What's in a Name?
|Kyle Busch picked up his third win of the season on Sunday at|
Watkins Glen, but this has been anything but a win or nothing
season for Rowdy, who currently sits fifth in points. (Getty)
Let's get to it.
Given the Magic Mile Power Rankings are bit behind, I thought I'd use this time to put something together involving the top 20 drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series right now, entering this weekend's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. This is not necessarily a rehash of the standings, but rather a rundown of the top-20 drivers and one word (or two) that defines their week, month or season.
1. Jimmie "Boring" Johnson – It's the ultimate compliment for the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader. With more wins, more top-10s and more laps led than anyone on tour, Johnson has monotonously stamped his name as the favorite going into the Chase for the championship. And higher praise there cannot be.
2. Clint “Steady” Bowyer – The only thing keeping Bowyer from being talked about more in NASCAR circles is the big goose egg in the win column. But that shouldn’t keep anyone from thinking this guy doesn’t have a real shot (see Carl Edwards in 2011).
3. Carl “Shhh” Edwards – Cousin Carl has been sneaky good this year, claiming seven top-fives and a win, something he didn’t do once during his infamous 2011 run against Tony Stewart. But, as he learned, it’s going to take at least one win to ensure himself his first title.
4. Kevin “Surprising” Harvick – Happy has shown to be more than just a driver simply checking off laps during his last days in with Richard Childress Racing. With two wins already under his belt, the future Stewart-Haas Motorsports pilot is making a serious run at his first championship.
5. Kyle “Focused” Busch – There just seems to be something different about Rowdy this season. With 14 top-10s and three wins, it’s obvious that the kid hasn’t lost his drive to lead every lap. But he seems to be genuinely concentrated on making sure he’s in good position to make his first legitimate run (he’s never finished better than fifth) at that elusive Cup championship.
6. Dale “Needs A Win” Earnhardt Jr. – Not only would a victory for the No. 88 be good for the sport, but it would all but assure his spot in the Chase. And with 12 top-10s already this season, there’s no counting out NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver.” Then again, you have to be up front to win a title, and those 94 laps led leave a bold question mark on his title hopes.
7. Matt “Slumping” Kenseth – With three wins in his first 11 starts with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth looked to be rejuvenated a favorite to win his second championship. Eleven races later, Kenseth has just two top-fives (one was a win at Kentucky) and five finishes outside the top-20. His four wins will put him near the top of the standings come Chase time, but how long will he stay there?
8. Brad “Rebound” Keselowski – There was no one hotter than Bad Brad in 2012. And after getting off to a super-hot start in 2013, Keselowski has looked very human over the last half of the season. That being said, the Blue Deuce has finishes of second, sixth, 21st and fourth in his last four races. That’s bad news for his adversaries.
9. Greg “Hanging On” Biffle – Every time it looks like the No. 16 Ford has raced himself out of contention, he picks up a solid finish or, like was the case in June, he finds victory lane. It’s likely going to take another win or a more consistent presence in the top 10 for The Biff to make the playoffs, but if there’s anyone who can get hot when it counts it might just be this guy.
10. Martin “Still Around” Truex Jr. – Very similar to Biffle, Truex seems to do just enough to keep himself inside the top 10. Truex has been sneaky good of late, however, finishing 11th or better in five of his last eight races, which includes a win at Sonoma.
11. Kurt “Faith” Busch – It’s hard not to root for Busch, who is making a very real run at becoming the first driver to lead a single-car team into the Chase for the championship. A win would be huge at this point, but consistent top-10s like he rolled off in the last nine weeks (he has six) could be enough to overcome his absence from victory lane.
12. Kasey “Bad Luck” Kahne – With two wins, it’s very unlikely KK will miss the Chase. But this hasn’t exactly been a normal season for the No. 5 Chevrolet. Despite nine top-10s, seven of those top-fives, Kahne has six finishes outside of 30th. And while a vast majority of those poor finishes has been the result of some bad luck, it still has to be a serious cause for concern entering the playoffs.
13. Jeff “Outside” Gordon – It doesn’t look good for the four-time Cup champ. Sans victory through the first 22 races, Gordon is going to have to get really hot to make the playoffs. But the No. 24 Chevrolet was in even worse shape at this time last year and somehow managed to make the Chase with a third at Bristol and back-to-back runner-up finishes at Atlanta and Richmond.
14. Ryan “Speedy” Newman – Tony Stewart’s loss might just be a huge gain for the Rocketman, who is still without a ride for the 2013 season. A spot in the Chase could be just the résumé builder he needs. And with a win and two more top-10s in this last five starts, Newman may just have that opportunity in a few weeks.
15. Jamie “Streaky” McMurray – With Juan Pablo Montoya on his way out the door, McDonald’s McMurray is left to hold down the fort, and is realistically Ganassi’s lone chance at a Chase spot. He does have the ability to get streaky, but with just five top-10s all year it’s not likely the No. 1 Chevrolet will be a contender.
16. Joey “Confusing” Logano – This is utterly confusing. His 11 top-10s is tied for fifth, yet somehow Logano has managed to finish 35th or worse on four separate occasions. That’s a complete no-no when it comes to being a Chase hopeful. But the good news is that Logano has three straight top-10s, including an impressive seventh last week at Watkins Glen.
17. Tony “All Done Stewart – A broken leg in a sprint car race has left his chances a championship up in smoke.
18. Aric “Almost” Almirola – Another longshot to make the Chase at this point, Almirola has a lot to be proud of this season. His five top-10s are a career-best, and his fifth-place at the Magic Mile back in July was his best finish of the 2013 campaign. So, that’s something, right?
19. Paul “Sinking” Menard – A strong start – four top-10s, including three straight, over the first eight races – had many thinking (this writer included) that this was finally going to be the year that the No. 27 found a spot in the Chase. He hasn’t recorded another top-10 since.
20. Ricky “Zero” Stenhouse Jr. – It’s almost inconceivable to believe that the rookie and two-time defending Nationwide Series champion has yet to crack the top-10 even once this season. That’s right, not a single top-10. #baffling #toogood