Five time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champ Jimmie Johnson is still man to beat in 2011.
Power rankings in NASCAR Sprint Cup can be boring if the same team is at the top every year. As NASCAR goes on its annual vacation for a couple of months, many teams went back to their shops and focused on 2011 hours after the checkered flag fell in Homestead.
There was a glimmer of hope for the Roush Fenway camp after Carl Edwards dominated the last two races. Edwards set the tone for the upcoming 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign by winning Phoenix and Homestead while making it look easy. Edwards has been off the map since his amazing 2008 season.
With Edwards climbing the ladder among NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the power rankings, others were crashing to the basement. Kurt Busch suffered several setbacks after making this year's Chase, and now he will leave the blue deuce in a move that is just a numbers swap.
Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon also had more in common than their cat fight at Texas Motor Speedway. Both dropped in the rankings as the NASCAR Sprint Cup season came to a close. Burton had several moments in the NASCAR Chase but could never close the deal. Gordon suffered payback in two separate incidents. Kurt Busch paid Gordon back at Martinsville for a cut tire at Sonoma, and Burton dumped Gordon under caution after an earlier incident.
One thing is clear as the drivers take their well-deserved break: The target is on Jimmie Johnson in 2011, and no driver will cut him slack in the next year. This has no effect on the initial power rankings. Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team will still be the No. 1 team for 2011.
2010 was a memorable season for Kurt Busch but the ending left many questions.
Kurt Busch had an eventful 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. He won two races and swept the month of May in Charlotte, winning the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the 600.
Busch was inconsistent after May, managing only a second at Watkins Glen and a fourth at Dover.
Do not be surprised if Kurt Busch sweeps the road races in 2011. His second at Watkins Glen and his potential top five at Sonoma tell the tale. Busch is one of the best road racers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and he is improving every year. He is also one of the best restrictor plate racers.
Kasey Kahne had a 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season to forget.
Kasey Kahne's season ended on an operating table, and it may be the reason for his struggles through the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Kahne had knee surgery as soon as the season ended, and when he throws away his crutches in January, he will be primed and ready to go.
Clint Bowyer stole the show during NASCAR Champions week in Las Vegas.
Clint Bowyer was the comic relief during NASCAR Champions Week in Las Vegas, and if he races as well as his sense of humor, he could win 10 races next season.
Bowyer's happy-go-lucky attitude has made him a fan favorite, but he needs to race with more focus in 2011.
More than once during NASCAR Champions Week in Las Vegas, Bowyer commented on his ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). It was a joke by Bowyer, but it would explain his lack of focus at times. Bowyer will still win his share of NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2011. Over/under on Bowyer wins is three.
Jeff Gordon raced with a fire in his belly in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Jeff Gordon had an eventful NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2010, and with a new crew chief for 2011 he may make a run. Gordon will leave the garage he has shared with the No. 48 Lowe's team since their inception.
The move raises questions. Will the No. 48 decline with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as their primary teammate? Will Gordon flourish working closely with fellow veteran Mark Martin?
Jeff Gordon is limited when it comes to chances to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup. The clock is ticking, and Gordon is anxious to win his fifth title.
Denny Hamlin will get over his stumble at the end of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season but it may take a while.
Denny Hamlin will begin the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season ranked No. 6 because it is extremely difficult to make it back to the top after coming so close.
It is known as the Super Bowl hangover in the NFL. The team that loses in the NFL Super Bowl never plays well the next season.
Denny Hamlin had his greatest season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He will be hard pressed to duplicate last season's numbers. Hamlin is a driver that also wears his emotions on his sleeve. He was visibly drained late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.
Tony Steart wrapped up all his sponsorship concerns in Las Vegas and will enter Daytona with a clear head.
Being an owner/driver is tough enough, but Tony Stewart is involved in all aspects of his NASCAR Sprint Cup team. Stewart has a perfect opportunity to become the first owner/driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup since Alan Kulwicki.
Stewart is a driver that loves the big tracks, and he loves the summer months. Stewart is also a strong driver at Daytona and California, the first two stops of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Better power plants from Hendrick Motorsports and better understanding of the geometry of the car will both help Stewart in 2011.
Kevin Harvick sent a message for 2011 to Kyle Busch at Homestead.
Kevin Harvick made some enemies and many more fans in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Harvick is developing into an elite NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, and he should haul in three to four wins in 2011.
Harvick will focus more on his NASCAR Sprint Cup operation with his new sponsor Budweiser. Harvick will still have his Kevin Harvick Incorporated teams, but he will stay in the background so he can focus.
Carl Edwards new move of celebrating with NASCAR fans after a win has made him the new fan favorite.
Carl Edwards was coming on at the end of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. It was too little, too late, but Edwards has thrown down the gauntlet for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The Roush Fenway teams suffered devastating setbacks when testing was eliminated last season, and now they will be allowed to test on a limited basis.
Edwards has the added confidence gained from dominating the last two races at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne have one of the longest relationships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, and they should be together for years to come.
2010 ended in flames for Kyle Busch but in 2011 he will be on fire.
Kyle Busch has made his share of enemies because of his driving style. If it were not for his enemies, Busch could have 10 or more NASCAR Sprint Cup victories.
Never before has a driver dominated all three NASCAR series as Kyle Busch has done. Busch owns an owners championship as a NASCAR truck owner in his first season and a Nationwide Series drivers championship in 2009.
Busch is close to maturing into a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, and if he wins his first he may go on a Jimmie Johnson-type run.
Jimmie Johnson has ascended to the pinnacle of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and if he does nothing else in his career he may be the greatest of all time.
Two schools of thought when it comes to Jimmie Johnson and his inconceivable achievement of five NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.
The first school of thought regarding Johnson is that he and his crew chief Chad Knaus are simply system champions. They have mastered the NASCAR Chase system, and they have successfully made a mockery of it.
The second school of thought with Jimmie Johnson is he does not know how to lose. In all sports there are athletes that win with the ball in their hands at the end of the game.
For the Los Angeles Lakers there is Kobe Bryant, the New England Patriots have Tom Brady and the Auburn Tigers have Cam Newton. Jimmie Johnson is the man that must have the ball in his hands with six seconds left in the game and 4th-and-goal to go.
One thing is certain for NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers looking to wrest the title away from the current champ: To be the man, you must beat the man. Talking will only accomplish so much. The team that will beat the No. 48 team in 2011 is working on its plan every waking moment until the sun rises on Daytona Motor Speedway February 10th.