2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Driver Rankings: Week 11 Edition
It's tight and chaotic at the top of the B/R NASCAR Sprint Cup driver rankings these days.
What else would you expect during a 2014 season that has produced only two repeat winners over its first 10 races?
Some drivers seem to be working their way up as it progresses and some see their seasons slipping in the wrong direction. It isn't always based simply on their talent behind the wheel. They also need to stay on top of communication with their spotters and crew chiefs during races and establish a rapport with pit-crew members off the track that will make that pit crew motivated to execute the swiftest, cleanest stops on race day.
See who is building momentum in the right direction, and who is not, taking all of these factors into consideration as the Sprint Cup series gears up to head to Kansas and then on to Charlotte for the next three weekends of racing.
10. Jimmie Johnson
Previous Ranking: 9
Why He's Here: It's 10 races into the season and the six-time cup champion has yet to win a race. But what's really disturbing is that his own driving bobble in the middle of the pack caused a big wreck that took him out at Talladega. It was very unlike Six Time to make such a mistake.
Key 2014 Stats: He has still led a total of 507 laps, so he's running up front more than most other drivers. The only driver who has led more, in fact, is Kevin Harvick (with a series-high 559). Of course, 296 of Jimmy Johnson's laps led came at Martinsville and he failed to win the race, finishing second there to Kurt Busch on a day when Johnson had dominated. It's been that kind of year so far for Six Time.
What's Next: After Kansas, where he has won twice in his career, it's on to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600. Johnson used to own Charlotte, where he has won points races six times and the non-points All-Star event the last two years and four times overall. A win cannot be far away, can it?
9. Brad Keselowski
Why He's Here: Brad Keselowski got over-aggressive and spun in front of the field at Talladega when he was already six laps down, taking a whole bunch of contenders with him and angering them in the process, according to Fox Sports. It wasn't the first time this season he seemed to lose his cool to his own detriment on the track.
Key 2014 Stats: After starting second and finishing fourth at Richmond, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion seemed angry with Matt Kenseth for trying to win the same race he was trying to win. But if he thinks any other drivers are going to start cutting him some breaks now on the track, he's nuts after what transpired at Talladega. His 38th-place finish at 'Dega dropped him to 11th in the points and at least 38th in the hearts of his fellow competitors.
What's Next: Bad Brad has one win in eight career starts at Kansas and one win in nine career starts at Charlotte, and he'll no doubt have a fast No. 2 Team Penske Ford under him again. But he would be better served if he's a little more careful with where he aims it in the coming weeks.
8. Denny Hamlin
Why He's Here: Denny Hamlin won at Talladega to almost certainly guarantee himself a spot on the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It also eased concerns about him that had been mounting since he missed a race at Fontana earlier in the season because of a piece of metal that had lodged itself in his eye, causing the eye to become infected.
Key 2014 Stats: Until winning at 'Dega, Hamlin hadn't finished higher than 13th in any race since suffering the eye injury. In fact, he had finished 19th twice (at Martinsville and Darlington) and 22nd at Richmond in addition to the 13th-place effort at Texas. That was especially alarming because he almost always contends for wins at both Martinsville and Richmond, his two favorite tracks.
What's Next: Hamlin has one win in 11 career starts at Kansas, but surprisingly he's never won in 17 career starts at Charlotte—where he has only four top-five finishes. He's also zero of seven in his career in the All-Star Race, where he's never finished higher than fourth.
7. Matt Kenseth
Why He's Here: He has yet to win a race, but he's been consistent enough to climb to second in the points standings behind only Jeff Gordon (who also is winless). Unfortunately, wins matter under the new NASCAR Chase qualifying rules. He ran well at Talladega until being among those whose day was ended by Keselowski wrecking in front of them, leading him to call Keselowski's move "mind-boggling," according to Fox Sports.
Key 2014 Stats: Matt Kenseth has led at least one lap in seven of the last eight races. Until his 37th-place finish at Talladega that was the direct result of Keselowski's wreck, he had't finished worse than 13th all year and had finished in the top 10 in seven consecutive races.
What's Next: In his career, he has won twice at both Kansas and Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also has a combined 14 top-five finishes at the two venues, so his chances of running up front at one or the other—or both—seem pretty solid. He also won the All-Star Race at Charlotte in 2004.
6. Carl Edwards
Why He's Here: Carl Edwards was running well at Talladega when he suffered a flat tire late in the race. Despite trying to alert the drivers around him that it was happening and attempting to get out of everybody's way, he still caused a pretty massive wreck. Other than a brief stretch early in the season that culminated in his one win at Bristol, it's sort of been that kind of season.
