2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Drivers Power Rankings – Top 15 Drivers Poll and Ratings Thru July 20, 2011: The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup is fast approaching, and the action is heating up as drivers jockey for the final playoff positions. The newly-added wildcard spots are only intensifying tempers behind the wheel as one win could mean the difference between racing for the championship and building for next season. The final two months of the regular season are shaping up to be some of the most exciting in recent memory. With the numbers crunched, let’s take a look at the Power Rankings.
- Kurt Busch (6.59): Things got so bad for Kurt Busch that he ripped his Penske Racing team publicly for building ineffective racecars. Apparently, Busch’s harsh words were the kick in the pants the team needed because he has been on a tear the last two months. Busch has finished in the top 15 in his last nine starts, including a win at Infineon. He has a ton of momentum on his side.
- Kyle Busch (7.05): He still has his lapses in judgment, but Busch has been the most dominant driver in 2011. He is tied for the series lead with three victories as well as top-five finishes with 10. Not to mention the fact that Busch has led by far the most laps in the series this season. If he can stay calm, the title is his to lose.
- Jimmie Johnson (7.32): With just one win this season, the five-time champ is being criticized for having a down year. If that’s true, then the competition needs to worry because Johnson is just seven points out of the top spot despite this supposed down year. The No. 48 bunch always gets better the closer the playoffs get, and the best is yet to come for Johnson and company.
- Carl Edwards (7.51): He still has just one win that came early in the year, but Edwards remains atop the standings thanks to his consistency. He continues to lead the series in top-five finishes and top-10s. Edwards is going to a major player come playoff time, and he will likely be back in Victory Lane a few times before the year ends.
- Matt Kenseth (9.08): Kenseth has established himself as a one-trick pony in 2011, but it is one really good trick. He has been dominant at the intermediate tracks, and since two thirds of the races each season are held at similar tracks, Kenseth is in pretty good shape. With more than half the playoff races being held at intermediate tracks, Kenseth has a shot at winning it all and some more races despite not being the best all-around performer.
- Denny Hamlin (9.64): Last year’s series leader in wins is finally rounding into form. Three of his four top-five finishes have come in the last month and a half, including a win at Michigan. Hamlin isn’t going to match his eight-win season from a year ago, but he is peaking at the right time and could still be a factor for the title.
- Ryan Newman (9.98): Fresh off a win at New Hampshire, Newman may be ready to recapture his early season form. He has finished in the top five in the last two races after not recording a top-five finish since early May. Newman has been up and down in 2011, but he has been delivering more elite finishes than usual and could grab another win or two before the end of the year.
- Tony Stewart (10.82): Stewart the driver is still winless, but Stewart the team owner has to be smiling. He and teammate Ryan Newman have been running well lately, and both drivers would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Stewart is a classic slow starter, and he has never gone winless since joining the Cup Series. “Smoke” will be in Victory Lane in the near future.
- Kevin Harvick (11.24): Harvick has looked a bit off in his two most recent starts, but he is still having a championship-caliber season. He is tied for the series lead with three wins, and he already has double-digit top-10s. Harvick has been one of the top drivers in the series the last two years, and that isn’t likely to change come playoff time.
- Clint Bowyer (11.47): Bowyer has had plenty of solid runs in 2011, but his four DNFs have put him on the bubble of making the playoffs. He was in a similar situation last season before rallying to make the Chase, and he could easily do the same this year. Bowyer’s team is capable of winning races, but he never seems to bring his A game on a weekly basis.
- Jeff Gordon (11.76): When he is good, he has been great in 2011. However, Gordon has also had a few races when he has missed the setup. His two victories should be more than enough to grab him a wildcard spot in the playoffs, but he hasn’t shown the consistency of a potential champion. Gordon could deliver another win or two, but the big prize will likely elude him.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12.79): All the momentum Junior had built is starting to slip away. He has finished 15th or worse in five straight starts, including three finishes outside the top 20. Junior’s confidence can come and go, which makes this recent slide a potential issue. The playoffs seemed a sure thing a month ago, but his Chase chances could be fading.
- Kasey Kahne (13.50): Kahne is making his patented summer run, and he has climbed to 14th in points. He has finished in the top 15 in his last three starts, including finishes of sixth and fourth. However, there is still a big gap between Kahne and the guys in the top 10. He may need to win a few races to secure a playoff spot.
- Greg Biffle (14.33): Biffle is having one of the worst seasons of his career, and he has just one top-five finish thus far. He has to win a few races in order to make the playoffs, but the good news is that he is a proven winner at the Cup level. A win probably isn’t out of the question, but his three-year run of Chase appearances could be coming to an end.
- Juan Pablo Montoya (15.30): The rollercoaster ride that is Montoya is continuing in 2011. One week he will look like a title contender, and the next week he will be bouncing off the wall and every other car on the track. Montoya has all the potential in the world, but it won’t translate into a playoff appearance until he adds some consistency.
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