By this point, anyone who knows anything about NASCAR is probably aware that Jimmie Johnson won the Sprint Cup Championship for an unprecedented fifth consecutive season.
But his season wasn't the only one that made headlines. Kevin Harvick had a monumental turnaround in 2010 from the previous season. Denny Hamlin led the top series with an impressive eight victories.
Brad Keselowski won his first Nationwide Series championship, and he had that clinched with two races to go. And then there was Kyle Busch. Somehow he finds a way to win at every level of NASCAR competition.
So, who had the best season? Which driver is worthy of the No. 1 ranking in the 2010 year-end power rankings? There is only one way to find out.
When compared to 2009, this past season was nothing but a disappointment for the 51-year-old Mark Martin. Coming off a season in which he captured seven pole positions, won five times and finished runner up in the championship standings, Martin backed it up with just a single pole, no wins and a disappointing 13th place finish in the points.
The season's bright spot for Martin came at the aptly named, Martinsville, late in the season, when Martin, with a car that had been severely damaged in an accident midway through the event, made a furious charge through the field under the final green flag run to the finish.
He made his way from 18th to second in the last 140 laps and could have caught eventual winner, Denny Hamlin, had the race been a few laps longer.
Martin makes it onto the list but just barely. If nothing else, he was the highest points finisher of all those drivers who failed to make the Chase, and he scored the fifth most points in Sprint Cup competition over the final 10 races—more than any other non Chase driver.
After a career-best second place points finish in 2009, Matt Crafton backed it up with a solid fourth place showing in 2010. This past season was another business as usual, almost under the radar kind of year for Crafton.
For the second consecutive season, he failed to find victory lane but was still very consistent. Out of 25 races, Crafton scored top 10 finishes in 20 of them, with 10 of those resulting in top five finishes.
After getting off to a somewhat rocky start to the 2010 campaign, Crafton really righted the ship. He only had four top 10 finishes through the first nine races but ended the year with top 10's in the last 16 events. He also managed to capture the pole in Texas for the second straight year.
Another driver that sort of flew under the radar in 2010 was Reed Sorenson. He ran a partial schedule in Sprint Cup, predominantly as a fill-in for the injured Brian Vickers and also competed in 28 of the 35 Nationwide Series events.
While his Cup season was mediocre at best, with just one top 10 in his 16 starts, he had a very solid run in the Nationwide cars. Driving for Braun Racing, Sorenson managed to score 21 top 10 finishes in his 28 events, with nine of those runs resulting in a top five finish.
While he failed to find victory lane, Sorenson was able to finish runner up on two separate occasions and was still able to finish 12th in the overall drivers points even missing seven events.
Ryan Newman had an up-and-down 2010. The season started off very slow, as a 16th place finish at Bristol was his best finish through the first five races. Then things turned around. Newman then finished 13th or better in seven out of the next eight races, including his only win of the year in Phoenix.
The roller coaster ride continued the rest of the season, as Newman seemingly had some bad runs lumped together, followed by a string of very strong outings. For the year, Newman scored 14 top 10's and four top five finishes, including the victory.
He also managed to capture one pole award, which gives him a streak of 10 consecutive seasons in which he has scored at least one pole. Newman finished the year 15th in points but scored the 10th most during the Chase races.
Johnny Sauter had a career year in his second full-time season in the truck series. He scored his second career win, had 16 top 10 finishes and 13 top five's—both career bests.
He led 220 laps, had 23 lead lap finishes in 25 events and finished a career best third in the point standings. He also had an average start of 6.5 which was third best in the series.
The highlight of the season for Sauter was obviously his win in Kansas. Late in that race, while running with Ron Hornaday for the lead, Sauter had, what I would call, the greatest save of the season. He and Hornaday made contact and both got completely sideways and somehow managed to avoid wrecking.
Sauter would then pull away and cruise to a five-second victory in the event.
There were numerous occasions in 2010, when Jeff Burton had the car to beat late in the race. But for one reason or another, things didn't ever seem to go his way, and for the second year in a row, he was shut out in the win column.
