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.
Check back each Tuesday for Athlon Sports’ revised rankings, and follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
Rusty's Motto: "You wreck it, you repair it." OK, not really. (ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Tony Stewart It’s tough to rank Stewart ahead of Carl Edwards or vise versa, but Smoke gets the edge here because he’s throwing wins on the board — and that’s fun to watch.
2. Carl Edwards His consistency — highlighted by consecutive runner-up showings — is unquestioned. Edwards won the season finale in Homestead last season. Winning a second straight would clinch the title.
3. Kasey Kahne Kahne and his Red Bull team have been as good as anyone in the Chase — well OK, outside of the two guys above. Had he made the playoffs, he’d still be mathematically alive.
4. Matt Kenseth Led 49 laps at Phoenix before the brakes started to fade. Then Brian Vickers did neither himself nor Kenseth any favors by flagrantly exacting some revenge.
5. Kevin Harvick Harvick will come up just shy of a championship once again, most likely finishing third. But that’s OK Kev, you still have the coolest paint scheme on tour.
6. Jimmie Johnson Johnson’s five-year reign may be over, but let’s not proclaim the Jimmie Johnson Era over. J.J. and Chad Knaus will probably just come back more focused and determined next season.
7. Brad Keselowski Keselowski’s three wins in 2011 are more than Penske’s No. 12 team have enjoyed in the six previous years combined. It’s possible he could double that number next year.
Make no mistake, he takes great pride in the hair. Wouldn't you? (ASP, Inc.)
8. Denny Hamlin When asked whether his sports psychologist might help teammate Kyle Busch he said, “We both have screws loose — it’s just that some are tighter than others. And they’re in different places.” That’s deep.
9. Clint Bowyer Bowyer is finishing his tenure at Richard Childress Racing strong with six top 10s in the nine Chase races thus far. Credit driver and team for hanging tough.
10. Greg Biffle Has averaged a 14th-place finish throughout the Chase which, incidentally, is probably where he’ll finish in the point standings if Kasey Kahne keeps coming on.
11. Jeff Gordon Looked as out to lunch at Phoenix as we’ve seen all year. Experimenting, maybe?
12. AJ Allmendinger Allmendinger will be the next driver to score his first Cup victory. Hell, it could come this weekend.
13. Marcos Ambrose Between Allmendinger and Ambrose, it’s obvious they’re doing something right at RPM (or they’re not tinkering with new setups as much as other teams are).
14. Kyle Busch Official reason for Kyle’s DNF at Phoenix: Karma.
15. Martin Truex Jr. If this team could ever learn to put an entire race together they’d be dangerous.
Just off the lead pack: Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Ryan Newman
No article that mentions Martinsville is complete without this bad boy. (ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Carl Edwards
Talladega and Martinsville were the wild card tracks, and the two Edwards and crew were most apprehensive about. They went into ’Dega with a five-point lead and left Martinsville up eight.
2. Tony Stewart
There is something to be said for a driver winning the championship by going out and actually winning races. That’s what Stewart is doing, with three victories in seven Chase events.
3. Kevin Harvick
Harvick gained five points on Edwards in the standings at Martinsville, but he’ll need to do better than that over the final three races to catch the 99, much less pass it.
4. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth was the points leader with 40 laps to go in Martinsville. Then it all went south, as a spin bashed his Ford to the point where he’s now 36 back and basically out of title contention.
5. Jimmie Johnson
Credit Johnson for a fine run at Martinsville — only Brian Vickers’ aggression kept him out of Victory Lane — but even sweeping the last three races may not be enough at this point.
6. Brad Keselowski
Like Kenseth, BK’s late spin was costly. The Deuce may have lost up to 12 points in the standings after a solid top 10 went up in tire smoke. The difference between -15 an -27 is massive.
7. Denny Hamlin
Comparable to Edwards’ late-season performance improvement in 2010, Hamlin and the boys have strung together consecutive runs of ninth, eighth and fifth. Another win may be around the corner.
Ed Hardy comes to NASCAR. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
8. Jeff Gordon
It’s been a disappointing Chase for Gordon and the gang thus far. In fact, his third-place run at Martinsville was the best showing he’s had since a fourth in Loudon, five weeks ago.
9. Clint Bowyer
Will Bowyer’s hiring at Michael Waltrip Racing come at the expense of David Reutimann’s full-season effort? It just might ...
10. Kyle Busch
Has been wholly unspectacular throughout the Chase, which begs the question, “Why is he rated so high on this list?” Answer: Because he still has the ability to win on any given weekend.
11. Kasey Kahne
A strong six-race run comes to an end in Martinsville, which has never been a great “Kasey track.”
12. Kurt Busch
Sliding the wrong way since the win at Dover five weeks ago.
13. Jeff Burton
Follows runner-up showing at Talladega with a sixth at Martinsville.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In lieu of a top-5 finish, it was at least good to hear Junior having fun in Martinsville.
