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Living up to the preseason hype
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 cool name … why no one thought of “Horsepower” Rankings before is beyond me. That said, kick back for five minutes of leisurely reading that require no real thought on your part:
1. Carl Edwards Edwards has three wins and a second in his last five races going back to 2010. It’s like the boy has tiger blood and Adonis DNA. #Winning (I promise, that's the last Sheen reference I'll ever make.)
2. Kurt Busch The only driver to have recorded three top 10s in the three 2011 races, Busch is somehow flying under the radar while being tied for first in the point standings.
3. Tony Stewart Smoke just can’t close the deal. For the third consecutive race, he was in it to win it in the closing laps, only to come up short.
4. Ryan Newman If you said you realized Newman was running fifth in the standings on the strength of two top 5s (and that he led the most laps in the Daytona 500), you'd be lying.
5. Juan Pablo Montoya Another early-season surprise, Montoya has two top 10s and is tied with Edwards for third in the standings. He's first in the Twitter standings, though, with 276,821 followers.
6. Jeff Gordon The right side of his car has been taking a lot of abuse this season. Three races, three crumpled fenders. Of course, he still managed to win one of those.
7. Kyle Busch Ran eighth and second in the first two races, then blew up in Vegas. Despite the two solid runs, he dropped from first to 14th in the standings with the 38th on Sunday. That’s harsh.
8. Jimmie Johnson In Johnson’s last eight Vegas starts he has four wins and four finishes of 16th or worse. Not sure how to quantify that.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior Nation showing measured optimism after consecutive top 10s with new crew chief Steve Letarte. The smart money says he’ll be good at Bristol, too.
10. Denny Hamlin Hamlin’s face is off the milk carton after a seventh at LVMS. Honestly, it was a quiet seventh, so maybe his mug is still there.
11. Kevin Harvick Last year at this time Harvick was leading the point standings. This year? Not so much.
12. Mark Martin He looked like an older version of Kyle Busch in winning the Nationwide race in Vegas.
13. Paul Menard Don’t tear up your equipment and log some solid finishes — just what the new owner likes.
14. Martin Truex Jr. Truex and crew chief Pat Tryson are only getting stronger at Michael Waltrip Racing.
15. Kasey Kahne Clearly still learning the ropes with his new team, but things look good so far.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte