Power Ranking the 10 Best Racing Teams in NASCAR Ahead of the 2016 Season
NASCAR teams are not created equal. Unlike the NFL, which tries its billion-dollar heart out to make everyone 8-8, NASCAR has no such parity.
By design, no more than eight teams typically represent the playoff scheme. Last year, 11 drivers from four teams made up the 16-driver Chase field (Joe Gibbs Racing, four; Hendrick Motorsports, three; Team Penske, two; Richard Childress Racing, two).
When four teams comprise 69 percent of the entire field, it makes you question the construct of the league.
Be that as it may, our job, for the purposes of this click-monster slider, is to power rank the teams using such criteria as number of drivers, performance of those drivers and how they will likely perform in 2016.
Read on for a flex-worthy power ranking of this year’s top teams.
10. HScott Motorsports
2015 Chase Drivers: 0
2016 Team: Clint Bowyer, Michael Annett
HScott Motorsports, vulturous by design, flapped its black wings and hovered over the carrion of Michael Waltrip Racing, picking at its bones for one mighty driver: Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer said in Kenny Bruce’s NASCAR.com story:
What a whirlwind year, to say the least. It's kind of weird, as we've gone through this together, there's always been that door, the one that opens the easiest, and Harry Scott was definitely that. Looking forward to the marriage that he has with Hendrick, with Stewart-Haas, (those are) very strong.
Harry is a young, very aggressive owner that we need in this sport; to have this together and tie my name to HScott Motorsports is something I'm looking forward to and get back to my winning ways.
HSM is the bridge to better things for Bowyer, who plans on driving Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.
Coupled with Michael Annett, HScott Motorsports has the horses to knock on that Chase door.
9. Wood Brothers Racing
2015 Chase Drivers: 0
2016 Team: Ryan Blaney
Don’t call it a comeback! Actually, yes, call it a comeback. The Wood Brothers are back to full-time Sprint Cupping with Ryan Blaney—a 22-year-old spark plug who earned an impressive top five at Talladega in 2015.
Richard Petty said in Jared Turner’s FoxSports.com story: "It's a good deal. The Wood Brothers have been here since 1950, and they've been in and out and up and down. ... This gives them a chance to get back in the limelight and bring their history forward with what they've done with the [No.] 21 car."
Blaney, who started 16 races in the Sprint Cup circuit, had one top five and two top 10s with an average finish of 25.2.
Chase Elliott will steal a lot of attention, but it’s Blaney who has more Cup experience.
8. Richard Petty Motorsports
2015 Chase Drivers: One
2016 Team: Aric Almirola, Brian Scott
Richard Petty Motorsports has a good one in Aric Almirola. He’s on the brink of being a top-tier driver in the Sprint Cup.
Almirola earned between $5.1 million and $5.6 million the past four seasons, and in 2013 he had the best average finish of his career (18.3) up to that point.
In his first Chase year, 2014, his average finish was 21.4. He won the Coke Zero 400 due to rain that year.
Last season was his best year from a pure performance angle. He had three top fives, six top 10s and an average finish of 17.9 from an average start of 22.4. The man can move up the track.
If RPM (I’m only now catching the magic of this team name) makes the Chase, it will be on the back of Almirola.
7. Furniture Row Racing
2015 Chase Drivers: One
2016 Team: Martin Truex Jr.
If you’re going to have one driver make it count. Martin Truex Jr. had a breakout season in 2015, making it to Homestead on the back of one win and a whole lot of top 10s.
Furniture Row Racing may not have the hogs, but it will have the information from a sturdy alliance. FRR breaks from Chevy and pairs with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, the reigning Sprint Cup champion.
Truex said in Holly Cain’s NASCAR.com story:
Confidence is a big part of this sport and certainly mine was raised last year. It's fun to go to a race track when everyone's on your side and has your back and you're not worrying about losing your job. It's nice to be in a great spot with great people who believe in each other. You can focus 100 percent on what you need to do for your race car.
Truex proved he’s an elite talent, and though he doesn’t have a garage full of extra teams, he has the next best thing: tech and scouting. Those are all a one-car team needs to be relevant.
6. Richard Childress Racing
2015: Chase Drivers: Two
2016 Team: Ryan Newman, Paul Menard
Does any other team do more with less than Richard Childress Racing? Ryan Newman, one of the best drivers in the Sprint Cup, hasn’t won a race in nearly three years.
Paul Menard, who hasn’t won a race since 2011, pointed his way into the 2015 Chase by finishing in the top 17 on average.