Burton finished the season with 15 top 10 finishes, six in the top five and finished 12th in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. The 539 laps that Burton led were the most he has led in a season since 2006 and marked just the second time since 2000 that he has led more than 500 laps in a season.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and for whatever good there was for Burton, there was one incident that he may be most remembered for in 2010. In the race at Texas, Burton's car got into Jeff Gordon's car under caution causing both drivers to crash, and the result was an on-track shoving match between the two respected veterans.
After failing to find victory lane in 2010, Matt Kenseth's winless streak now stands at 70 races. By all counts, 2010 was a disappointing season for Kenseth, as he only managed 15 top 10 finishes and just six finishes in the top five—his fewest since 2001,
And yet, somehow Kenseth still managed to finish fifth in the season-ending point standings. Kenseth led just 108 laps on the year—the second lowest total for a season in his career—but he scored the seventh most points of any driver during the Chase, which catapulted him to his solid point finish.
And even though the results weren't what he was looking for, Kenseth certainly made sure to bring the car back to the shop in one piece. Of the 10,778 total laps that were run in Sprint Cup competition in 2010, Kenseth only failed to complete eight of them, which is an amazing total.
This past year was actually Hornaday's worst statistical season since 2006. He was only able to manage a seventh place finish in the season-ending standings but still found victory lane on two different occasions.
Aside from the two wins, Hornaday captured three pole positions and ended with 13 top 10 finishes, of which 11 of them resulted in top five's.
In his first full-time in any of NASCAR's top three series, Austin Dillon made his presence felt. The 20-year-old grandson of Richard Childress finished a very impressive fifth in the Camping World Truck Series point standings.
Dillon finished the season with 16 top 10 finishes including seven top five's, and he scored his first two career wins. Dillon led 392 laps on the season, and maybe the most impressive statistic of them all were the seven poles that Dillon won. Not bad for a rookie.
He only failed to be running at the finish of one race on the season, and his average starting spot of 5.6 was only bested by Kyle Busch.
In his second full-time season in the Nationwide Series, Justin Allgaier set new personal bests all across the board. He even managed to score his lone career win in the series, holding off teammate Brad Keselowski at Bristol in the early part of the season.
Allgaier scored 20 top 10 finishes on the season with eight of those resulting in top five's. Allgaier led 222 laps on the season and also managed to score two pole positions.
Allgaier finished the season fourth in points and was the highest finishing non-Sprint Cup regular in the standings. In fact, he was the only non-Cup regular in the top seven of the standings, which is impressive stuff for the 24-year-old Allgaier.
Joey Logano showed vast improvement in his second full-time season in the Sprint Cup ranks. Aside from not being able to back up his first career win, Logano improved in every statistical category.
He saw his top 10 finishes improve from seven to 16. His top five total jumped from three to seven. After leading 36 laps in 2009, he jumped that total to 53 this past season, and his points finish improved from 20th a season ago to 16th this year.
In the Nationwide Series, Logano continued his already stellar record. In 25 starts, Logano had 24 top 10 finishes, including 15 in the top five, while scoring two wins.
If 2010 was any indication of things to come for Logano, this young man has a very bright future.
While many drivers would be quite satisfied with the numbers that Jeff Gordon put up in 2010, the expectations for Gordon are usually higher than that.
Gordon went winless for the second time in three seasons and scored just 17 top 10 finishes with 11 top five's. Both of those numbers are his worse since 2005. He also finished the lowest in the point standings, ninth, since 2005 when he finished 11th.
Gordon was much like Jeff Burton in the sense that there were many times when he had the car that was capable of winning, yet for some reason it just never materialized.
Gordon scored one pole, continuing his streak of at least one pole in every season in which he has been a full time driver. However, his 12.7 average starting spot was his lowest since 1993, his rookie season.
Other than his points finish, 2010 was a career year for Clint Bowyer. He only managed a tenth place finish in the points standings, which is well below his career best of third, but his two wins mark the first time that Bowyer has had multiple wins in a season.
Bowyer also set a career best with 18 top 10 finishes, and his seven top five finishes tie the mark that he set for himself in 2008. The 400 laps that Bowyer led, also mark the first time in his career he has led that many in a season.
Who knows how the rest of the season would have played out for Bowyer and the No. 33 team had it not been for the 150-point penalty incurred after his win in New Hampshire—the first race in the Chase. Without the penalty, Bowyer would have scored the seventh most points of all drivers in the final 10 races.
