NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 Drivers We're Shocked Didn't Make the Chase

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2010

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 Drivers We're Shocked Didn't Make the Chase

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    Expectations of some type were assigned to every team and driver when the cars rolled out on the track during Speed Weeks at Daytona early this year.

    Team owners work hard in the offseason to gear up their drivers, crew chiefs, and teams for optimal performance as the new season unfurls.

    Fans wait through the winter months for the time their favorite driver will settle into his car for the first chance to prove what he has on the high banks of Daytona.

    The drivers who did well in the Chase for the previous year are always expected to be strong the following season.

    The new hot junior driver with a premier team may have expectations placed on him to do well.  Sometimes these drivers surprise us with outstanding performances and other times they make us wonder why the team owner made the decision to bring the driver into NASCAR's top tier.

    Drivers who are very popular are always expected to be in winning form as the season begins and thereafter.  The fans want it that way, but disappointment seeps in as the driver fails to win, place or make a showing.

    Often we see certain drivers rip off several wins during the first nine weeks or so in the season.  They look to be championship contenders until the dreaded slump sets in.

    Suddenly drivers we expect top performance from qualify poorly, have mechanical failures, and get involved in wrecks.

    Fans watch for the rebound from the slump week after week.  Sometimes a win or top finish comes out of the blue and the driver appears back on track.

    There are certain drivers who we just expect to make The Chase each year because of the strength of their team, quality equipment, and the talent of the driver.

    Many things can happen during the 26 weeks that lead to The Chase.  The expected becomes the unexpected and vice versa.

    As the Chase begins, some find comfort with the success their driver has had during the season; they feel a NASCAR Sprint Cup title could be within their grasp.

    Other fans must stand back and get over the fact that hopes for being in The Chase have been dashed for their driver.  The best they can continue to wish for is a win in the final 10 weeks of the Chase.

    Let's slide through 10 drivers from one who we thought might just make a surprise visit to The Chase, to the ones we were certain would be in the final 12 but failed.

No. 10: Joey Logano

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    Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, debuted in the NASCAR Nationwide series during the 2008 season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

    When Tony Stewart decided to leave JGR to start his own team, Logano was thrust into NASCAR's top tier of racing.

    Though many thought he was too young, he did secure a win in 2009 at a rain-shortened race and was the Raybestos Rookie of the Year.

    With Gibbs Racing preparing the car, this talented young driver had the potential to be a surprise to make The Chase in 2010.  He would have been considered a long shot, but a relatively strong shot at being a contender.

    His three Top Five and 10 Top 10 finishes have him 21st in the points as The Chase begins.

    Logano has suffered from the learning curve of playing with the big boys in the Cup series.  He matured considerably in 2010, and even though he failed to make the Chase this year, don't count him out next year.

No. 9: Martin Truex

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    Martin Truex made the move to Michael Waltrip Racing this year to drive the No. 56 NAPA Toyota.  Since he was taking over Michael Waltrip's ride, he assumed owner points from Waltrip's No. 55.

    At the Daytona 500, he finished sixth for MWR.  He then dropped to 24th in points, but began to rebound from his short slump as Michael Waltrip Racing gave him strong cars.

    Some seven races later, Truex had moved to 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.

    Everything seemed to be looking good for Truex, but as the season continued, the driver of the No. 56 got caught up in too many racing incidents, with one accident and one engine failure proving detrimental to his standing in the points.

    Performance has been inconsistent this season, with Truex 20th place in points as the Chase begins.  MWR has shown considerable improvement and look for Truex to break out in the not too distant future, proving he can contend for wins.

No. 8: David Reutimann

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    David Reutimann is another driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, behind the wheel of the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota.

    Reutimann suffers from inconsistent finishes, but finally got his second win in the Cup Series at the 400.  He considered it his first official win because the previous one was due to a rain-shortened race.

    During the first third of the regular season, three engine problems took him out of contention.  Since then he has been finishing races much better.

    Currently he is 17th in the point standings as The Chase begins.  Reutimann was as likely to make the Chase as not with MWR getting its footing as a team.

    Should that team get the consistency problems smoothed out, they could well be Chase contenders in 2011.  The engine problems really cost him, so that needs to be eliminated as well.

No. 7: Juan Pablo Montoya

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    J.P. Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevy for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, currently ranks 16th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points.

    He's won two poles with a win and 13 Top 10 finishes.  His equipment is solid, and his will to win as strong as any driver out there.

    Montoya would have probably made The Chase had it not been for five accidents and two mechanical issues that caused him to have bad finishes.

