2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Power Rankings – Top 25 Drivers Poll and Ratings(Updated March 9th):The NASCAR Power Rankings are based on a unique rating formula I developed that takes into account 10 separate categories of what NASCAR refers to as loop data. This information is recorded by electronic scoring monitors located around every track on the schedule. It is the best measure of how strong each driver has been during the season as a whole.
1. Tony Stewart (4.18): Stewart has been in the mix for the win in all three races this season, and he has the best driver rating in the series to prove it. He hasn’t sealed the deal yet, but his impressive performance at Las Vegas was proof that he is a legitimate contender. He is sitting atop the point standings heading to Bristol, and he is sitting atop the Power Rankings as well.
2. Kurt Busch (4.70): He is tied for Stewart for the top spot in the standings, and he is the only driver with top-10 finishes in each of the first three races. Busch is also tied with Stewart for the top average finish in the series with a 7.3 mark. He hasn’t been as dominant as Stewart, but you can’t argue with the end results.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (8.13): There is a major gap between Stewart and Busch and the rest of the series right now, but Truex Jr. has been impressing in his second year with Michael Waltrip Racing. He has finished in the top-20 in all three races, and has improved his finish in all three starts. Truex Jr. finished a solid sixth at Vegas.
4. Ryan Newman (8.27): Stewart-Haas Racing has been strong out of the gate, and Newman has finished in the top-five in back-to-back races. Considering he managed just four top-five runs all of last season, the fact that he already has two in three races can’t be overlooked. Newman could be heading for one of his best years in recent memory.
5. Carl Edwards (9.23): His victory at Vegas gives him three wins in his last five starts, dating back to 2010. If it weren’t for an early accident at Phoenix, Edwards could have easily won the last two races. If you are looking for candidates to dethrone Jimmie Johnson in 2011, Edwards has to be on the list.
6. Paul Menard (9.30): The early returns are in, and Menard’s offseason move to Richard Childress Racing appears to have been a slam dunk. He has recorded career-best finishes in each of the first three races of 2011, and statistically speaking, he has been the organization’s most consistent performer this far.
7. Juan Pablo Montoya (9.75): He is well on his way to putting his disappointing 2010 campaign behind him. He finished sixth in the season opener, and more importantly, he finished third at Vegas. The 1.5-mile tracks were his weakness last season, but if he can run as well as he did at Vegas, he will be back in the Chase.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11.35): The offseason crew chief swap at Hendrick Motorsports may be working. Junior ran well in the Daytona 500 before the late wreck, and he has finished in the top-10 in the two races since. Junior hasn’t looked like a potential race winner just yet, but he is definitely heading in the right direction.
9. Kyle Busch (12.37): His had the point lead heading into Vegas, but a blown engine his afternoon early. Equipment issues are unavoidable, and Busch has still managed two top-10s in the first three races of 2011. He has run the fourth-most fastest laps this year and has the fifth-best driver rating. Busch will be moving back toward to the top of the rankings in no time.
10. A.J. Allmendinger (13.92): He is rewarding Richard Petty Motorsports for making him their No. 1 driver in the offseason. Allmendinger has finished in the top-20 in all three races in 2011, recording the best finishes of his career at Phoenix and Las Vegas. I thought he was still a year or two away from contending for the Chase, but I may have underestimated him.
11. Denny Hamlin (14.06): After winning eight races last season, it seems like a disappointment whenever he can’t crack the top-five. That being said, Hamlin is slowly rounding into form, climbing to eighth in the standings after a seventh-place run at Vegas. Hamlin is a notoriously slow starter so there is no cause for concern in the No. 11 camp.
12. Jeff Gordon (14.40): Momentum is only as good as the last race in NASCAR, and Gordon followed his victory at Phoenix with a cut tire that ruined his afternoon at Vegas. That being said, snapping his 66-race winless drought had to relieve a lot of pressure, and a relaxed Gordon could be a dangerous one for the competition.
13. Clint Bowyer (14.67): He has yet to put together a dominant run, but finishes of 17th at Daytona and 15th at Vegas have kept him within striking distance. Bowyer should only get better as the year goes on, and his ability to salvage decent finishes on bad days will likely put him in the Chase once again in 2011.