Another driver who had a career season in 2010, and possibly a career-defining year, was Aric Almirola. Almirola finished the season as the runner-up to the Truck Series Championship and was able to score his first two career victories in the series.
Almirola finished the season with 21 top 10 finishes with 11 of those finishes resulting in top five's. He also found some minor success in the Nationwide Series. In eight starts driving for JR Motorsports, Almirola finished in the top 10 in half of the events he raced in.
He also had a few opportunities in the Sprint Cup Series this past year. After starting and parking for James Finch a handful of times early in the season, Almirola took over the No. 9 car for the final five races after Kasey Kahne departed. He scored his first career top five finish in that car, a fourth place run in the season finale at Homestead.
Kurt Busch was a driver that was more than happy to see the season end. He finished in 11th in the point standings after struggling throughout the Chase. In the season's final 10 races, Busch only managed two top 10 finishes, and only four of his finishes were inside the top 20.
For the season, Busch scored two wins and had 17 top 10 finishes with nine of them coming in the top five. Aside from the two points counting wins, Busch won the Million Dollar All-Star Challenge in a car that he hit the wall with on multiple occasions.
The coming season will see the elder Busch brother sporting a new look. He trades in his customary blue Miller Lite No. 2 for the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil car.
Tony Stewart is another driver who, by his standards, had a down year. While Stewart scored two victories on the season, he had 17 top 10 finishes which is the second lowest total of his career. His nine top five finishes is actually a career worst for Stewart.
Stewart, much like Matt Kenseth, while having somewhat of an off season, if nothing else, still managed to bring home his cars in one piece. He failed to finish just one race on the season, and completed all but 40 of the laps run in 2010, which ranked him second in that category.
Stewart also made the most of his very limited Nationwide Series schedule. He attempted one race, and that was the season opener in Daytona, which he promptly went out and won.
When Greg Biffle won at Pocono in July, it broke a long winless draught for all of Roush Racing. As a team, they had gone 54 races without a win until Biffle broke through.
Biffle ended the year with two wins, as he was able to win again in Kansas during the Chase. He finished with sixth in the point standings by collecting 19 top 10 finishes and nine top five's. While none of Biffle's stats were new career bests, they were all right on par with what is to be expected out of Biffle.
He also participated in 10 Nationwide races, all at the beginning of the season, driving the No. 27 car. Biffle managed to score seven top 10's in those races with three of them being top five finishes.
While Brad Keselowski struggled somewhat in his first full-time season in Sprint Cup competition, his performance in the Nationwide Series was so strong, it earned him his first career championship.
In Sprint Cup competition, Keselowski could only muster a 25th place finish in the championship standings, while just collecting two top 10 finishes. He did capture his first career pole however.
In the Nationwide Series, Keselowski set new personal bests all across the board. In his third full-time season, he scored six wins, earned 29 top 10's and had 26 top five finishes. On top of that, he earned five pole positions.
Keselowski led 1,147 laps in Nationwide competition, which means he led roughly one out of every six laps run during the course of the season. En route to his championship, Keselowski actually clinched the series title with two races remaining.
For the second time in his career, Todd Bodine was the Camping World Truck Series Champion. And this time around, may have been his best statistical season.
Bodine finished the year with four wins, which was one off his personal best. His 17 top five finishes and 20 top 10 finishes were, however, both new career highs for Bodine. He tied a personal best with two pole positions, and the 478 laps that he led this year was only 24 away from setting a new high in that category.
The last five years in the trucks series for Bodine have featured two championships, a third place effort and two fourth place point finishes. When talking about the greatest drivers in truck series competition history, Bodine's name should be near the top of everyone's list.
After putting himself in the spotlight for a lot of the wrong reasons early in the season, 2010 turned out to be a very solid outing for Carl Edwards. He finished fourth in Sprint Cup points and was the runner up to the title in Nationwide Series competition.
On the Cup side, Edwards ended a near two-year winless streak by winning the season's final two events, at Phoenix and Homestead. For the year, Edwards had 19 top 10's, nine top five's and set a new career-best with three pole positions.
Starting at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July, Edwards went the next 12 races where his worst finish was a 12-place effort, and he scored nine top 10's over that period.
In the Nationwide Series, Edwards racked up four victories, 27 top 10's and 19 top five finishes. His top 10 and top five totals were both the second best efforts of his career.
