NASCAR Power Rankings July 2014: Top 10 Championship Contenders: For the final time this season, the Cup Series teams will have an off week to relax and regroup before he stretch run of the regular season begins in a couple of weeks at Indianapolis. In fact, teams won’t have another off week until after the 2014 season is in the books and a champion is crowned. With that in mind, it is time to take a closer look at the drivers that appear to have the best shot at taking home the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.
- Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been hitting his stride in recent weeks, and he is now tied for the series lead with three wins and nine top-five finishes. He has also led the third-most laps of any driver this season and has the second-best driver rating. After experiencing a bit of a championship hangover last year, the 2012 champ is looking more and more like the 2014 title frontrunner with each passing week.
- Jimmie Johnson: He is tied for the series lead with three victories this year, and no driver has led more laps than Johnson. For the most part, he has been his typically dominant self, and his 12 top-10s are just one off the series lead. However, Johnson has had some repeated tire issues this season, which are just enough of a red flag to keep him out of the top spot.
- Kevin Harvick: Harvick has two wins under his belt this season, and he has consistently been one of the fastest drivers on the track this year. Harvick ranks first in fastest laps runs and average green flag speed and second in laps led. Issues with slow pit stops and occasional engine issues are a little worrisome, but Harvick’s consistent speed makes him a title frontrunner.
- Jeff Gordon: The veteran heads to the off week as the point leader, and Gordon also owns the top driver rating in the series this year. Meanwhile, his 13 top-10s are tied for the most in the series, and his 9.6 average finish is tops among all drivers. Gordon may only have one victory so far, but his consistently strong finishes should put him in the mix for the title.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior has been enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, and in addition to a pair of victories, he is tied for the series lead with nine top-five finishes and 13 top-10s. The one chink in his armor so to speak is that he ranks sixth in driver rating, and while that isn’t terrible, Junior has had a few races where he hasn’t been overly strong. Still, he is definitely in the title conversation.
- Joey Logano: He is having a true breakout season, winning two races and ranking fourth in the series in driver rating. Logano also leads all drivers in laps in the top 15, and he also ranks in the top five in average green flag speed and laps led. The downside with Logano is that he also has four DNFs this year, and as fast as he has been, a couple of DNFs during the playoffs would quickly end his title hopes.
- Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has been steady all year. He ranks fourth in points, and his 12 top-10s are tied for the second most in the series. He also ranks in the top 10 in just about every scoring loop category, but on the flip side, he doesn’t rank in the top five in many categories. In other words, Kenseth has been a good driver all year, but he hasn’t yet been great. He will have to up his performance or have a little help in order to take to win it all.
- Kyle Busch: He should be safely in the Chase thanks to his win at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the year, and while he also ranks in the top five in laps led, he has been more of a top-10 driver in most of the other scoring loop categories. In general, Busch has struggled to find speed on the long runs, and until that changes, he is going to be an occasional contender for race wins but not a serious title contender.
- Denny Hamlin: His season has been a rollercoaster ride, but Hamlin’s peaks have included a win at Talladega and four top-five finishes. He also ranks in the top 10 in average running position and third in quality passes this year, and while Hamlin has yet to put it all together for a dominant stretch, he has shown some potential. He is not a title contender right now, but he has a chance to get there.
10. Carl Edwards: I’m still not sure how Edwards has found his way to a couple wins this year, but overall, he simply hasn’t shown consistent muscle on the track. In fact, he only has the 15th-best driver rating this year, and his eight top-10s are the second fewest of any driver currently ranked in the top 10 in points. Edwards deserves credit for reaching victory lane twice, and his two victories will put him in good shape to start the Chase. However, he has not shown the consistent speed of a potential champ as of yet.
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