Key 2014 Stats: In the six races since logging his win at Bristol, his best finish is ninth at Richmond. He has finished 13th or worse in four of those six races, including the 30th-place finish at Talladega that can be chalked up to (more) bad luck. The bottom line, though, really is that his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford has been fast enough to lead more than one lap in only two races outside of Bristol.
What's Next: Despite desperately wanting to win at his home track in Kansas, he never has. In fact, he's a combined zero of 31 in his career in points races at Kansas and Charlotte. He did win the All-Star Race at Charlotte in 2011.
5. Jeff Gordon
Why He's Here: Jeff Gordon was another of the victims of Keselowski's late-race foolishness at Talladega and, like Kenseth, was among those none too pleased about it. He went into that race weekend as the Sprint Cup points leader, but without that all-important win. He held onto the points lead for the fourth consecutive week despite the wreck relegating him to a 39th-place finish.
Key 2014 Stats: He had finished second in two of the three races prior to Talladega—at Texas and Richmond, respectively. He has finished in the top nine in seven of the 10 races thus far—and until Talladega, he hadn't finished worse than 13th in any event.
What's Next: With two career wins at Kansas and five career victories in points races at Charlotte, he is no doubt optimistic that he can get to Victory Lane soon. Plus he owns four All-Star wins, even though the last one came way back in 2001.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why He's Here: Dale Earnhardt drew scrutiny for his decision to lay back late in the race at Talladega. Some praised him for it; others questioned him severely for it. Regardless, the end result was a disappointing 26th-place finish on a day when he led 26 laps and appeared to have a car capable enough to contend for the win.
Key 2014 Stats: The 26 laps he led at Talladega were second only to runner-up finisher Greg Biffle, who led a race-high 58. After opening the season by winning the Daytona 500 and finishing second in each of the next two races at Phoenix and Las Vegas, respectively, he has been somewhat inconsistent with three finishes of 24th or worse in the last seven races. Those kinds of finishes will eliminate you quickly from this year's Chase under the new format.
What's Next: Remarkably, in points races he is a combined zero of 43 in his career at Kansas and Charlotte, even though he won the All-Star Race in his very first start in that non-points event back in 2000. That was a long, long time ago, though, so he'll need to buck history to make this May a month to remember.
3. Kyle Busch
Why He's Here: With one win on the season (registered at Fontana) and four finishes inside the top six in the last six races, Kyle Busch is quietly putting together a fine season. His communication with crew chief Dave Rogers has never been better, and they're starting to finagle good finishes out of even the days when their car isn't necessarily one of the fastest on track.
Key 2014 Stats: His 12th-place finish at Talladega, although respectable under the wreck-filled circumstances of the crazy day, broke a string of three straight top-six finishes that included third-place efforts at both Texas and Richmond. The real significance of all that is that Busch is beginning to show signs that he's a threat at every kind of race track where the series runs.
What's Next: Kyle is no big fan of either Kansas or Charlotte, having failed to win at either venue in a combined 33 career starts. In fact, he's never registered a top-five finish at Kansas in 10 starts. He's never won an All-Star Race either.
2. Kevin Harvick
Why He's Here: As one of only two drivers with two race wins this season, Kevin Harvick is a strong candidate to be No. 1 on this list. The only reason he's not is that he's had too many poor finishes to go along with the victories and currently ranks just 19th in the points standings. Wins matter most, but when you're going against a guy who has the same number of wins as you do, overall consistency is the tiebreaker.
Key 2014 Stats: Harvick has led a series-high total of 553 laps on the season, but 462 of those came during his two dominant race wins at Phoenix and Darlington, respectively. He has no additional top-five finishes outside of those two races.
What's Next: He is living proof that sometimes you can turn it around at a track where you historically have struggled, having never won a points race at Charlotte until 2011 when he captured the Coca-Cola 600 (he did also win the All-Star race once, in 2007). Then he won the Coca-Cola 600 again last year. He also has one career victory at Kansas.
1. Joey Logano
Why He's Here: It's true that Joey Logano placed 32nd in his last race at Talladega. But that was because of an accident that wasn't his fault in a race during which he consistently ran up front, leading a total of four times for 25 laps. The last time he encountered poor luck one week (a mechanical problem that led to a season-worst 35th-place finish at Darlington), he won the very next week at Richmond.
Key 2014 Stats: The Richmond win was Logano's second of the season, coming just two weeks after his first win of 2014 at Texas. He also has more than twice as many top-five finishes as Harvick, is sixth in the points standings and has led laps in every race but one this season (at Fontana). Furthermore he has led 25 laps or moe in seven of the 10 races, displaying the kind of consistent speed and driver prowess it takes to contend for a championship.
What's Next: In 19 career starts combined at Kansas and Charlotte, he's never won and has totaled only four top-five finishes (including only one in nine starts at Kansas). But he's still young and is likely to break through one of these years. Why not this one?