15. Greg Biffle
Averaging a rather pedestrian 13th-place run over the last month.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
"Chad, at this rate I won't need to back into any walls if I win." (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Carl Edwards No one driver wins the Chase at Talladega, but many lose it. Edwards did neither, which is a good thing for him. Expect top-10 runs from here on out.
2. Matt Kenseth Edwards’ teammate and the 2003 champ, Kenseth, sits just 14 points back in second. Both are good (Texas, Homestead) and weak (Martinsville) at the same tracks.
3. Kevin Harvick At 26 points out, is Harvick done? Probably not, but his chances are on life support. The car his team is bringing to Martinsville this weekend has two wins in six starts — including at Martinsville in April.
4. Brad Keselowski Survives big, bad Talladega, notching the best finish (fourth) among all Chase drivers. At 18 points back in the title hunt, you have to like the kid’s chances.
5. Jimmie Johnson Food for thought: The last time Johnson had two straight finishes outside of the top 20 during the Chase, he won the next three races.
6. Tony Stewart Has elbowed his way back into title contention with consecutive runs of eighth and seventh. At fourth in the standings and 19 points out, Smoke may be that final driver with a good look at a title.
7. Kyle Busch Making up 40 points in the standings with four races remaining is unrealistic, and that’s where Kyle and the boys find themselves. Don’t be surprised if the lifted weight propels Busch to a win or two.
"Negative Kyle, we can't find that golden horseshoe back here."
8. Clint Bowyer Four of his six Chase races have resulted in finishes of eighth or better, including, of course, the big win at ’Dega. It may be the last one he sees for a while since MWR isn’t known as a big-win operation.
9. Jeff Gordon Gordon’s 27th at Talladega and the events that conspired to contribute to it may have been frustrating, but say this about him: He seemed to be the only Hendrick car that wanted to go to the front and race.
10. Kasey Kahne Kahne’s average finish in the last six races is 7.1, including four straight runs of sixth or better. It’s a shame everything is coming together for this bunch as the season winds down.
11. Denny Hamlin Back-to-back solid finishes with his favorite stop — Martinsville — up next.
12. Paul Menard Leads all drivers on the circuit with a 10.2-place average finish on the plate tracks in 2011.
13. Greg Biffle Winless thus far in 2011. That’s only happened once to the Biff in eight full-time Cup seasons.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. It ain’t getting any prettier, but I get hate mail if he’s not at least ranked in the top 15.
15. Joey Logano The final results (24th) don’t back up the great run Logano had at ’Dega with a torn up car.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
If not for Kenseth's smile, you'd think these two were having it out again. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Jimmie Johnson Attention race fans: Do not count Jimmie Johnson out of the Chase until he is mathematically eliminated (which probably will not happen). Thank you. That is all.
2. Carl Edwards The preseason favorite to unseat Johnson had a quiet regular season but has pieced together six straight top 10s — including runs of fourth, eighth and third in the Chase — to tie for the points lead.
3. Tony Stewart Stewart seemed resigned to the fact that Dover would be unkind ... and it was. Expect the team to regroup at Kansas, where Stewart has two wins and was eighth earlier this season.
4. Jeff Gordon Gordon came into the Chase hot, but has cooled with finishes of 12th and 24th sandwiching a fourth-place run. You have to figure his No. 24 team will get it together, but the performance bears watching.
5. Brad Keselowski The eight-week breakout run Keselowski enjoyed — which may be the story of the year in the sport — comes to an end. However, this team’s strength remains that it doesn’t know it shouldn’t be here.
"Honestly Doc, I don't even know what Fastenal is." (ASP, Inc.)
6. Kevin Harvick Clinging to the points lead thanks to his four regular season wins and top-12 finishes. Still, Harvick seems to be lacking some of the mojo that got him here. Maybe he should pick a fight with Kyle Busch.
7. Matt Kenseth Running out of fuel in the Chase’s first race at Chicago may come back to haunt Kenseth, who had one of the best cars there. The result was a 21st, with fifth- and sixth-place runs since.
8. Kurt Busch Busch throws his hat back into the championship hunt with an impressive — and somewhat unexpected — win in Dover over Johnson, who he described as his “arch-nemesis.”
9. Kyle Busch A sixth at Dover helped his cause after subpar 22nd- and 11th-place showings. Leading laps is Kyle’s calling card, but he hasn’t done that since the onset of the Chase.
10. Ryan Newman There’s quite a gap between ninth and 10th on the list. Newman is sliding down the rankings thanks to 25th- and 23rd-place runs which have deep-sixed his Chase chances.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. That third-place run to open the Chase is proving to be the fuel-mileage fluke we believed it to be.
12. Clint Bowyer If he expects to run better at Michael Waltrip Racing next season he needs to think again.
13. AJ Allmendinger Back to his seventh- to 12th-place ways after a couple of down weeks.
14. Denny Hamlin Averaged an eighth-place finish in the three races prior to the Chase. Averaging a 26th-place finish in it.
15. Greg Biffle If a non-Chaser is to win a Chase race, Biffle may be that guy at Kansas.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.