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Edwards strong out of the gate
by Matt Taliaferro
Like every other NASCAR landing page on the web, Athlon Sports has a little fun each week ranking the drivers and teams of the Sprint Cup circuit. Our rankings go beyond how each finished the weekend prior and/or where they sit in the official championship standings.
The rankings you’ll see here represent what we (read: I) think are the strongest overall teams on tour, from top to bottom, based on performance, resources, strength of team/organization, overall talent of driver and, yeah, a tip of the cap to a job well done if they won the last race Think of it as Athlon’s NASCAR version of the college basketball Top 25.
Keep in mind these are subjective, and often done somewhat tongue-in-cheek (depending on my mood), so have some fun with them and take them for what they are: a weekly spin around the circuit, highlighting the best teams and their drivers.
Oh, and our rankings have a cooler name … why no one thought of “Horsepower” Rankings before we did is beyond me. That said, kick back for five minutes of leisurely reading that require no real thought on your part:
1. Carl Edwards After ending last year with back-to-back backflips, the driver many picked as the one with the best chance to knock Jimmie Johnson off point starts the season strong, with a second-place run in the Daytona 500.
2. Kurt Busch Won the Bud Shootout, his Gatorade Duel race and looked like he had the 500 dead to rights ... until Edwards and David Gilliland drafted by on the last lap, preventing Busch’s run.
3. Kyle Busch How he managed to salvage an eighth-place showing in a roller-coaster of a day is bewildering … and he was singing with delight over his team’s radio most of the way.
4. Clint Bowyer A popular pre-race favorite (ahem, ours), Bowyer was in position late in the day until he fell victim to an accident not of his making. He’ll remain a darkhorse title favorite in the Horsepower Rankings most of the season, though.
5. Jimmie Johnson Speaking of title favorite, Johnson’s continued run of Daytona disappointment — he’s averaged a 31.8-place finish the last five years — hasn’t bothered his No. 48 team one bit. After all, a Daytona 500 win makes a career, not a season.
6. Mark Martin The Daytona 500 futility continues. When Martin, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte all lined up in the top 5 on a late-race restart, you felt someone might break his drought. Not so.
7. Jeff Gordon Handpicked Trevor Bayne to be his drafting partner in the Duels, proving to the rest of the field that the 20-year old was worthy. It paid off on raceday — for Bayne, not Gordon.
8. Denny Hamlin A bad Speedweeks stayed bad for Hambone in the 500. But sunnier days lie ahead, as the circuit visits Phoenix this weekend, where Hamlin dominated in November before he was called to pit road for a splash of gas. Something tells me he still wants to strangle Mike Ford for that one.
9. Kevin Harvick Maybe the biggest disappointment of the day on the beach. Entering Daytona with his usual plate-track swagger, Harvick staggered home when the engine went “ka-put” before the driver even broke a sweat.
10. Trevor Bayne OK, so maybe he should rank higher after the 500 win, but honestly, the teams listed above are a notch ahead of his. Let’s see what this Tennessee good ol’ boy has for ’em in Phoenix.
11. Tony Stewart Zero wins in the Daytona 500, but three in July and six in nine February Nationwide Series races. That’s gotta be tough to swallow.
12. Ryan Newman Led a race-high 37 laps before joining Bowyer in the backstretch wall.
13. Jamie McMurray Defending 500 champion’s motor went south late in the race, otherwise he looked like he had a strong mount once again.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Had three cars trashed in Speedweeks, though none were really his fault.
15. Juan Pablo Montoya Gave Kurt a nice push on the white flag lap, but was felled by another duo of drafters.
Just off the lead pack: Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, David Ragan