    The driver and his crew chief, Brian Pattie, seemed to have really clicked this year, though he made a few questionable calls.

    Montoya gets a fast car, but needs to close the deal better more like his teammate, Jamie McMurray.

No. 6: Marcos Ambrose

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    Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 47 Toyota for JTG Daugherty Racing, announced he was leaving and going to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011.

    Ambrose was a strong contender in many races, but three engine failures and five accidents proved very detrimental to his standing in the points.

    He had a lock on a win, but gave it away on a road course when he made the mistake of shutting off his engine to save gas while going uphill.

    Lady Luck may have played the biggest role in the failure of Ambrose to make the Chase.  He is ranked 24th in the point standings going into the Chase.

    His future at RPM will be a surprise, but Ambrose felt he needed a change.  For his sake, let's hope it is for the better.

No. 5: Jamie McMurray

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    Jamie McMurray reunited with Chip Ganassi at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, driving the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy.

    He blasted out of the gate with a win at the Daytona 500.  He won another biggie, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.  His stats show seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes.  Going into the Chase, he is 14th in the point standings.

    Three accidents really hurt McMurray's finishes this year.  He is a strong contender, happy to be back with Ganassi, and the fact that he missed the Chase this year is a bit of surprise.

No. 4: Kasey Kahne

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    Kasey Kahne has had 11 career wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but has failed to finish first this season.

    In his final year behind the wheel of the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Budweiser Ford, Kahne is currently 18th in the point standings.

    Kahne's engine failure and two major accidents caused him finishes that certainly impacted his ranking.  He still managed six top-five and eight top-10 finishes.

    Kahne signed to drive for Hendrick Motorsports back in April and then the rumors were unleashed as to where he would drive in 2011.  He felt comfortable with the fact Hendrick would get him a good ride until he goes full-time with HMS in 2012.  Finally it was announced he would drive next year at Red Bull Racing.

    Kahne and his crew chief, Kenny Francis are a strong combination, but so far it has not been confirmed where Francis will be next year or if he will be at HMS with Kahne.

    It truly was a shock that Kasey Kahne failed to make the Chase this year.

No. 3: Ryan Newman

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    Ryan Newman drives the No. 12 U.S. Army Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing.  He sits in the unenviable 13th place in the Sprint Cup point standings.

    No doubt he would have been in the Chase had it not been for three accidents, and an engine failure giving him hits in the points.

    Newman had one win, two top-five, and eight top-10 finishes leading up to the Chase.

    Overall Newman ran strong, but just those few poor finishes wiped out his chance to be in the final 12, he got as close as he could though.

No. 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. started on the front row in the Daytona 500 driving his Amp Energy/National Guard No. 88 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports.  He started second and finished second in that race.

    Fans had reason to rejoice, thinking their driver was back from the worst season of his career in 2009.

    The erratic performance of the team led by crew chief, Lance McGrew began with the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway.  Surprisingly though, he grabbed a pole for the fourth race of the year at the Kobalt Tools 500.

    Qualifying has been consistently poor for this team.  So many times the car unloaded bad and stayed that way or got better only to be made worse again.

    Junior had two top-five and six top-10 finishes.  Going into the Chase, he is ranked 19th in the points.

    This is a driver who has high expectations placed on him each and every race.  It is supposed to be like that because of his name and the legion of fans that want him to win.

    Unfortunately, this season is turning out somewhat like his poor 2009 season, though his team has shown some improvement sporadically.

    Until the driver, crew chief, and team can get it all together with the quality equipment they are supposed to have from HMS, the Chase will elude Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No. 1: Mark Martin

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    Mark Martin's failure to make the Chase this year is truly shocking.  In 2009, he finished second to the Champion, Jimmie Johnson.

    Martin, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports had more than his share of rumors flying about as to where he would drive after it was announced that Kasey Kahne would drive for Rick Hendrick in 2011.

    The media distraction perhaps played a part in his failure to make the Chase, but 51-year-old Martin has been in the sport long enough to look past that stuff.

    Martin never got a win this season and his best finishes were in fourth position.

    Three accidents impacted his season.  He started on the pole at the Daytona 500, but overall his qualifying was mediocre.

    Martin had five top-five and seven top-10 finishes.  Currently, he is ranked 15th in points going into the last 10 weeks of the season.

    With 40 career wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he truly shocked everyone with his performance this year.

    He continues to express gratitude for his ride at HMS and loves working with his team.  We have to wonder if his 2009 year was perhaps the best he will have at Hendrick Motorsports with his last year there being 2011.