Newman, one of the more surly drivers on tour, somehow manages to contend without winning horsepower. Lest we forget, Newman still made the Chase after being docked several points for failing a tire audit early in the season.
While other drivers complained of the pressure in the Chase, Newman was, blunt, brusque and, yes, surly, but with mike-dropping intent.
“The guys that were pushing and pushing and fighting just showing their frustrations, that’s just a sign of their weaknesses,” Newman said in Brant James’ USA Today story.
You hear the question thrown around in all sports: If you had to pick one [athlete/driver] to [positive result], you’d pick [athlete/driver].
Though he hasn’t won, many would choose Newman, and that means RCR is a team to beat despite lacking the wins.
5. Chip Ganassi Racing
2015 Chasers: Jamie McMurray
2016 Drivers: Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson
Chip Ganassi Racing can be seen as the poor man’s Team Penske. One driver (McMurray) is your wily veteran and decent fastball. Larson is the upstart—wildly talented, though a bit humbled by his sophomore slump.
That’s OK, because Larson should have a big year, possibly his best.
McMurray is always capable of winning. A year ago he probably could have beaten Kevin Harvick at Phoenix in the spring, though it likely would have wrecked Harvick. In the spirit of diplomacy, McMurray backed off and took second place.
For most of the season, McMurray was a top-10 driver—this without a single win. So far as two-team garages are concerned, CGR is the second-best.
4. Hendrick Motorsports
2016 Team: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports takes a significant hit this year with the loss of Jeff Gordon and the addition of a rookie in Chase Elliott.
That takes decades worth of experience and replaces it with none. That said, Johnson and Earnhardt are the team leaders and sure to make the Chase. Johnson won five races in 2015, a very quiet five races, while Earnhardt won three.
Kasey Kahne has a lot to prove in 2016. He never got it going in 2015, despite winning one pole and earning 10 top 10s and three top fives.
As for Johnson, he hasn’t been alive for a championship since he won it in 2013, not coincidentally the final year of the old Chase format. Gordon has been the only HMS driver to reach Homestead in the new format.
There’s some tarnish on this team, but by its very nature, it must be respected.
3. Stewart-Haas Racing
2015 Chasers: Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch
2016 Team: Kevin Harvick, Kurth Busch, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick
Nobody would argue that the best driver over the past two years has been Kevin Harvick.
Harvick led 4,431 laps the past two seasons, earned 37 top fives (many of those runners-up) and eight wins to go along with 48 top 10s. Those laps led are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 percent of all laps run over the past two seasons.
Kurt Busch is also another underrated driver. Last year he was a more mellow, tempered version of himself. He had the look of a championship driver for much of the Chase. Harvick and Busch will be right in the thick of it.
Those two are so good, they can buoy up the mediocrity emanating from the Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick ends of the conga line.
As it stands, SHS is a two-car team with a high-profile bench.
2. Team Penske
2015 Chasers: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski
2016 Team: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski
Two cars, no problem. These two won a combined 11 races in 2014 and seven in 2015 (with Logano winning six of those).
Logano won the Daytona 500 and all three Contender Round races in 2015. He was the car to beat in the Chase until Matt Kenseth and some tire issues put an end to that for Logano.
No driver won more races over the past two seasons than Logano (11). Harvick is the only driver rivaling him in terms of horsepower.
In any case, with BK being a former Sprint Cup champion and Logano being the car to beat, Team Penske will continue to excel as a two-car team.
1. Joe Gibbs Racing
2015 Chasers: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth
2016 Team: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth
Out of 36 races in 2015, the Joe Gibbs garage accounted for 14 wins. Just over one out of every three races won in 2015 was a JGR car. And it won the Sprint Cup with Kyle Busch.
No team is hotter, and that stems from the coach himself—Joe Gibbs. When the team wasn’t winning, Gibbs lit up like a firecracker.
"We had the longest competition meeting I've ever been a part," Denny Hamlin said in Jordan Bianchi’s SBNation.com story. "Joe raised his voice, which doesn't happen very often, told us to get off our tails and go to work, and we all did it."
"The leadership at the top with Coach and J.D. [Gibbs]—they're all-in and very competitive," Kenseth's crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, said. "Whatever we need to be competitive, win races and bid for championships that's what they do. It's a lot of fun working for them."
Toyota’s flagship team had a banner year, and with Edwards in his second year (noticeably less pressure) and Kenseth back in winning form (he won five races after winning none in 2014), this team is loaded for bear and No. 1 on this list.
Driver stats came from Racing-Reference.info.