14. Kasey Kahne (14.97): He was involved in a wreck at Daytona, but Kahne has been strong since. He finished sixth at Phoenix and a respectable 14th at Vegas. Kahne is facing a bit of a learning curve as he tries to adjust to his new equipment at Red Bull Racing, but his early success is a promising sign. Don’t be surprised if he wins a race or two and contends for a spot in the Chase.
15. Jimmie Johnson (16.60): The wreck at Daytona was understandable, but his lackluster performance at Vegas was a bit concerning. He did manage a third-place finish at Phoenix, but the No. 48 bunch has yet to flex its muscles. Don’t hit the panic button just yet, but it is safe to say that Johnson is off to somewhat of a slow start by his standards.
16. Mark Martin (16.95): The good news for Martin is that he has finished in the top-20 in the first three races of the year. The bad news is that his finishes have gotten progressively worse in each start. He appears to be missing that extra edge that some of the top drivers have, and he is going to have to be nearly flawless to make the Chase on top-20 finishes alone.
17. Matt Kenseth (18.29): Since his wreck in the season opener, Kenseth has returned to his typical form. He finished 12th at Phoenix and 11th at Vegas, showing his trademarked consistency. The one concern is that he has now gone more than two years without a victory, but he has proven in the past that he can contend without winning a lot of races.
18. Greg Biffle (19.39): Biffle has had fast cars in all three races this season, but his luck has absolutely been awful. He was involved in big wrecks at Daytona and Phoenix, and he ran out of gas under green at Vegas. Biffle is going to have plenty of strong runs in 2011, but his struggles out of the gate could prevent him from making the Chase.
19. Brad Keselowski (19.62): The progress continues to be slow but steady for last season’s Nationwide champ. Keselowski’s 23.3 average finish isn’t exactly impressive, but he has shown legitimate improvement in other loop data categories. The results will eventually improve as well, but at least he is heading in the right direction.
20. Kevin Harvick (20.37): After not recording a single DNF in 2010, Harvick opened 2011 with a DNF at Daytona. He rebounded with a top-five run at Pheonix, but he looked mediocre at best in Vegas. Harvick was by far the most consistent driver last year, but he is already finding out that a repeat performance won’t be easy.
21. Marcos Ambrose (20.46): He wrecked at Daytona, but Ambrose has been very impressive in his new ride otherwise. He finished 16th at Phoenix and then recorded his first career top-five finish at a 1.5-mile track with a fourth-place run at Vegas. The move to Richard Petty Motorsports in the offseason was supposed to help him at the intermediate ovals, and thus far, it appears to be working. Ambrose could be in for a breakout season.
22. Joey Logano (21.67): He has yet to finish in the top-20 this season, compiling an average finish of 26.3. Mechanical issues and wrecks have played a part in his struggles, but he is going to have to turn his luck around soon if he wants to make the Chase. Logano is another young driver being reminded that success in the Cup Series is hard to come by.
23. Regan Smith (22.17): Smith was one of the strongest cars on the track at Daytona, but he has wrecked early in the two races since. The top-10 in the opener was the first of his career, but back-to-back finishes outside the top-30 have dropped him to 29th in the standings. Realistically, Smith’s season will be a success if he cracks the top-25 in points. He should still be able to do that as long as his luck turns around.
24. Bobby Labonte (22.19): His fourth-place finish in the season opener was a bit misleading. Labonte has finished in the top-25 in his two races since Daytona, and those finishes are probably what he is capable of on a consistent basis in 2011. That being said, the move to JTG Daugherty has given his career a shot in the arm. Expect several top-20 finishes along the way as Labonte enjoys one of his best years in recent memory.
25. Jamie McMurray (22.72): Many considered McMurray to be the best driver that didn’t make the Chase last season. Well, he has yet to crack the top-15 in the first three races of 2011, and a Chase appearance is already looking doubtful. McMurray’s three victories last season were impressive, but he has always been an up and down driver. He will have hot streaks throughout the season, but he still lacks the consistency to contend for a title.
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