NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers Coming out of Martinsville
Happy Harvick's fans have to be pretty happy themselves, as their driver became the first multiple-race winner in Sprint Cup this season with a late-race pass of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville. Harvick is proving himself NASCAR's equivalent of Mariano Rivera—an all-world closer who can assert his team's victory when all is said and done.
But if you're a fan of any of the 42 other drivers on the track, don't fret—19 more are still going to get mentioned in this week's power rankings. It's just, you know, the guy who's won the past two races is going to go first. Let's go.
1. Kevin Harvick
If you originally thought that, of last season's three top championship contenders, the No. 29 team would have been more likely to drop off at the start of this season than Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing, I would have agreed with you. But now we both look stupid, don't we? The 2010 points champion—that is, if you're looking at the pre-Chase system—didn't let Daytona get him down, and now, here we are.
2. Kyle Busch
Martinsville remains the only Sprint Cup track at which Rowdy hasn't taken a victory in one of NASCAR's touring series. But by finishing third and leading the most laps, he now has the points lead and five top-10s, more than any other driver (and four more than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates combined). I think he can deal with waiting a little longer.
3. Carl Edwards
Even on a bad day, about a dozen drivers would kill to have his finishing position. Sunday saw Edwards come home a lap down in 18th and lose the points lead, but the difference is five points—meaning a win while leading the most laps would take him back the lead no matter what.
4. Jimmie Johnson
An 11 is just two No. 1s, right? No? Oh well.
5. Kurt Busch
Consistency is nice, but I'm still seeing this team dropping down the standings just like they did after a hot start last year. Kurt Busch was leading the standings not too long ago, right?
6. Juan Montoya
Wait, Montoya finished fourth at Martinsville? That just strikes me as weird. Wait, is only one of Chip Ganassi's cars allowed to have good luck in any given year? Jamie Mac started the season struggling pretty badly, if I recall correctly...and yet, they won three races last year.
7. Ryan Newman
Rough end to the weekend for this guy. He seemed like a solid pick at the start...problems won't stay by the wayside forever, though.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A double dose of agony for Junior Nation. Their driver's career-worst 99-race winless streak stands after a pass late in the race by a guy with Junior's old sponsor on his hood. Nevermind how well the No. 88 team did this weekend—fans are going to want more, and quick. They've proven they can perform again. Now it's time to do one better at Texas, where Junior scored his first Cup win way back in 2000.
9. Paul Menard
Hey, Paul: Menarch is over. Menapril doesn't have quite the same ring to it. I don't know if I see the No. 27 staying hot, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this single bad race. Anything prolonged after that—watch him plummet.
10. Mark Martin
Martin made his 800th career Sprint Cup start, fittingly at Martinsville, on Sunday. By coming home 10th, he catapulted himself to 10th in points. Future No. 5 driver Kasey Kahne would have killed for that run. (And before you ask, no, I have no idea what he's doing next year. Probably Turner Motorsports. Probably with Dollar General. Maybe in Cup. Sorry, Reed Sorenson.)
11. Matt Kenseth
Am I criminally underrating the guy who's ninth in points and finished sixth on Sunday? Maybe. Is it because the guy's led five laps all season? Abso-friggin-lutely. All the second places in a world won't win you a—oh, right, we're talking about Kenseth, aren't we? Yep, criminally underrated him. My bad.
12. Tony Stewart
Buck up, Tony. You're still in the Chase. (Barely. As a wild card.)
13. Jeff Gordon
What a bipolar season for Gordon thus far. He's either up in front or he's involved in an accident that has him way back. On the bright side, if he doesn't make his way back into Chase position (where he hasn't been since Phoenix, the race he won), another win or two should get him a Wild Card spot.
14. Kasey Kahne
Just call him the moving SAFER barrier.
15. Martin Truex Jr.
Quoth the great @nascarcasm on Twitter: "Is it bad for a car sponsored by a car-parts dealer to have a parts failure? That's like Kasey parking his car because he's really tired."
16. A.J. Allmendinger
The 'Dinger has been pretty consistent this season, with five top-20s and only eight laps missed. But none of that matters, because when you drive the No. 43 at Martinsville, you're supposed to beat team owner Richard Petty's 15 career wins at the track. In that single weekend. Therefore, A.J.'s weekend was a failure.
17. David Ragan
"I don't care if that was our best finish of the season, I'm still pissed about Daytona."
18. Clint Bowyer
Is Clint going to change sponsors like this every week for the rest of the season? God, it's like Days of Thunder, minus the glaring difference that Clint's life isn't just Top Gun in race cars. Also, I'm not sure who would play Nicole Kidman. (No idea on Clint's love life—I actually turned down a piece on NASCAR's 25 hottest wives and girlfriends in the offseason. Not my thing.)
19. Denny Hamlin
Darrell Waltrip's terribly-executed analysis of Hamlin's psyche aside (I don't think you can determine a person's happiness by how frequently they tweet or not... yet), he's absolutely right. Hamlin needs to relax a bit more; that team has been uptight since Phoenix last year. The good runs and top finishes will come. Work out the kinks in the engine department and you'll be fine, Denny.
20. Bobby Labonte
Somebody mistagged this particular Getty Images photo with the No. 47's former driver, Marcos Ambrose, but we know better. And I'm not quite ready to give up on the Bobby Labonte bandwagon just yet. Top 20 at the end of the season or bust!