NASCAR Power Rankings Week 10 – Top 10 Drivers to Win the Sprint Cup Series Championship: The All-Star Race is fast approaching, and the pecking order is starting to establish itself. Drivers have had the chance to visit a variety of tracks, and the ones that have been running well week in and week out have established themselves as the early frontrunners. After all, nine of the drivers in the top 10 in points after the ninth race last season went on to make the Chase.
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Power Rankings – Week 10
1. Jimmie Johnson: The five-time champ is still searching for a win, but it is becoming painfully obvious that he is once again the best driver in the series. Since his wreck in the opening laps of the Daytona 500, Johnson has reeled off eight straight top-12 finishes, including a series-leading seven top-10s. More importantly, Johnson has led more laps than any other driver this season. It is only a matter of time before the wins start piling up.
2. Greg Biffle: Biffle finished 18th at Richmond last weekend, marking the first time in 2012 that he failed to crack the top 15. However, he is still sitting atop the standings and is tied for the series lead with five top-five finishes. More importantly, his 7.2 average finish is currently tops among drivers. Biffle has always been able to win races and finish in the top five, but his consistency this season has been the difference. If he keeps it up, there is no reason he can’t add a Cup Series title to a trophy case that already features a Truck Series and Nationwide Series championship.
3. Tony Stewart: A phantom debris caution in the closing laps at Richmond and the poor pit stop that followed robbed Stewart of what would have been his third win of the year. Still, the defending champ is off to one of his best starts, and thanks to his dirt racing background, he has always been a better driver in the second half of the year when the temperatures rise and the tracks get slick. Assuming the trend continues in 2012, Stewart is going to be very tough to dethrone as champ.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Yes, his winless drought is approaching four years, but for the first time in a long time, Junior looks like a driver capable of winning a championship. His seven top-10 finishes are tied for the most in the series, and his 7.3 average finish is second among drivers. Junior has been the picture of consistency, and no driver has spent more time running in the top 15. He already has as many top-five finishes this year as he did all of last season, and once he finally wins and gets the monkey off his back, there is no telling what kind of roll Junior will go on.
5. Matt Kenseth: There have never been any worries about his consistency, and since Kenseth is currently tied for the series lead with five top-five finishes, he seems primed for another strong season. He has enjoyed the best two-year stretch of his career the last two seasons, and he isn’t slowing down in 2012. Kenseth’s lone Cup Series title came in 2003, but he looks closer than ever to returning to championship form.
6. Denny Hamlin: After last year’s debacle, it is nice to see Hamlin sitting third in points and looking like a championship-caliber driver once again. Yes, he has had some unexpected mediocre runs, but with two wins under his belt, Hamlin has already surpassed his total from a year ago. More importantly, both wins came at tracks where he had never won in the past. He and new crew chief Darian Grubb have clearly gelled.
7. Carl Edwards: Although Edwards hasn’t won yet in 2012, he hasn’t really had a bad run either with the exception of an early wreck at Bristol. He also had his first dominating performance of the year last weekend at Richmond before a questionable penalty dropped him a lap down. The top-five finishes haven’t been there yet, but as long as the top-10s continue to pile up, Edwards will be fine in the long run.
8. Martin Truex Jr.: His streak of five straight finishes of eighth or better was snapped at Richmond, but he is still sitting in the top five in points. The career year has been a surprise for a driver that has been a disappointment from the time he entered the Cup Series. The only question is whether or not he can shed his bust image and sustain the success for the entire season.
9. Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been plugging along this season, and despite being winless, he is averaging a top-10 finish. He is also leading the series in average starting position and has yet to finish outside the top 20. The only area of concern for Harvick is that Richard Childress Racing as a whole hasn’t looked great in 2012. Harvick has been able to hold his own, but it is going to be tough for him to win the title if the RCR equipment is a notch below the competition.
10. Kasey Kahne: His horribly slow start has him digging out of a big hole, but three straight top-10s has Kahne headed in the right direction. The bad luck and mechanical issues that plagued him early in the year are finally over, and he has shown the last three weeks what he is capable of at Hendrick Motorsports.
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