The Big 10 Driver Rankings: Sonoma Swap

by Jim on June 23, 2010

Hey, race fans! Don’t forget we also vote in the weekly top 20 poll at racetalkradio.com. We have the privilege of joining some of the best NASCAR writers in the business: Monte Dutton, Bob Pockrass, Godwin Kelly and Vito Pugliese in sizing up the best drivers in the business. Come check it out!

Here we go again! We’ve got a new week and a new number one. Thinking over the last few seasons, I struggle to remember where we had so many different drivers in the running for the front, and so many with a shot to make the top twelve.

Up front, there’s the usual mix of drivers with a steady wheel, ticking off good runs week after week. Surrounding them are drivers blowing hot, and then at times going equally as cold. Not far behind the likes of Johnson, Harvick, Hamlin and the brothers Busch, are drivers coming on (Stewart) and drivers fading away (Edwards).

Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows….

THE BIG TEN

10. Mark Martin- (Back in the Top 10 By A Nose)- There’s not been much said of Martin recently, other than what may happen with him in 2011. On the other hand, he was better this week than others considered for this spot: Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton. Fear not, Martin fans- Father Time won the second race at NHIS last season. He’s in a shaky spot, but if anyone has mastered the art of dancing on the head of a pin, it’s Mark Martin.

9. Kasey Kahne- (Back in the Top 10)- Has hasn’t been here in a while, but the 2009 winner at Sonoma put up a second straight top five, climbing three places up the point charts. It’s going to take a mad run to leap frog up to 12th, but Kahne may have it in him. What’s more, there are a good handful of drivers just above him who are struggling with week to week consistency.

8. Greg Biffle- (Up from 10th)- Here’s a true survivor. In spite of the rough go of the Fords in 2010, Biffle has clicked off 10 top 10s, tying him with Jimmie Johnson. If he’s loving the new engine the same way Kasey Kahne is, The Biff has a good foundation on which to build.

7. Tony Stewart- (Up from 8th)- Smoke is dissuading the skeptics once again. His 9th place finish at Infineon isn’t exactly cause for celebration, but Stewart did reel off his third straight top ten. The great ones are good everywhere. Tony Stewart is one of those great drivers, with two career wins at New Hampshire going in to this Sunday.

6. Kurt Busch- (Down from 3rd)- Until descending upon northern California, Busch the Elder had five strong races in six weeks. Then Sunday happened. The good news for fans of this Busch brother is that he has three career wins at NHIS, and there’s nothing in his bad day Sunday that indicates a systemic problem. You can add him to a nice list of guys who wouldn’t mind a piece of Gordon coming.

5. Jeff Gordon- (Up from 6th)- Two weeks, two top fives. That’s the way you get yourself in contention. While everyone’s been talking about how Gordon’s fading away, let’s remember he’s tied with Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin for the Cup lead in top fives with seven. On the other hand, the original “Four Time” may find himself with a price on his head. The way he was going Sunday, I’ll bet he hit the pace car on his way back to the garage. 

4. Kyle Busch- (Down from 2nd)- Sunday’s race at Infineon was a disaster all the way around for Joe Gibbs Racing. I mean, we’re talking about the 2008 race winner here for Sonoma! The good news for the Shrub Club is Kyle is only one point out of second behind Jimmie Johnson. While one wouldn’t think of Kyle as being great at New Hampshire, he does have a win there, and a decent track record for the races coming up.

3. Denny Hamlin- (Down from 1st)- It’s a long, hard fall from two straight wins to 34th. Hamlin showed some mad skill tooling around with a face full of hood. With that said, I fail to understand why the “11” team didn’t do more to prepare for this race than they did. Look it up, Hamlin says this team is focused more on the chase tracks. While he ran afoul of fortune Sunday, I still think with a little more effort he could have gotten more out of this race. Oh well, he’ll be a player at New Hampshire and he’s got other place where he can re-gain seeding advantage.

2. Jimmie Johnson- (Up from 5th)- One friend of mine calls him “The Shark,” as he attacks from out of nowhere to snag the win. Last week, I likened “Four Time” to Freddy Krugger, because just when you think he’s dead….he’s baaaack! you may question his greatness, but never doubt Jimmie Johnson’s drive to be the best. No one outworks him or crew chief Chad Knaus. I know some will cringe, but history will show that Jimmie Johnson is the greatest of our generation, following in the footsteps of Gordon and Stewart- chase, or no chase, wing or spoiler. You may not like it, but recognize the man has earned it.

1. Kevin Harvick- (Up from 4th)- It’s a close call, but Harvick gets the nod, thanks in part to his third place at Infineon, and also in part for his overall steadiness. Happy leads in points, top tens, he has the win at Talladega, and other than a brief late March slide, he’s never really slumped. The solid finish at Sonoma was no surprise here, and the good news for Harvick fans there’s more tracks coming that favor the driver of the “29.”

FALLING OFF THE PACE

Not known as a road course guy anyway, Jeff Burton finished 27th Sunday, spoiling a streak of solid racing…Matt Kenseth and his “17” team are a study in turmoil with yet another crew chief change. Any chance they can talk Robby Reiser back into the job?

READY TO STRIKE

Juan Pablo Montoya- like Kasey Kahne- is showing signs of life, and is mathematically still in it.

DISTANT THUNDER

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s 11th place finish felt like a win for this road course hater…Carl Edwards is still in the top 12 and can rebound, but there’s not much here that inspires confidence…Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer will no doubt look forward to heading east again…Jamie McMurray continues his roller coaster ride, but at least he has good days to go with the bad…it will be interesting to see how Martin Truex, Jr. weighs his desire for revenge on Jeff Gordon with his desire to make the chase…let’s not forget Joey Logano, who sits just ahead of JPM, Kahne and Truex…A.J. Allmendinger has a solid run of top 15s going as well.


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