To say that 2010 was a career year for Jamie McMurray would be the understatement of the year. McMurray had a season that most drivers would give anything to have. Other than not making the Chase for the Championship, McMurray's year was just about perfect.
He ended the season with a personal high of three wins, and they were all huge wins. McMurray started the season by winning the Daytona 500. He then backed it up by winning the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis and capped his season with a win at the home track of NASCAR, Charlotte.
McMurray ended the season with 12 top 10 finishes and tied a career best with nine top five finishes. He also set a new personal best by winning four poles and led 346 laps on the year, which is more than he has led in any other season.
McMurray also found success in his limited Nationwide Series participation. In eight starts, he finished in the top 10 six times, including his first win in the series since 2004.
The 2010 NASCAR season ended for Denny Hamlin with the question of what could have or should have been? Hamlin went into the season's final race at Homestead as the point leader, with the chance to knock off the four-time defending champion.
After an early spin through the infield, Hamlin struggled to a 14th place finish, and ultimately, a second place finish in the point standings.
Hamlin led the series with eight wins in 2010, which matched his career total coming into the season. He also finished the season with 18 top 10's, of which 14 of them resulted in a top five.
Hamlin also competed in four Nationwide Series events, posting three top 10's, while winning once. The big question that now surrounds Hamlin, though, is how does he rebound in 2011 from the disappointment of the way that last season ended?
Kyle Busch had another all-around great year. He seemingly wins in one series or another every weekend, and 2010 was no exception. He ended the Sprint Cup season with three wins, 18 top 10's and 10 top five finishes. But much like his brother, Kurt, he really struggled in the Chase. Busch only managed three top 10 finishes in the last 10 races, and four out of the five final races resulted in finishes outside the top 20 for Busch.
In the Nationwide Series, when Busch raced, he dominated. In 29 starts, he won 13 times. He had 25 top 10 finishes, 22 of which were in the top five. Out of the 5,528 laps run while Busch was involved in Nationwide races, he was leading for 2,229 of them. That equates to an astonishing 40 percent of the time that Busch was leading the race.
In the Truck Series, the numbers are equally impressive. In 16 events, Busch went to victory lane eight times. He finished inside the top 10 14 times with only one of those finishes not being in the top five. Between all three series, Busch also scored the pole position 11 times.
Through all of his accomplishments this past season, the highlight for Busch had to be at Bristol, when he won all three of the series events. This marked the first time in NASCAR history that a driver won all three events held at the same track in the same weekend.
It's hard to imagine that a five-time defending champion isn't No. 1, but that is the case. Obviously, 2010 was another good season for Johnson, but statistically, it was nowhere near his best year, and midway through the season, Johnson had a 10-race stretch that was far from what we would expect from him.
On his way to collecting his fifth championship trophy in as many seasons, Johnson scored six victories, earned 23 top 10 finishes and had 17 finishes inside the top five. Just as he always does, Johnson really excelled in the Chase.
After opening the Chase with a 25th place run in New Hampshire, Johnson got instantly hot. He finished the season with nine top 10's, in as many races, including a win at Dover. Johnson clinched his fifth championship with a runner-up effort at Homestead in the season finale.
Though he only finished third in the season-ending point standings, 2010 belonged to Kevin Harvick. Harvick won three races this past season, the most in any season for him since 2006, and in the process, snapped a winless streak that stretched to more than three years.
Harvick took the points lead after the 10th race of the regular season and held it until the Chase started. Had the points championship been decided by the traditional method, Harvick would have been the champion by 285 points over Jimmie Johnson.
As it was, Harvick still had a resurgent season. After a dreadful 2009, where he finished just 19th in the points standings, Harvick bounced back in 2010 and set new personal bests with 26 top 10's, breaking a previous career high of 20 and 16 top five finishes. His 8.7 average finish was a full three positions better than the next best driver.
Harvick's success carried over into the Nationwide Series as well. In 28 starts in the second tier series, Harvick recorded 26 top 10 finishes, which included three victories. Even not competing in seven events, Harvick still finished sixth in the point standings.
He also made six appearances in the Truck Series this past year, winning three times. So, while he was denied his first career Sprint Cup championship, it is hard to deny Harvick the honor of being ranked No. 1 on this list.