Each week, I will rank the top 20 drivers based on overall performance during that week’s race combined with their position in the overall standings. Consideration will also be given to driver’s who demonstrate consistency over an extended period of time during the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup series season.
- Jimmie Johnson- NASCAR Immortality awaits Jimmie Johnson, as his voyage for a record tying 7th NSCS championship is set to begin on Sunday afternoon in Daytona. If you’re looking for a favorite in Sunday’s Daytona 500, don’t look past the fact Johnson has won the last two points paying races run at Daytona. Merely something to think about.
Jimmie Johnson is going for back to back Daytona 500 wins, and for his 3rd victory overall in the 500. The last driver to win back to back Daytona 500’s was Sterling Marlin back in 1994, 1995
2. Denny Hamlin- The renaissance of Denny Hamlin has been absolutely remarkable. Denny’s recent resurgence has him believing he can win the Daytona 500 even if the statistics say he can’t. For all you stat nuts out there don’t hold your breath.
Hamlin has never finished higher than 4th (2012) in 8 career Daytona 500 starts.
3. Kevin Harvick- Considered to be the best driver currently on the NSCS tour to never win a championship, Kevin Harvick recognizes driving for SHR can put that dubious distinction to rest for all eternity.
Harvick has two top 5’s and 4 top 10 finishes in four of the last six Daytona 500’s
4. Kyle Busch- It’s about this time every year when we start questioning the merit of Kyle Busch’s capability to win a NSCS championship. Each year we cross our fingers hoping this is the season he finally seals the deal, and as each season concludes we’re left far more bewildered than satisfied. Come on Rowdy stop toying with our emotions!
Kyle’s best finish in the Daytona 500 was 4th in 2008
5. Matt Kenseth- Barring a complete letdown from last season’s phenomenal debut for Joe Gibbs Racing expect the silent assassin to be right in the thick of the championship battle, only this time he may be the one standing tall in the end.
Kenseth will be going for his 3rd Daytona 500 victory on Sunday afternoon.
6. Brad Keselowski- BK’s 2012 championship celebration at Homestead Miami arguably was the most entertaining in the sport’s sixty five year history. Is it me or does that seem like eons ago? We need to see more of the championship winning Keselowski in 2012, rather than the exasperated young man we saw for most of 2013.
BK’s best Daytona 500 finish was 4th in 2013.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Drama never seems to elude Dale Jr that’s undoubtedly the reason why he’s overwhelmingly the sport’s most popular driver. Little E is likely to be bombarded with a ridiculous amount of questions regarding his crew chief situation past this season , and mix in the lingering deliberation of whether or not he can win it all. In reality that’s Dale Jr’s 2014 season. Is that enough drama for you peeps?
Dale Jr has finished 2nd in 3 of the last 4 Daytona 500.
8. Tony Stewart- Smoke’s won about every race you can run at Daytona, but for whatever reason or another has never won the Daytona 500. Hot off the comeback trail smoke’s hoping for an ending often only found in fairy tales.
Stewart’s best Daytona 500 finish was 2nd in 2004.
9. Austin Dillon- Capturing the pole for the Daytona 500 is a pretty big deal, especially for a rookie driver piloting a car that bears the number of NASCAR’s greatest driver. For a moment in time Austin Dillon conjured up fragments of Daytona’s storied past. Come Sunday Dillon can pay homage to the late great Dale Earnhardt by capturing the checkered flag in the sports most celebrated race.
Dillon finished 31st in his Daytona 500 debut last February.
10. Martin Truex Jr. – Last season Kurt Busch, and Furniture Row Racing built a formula for success that defied all odds. This season Martin Truex Jr anticipates more of that same good fortune to shine down on him all the way to the chase. Sitting on the outside pole for the Daytona 500 can do wonders for your confidence.
Truex Jr. has finished no better than 6th place (2010) in nine career Daytona 500 starts.
11. Ryan Newman- A change of scenery can do wonders for a drivers overall achievements, but on the other hand change sometimes equals complete disaster. Which category will the Newman/ RCR marriage fall into? Hmmm…
Newman has two top 5 finish at Daytona since winning the Great American Race in 2008.
12. Greg Biffle- It’s fair to say the Biff’s career is at a stalemate heading into his 13th season of NSCS competition. Easily this could be the year that defines the Biff’s status as a full-time driver on the NSCS tour beyond 2014. Biffle’s inability to receive a contract extension from RFR serves as a potential sign for his long-term future, but a spectacular first half in 2014 could be a potential game changer.
Biffle has finished a career best third twice (2010, 2012) in the Daytona 500.
13. Joey Logano- Joey Logano’s 2013 season turned out to be his career best, in the process silencing his critics. Those who doubted he’d ever be a relevant driver in Sprint Cup were completely out of their minds. Don’t you dare call him Casey Atwood anymore! With that being said will we see the darker Joey Logano emerge once again or the return of sliced bread?
Logano’s career best finish in the Daytona 500 is a 9th place finish in 2012.
14. Carl Edwards- Cuz enters 2014 facing a similar situation as his RFR teammate Greg Biffle as it pertains to his contract status with RFR beyond 2014. I’m absolutely certain he drives the #99 car past this season, but sometimes you just never know. Hey! Wasn’t Carl supposed to be the RFR driver that bolted for JGR before Matt Kenseth did? Look what Kenseth has done since.
Edwards’s career best Daytona 500 finish was 2nd in 2011.
15. Jeff Gordon- So Jeff Gordon says he will retire if he wins his 5th NSCS championship, really I’m not sure if he has a better chance of winning a 5th or racing for five more years. Maybe he’ll consider retirement if he wins a 4th Daytona 500?
Gordon last won the Daytona 500 in 2005.
16. Jamie McMurray- It’s a sad state of affairs that Jamie Mac has lived in the shadow of his teammates for a better part of his career. Now with the arrival of the magnificent Kyle Larson it appears as if Mac will play second fiddle yet again, but wait not so fast all you doubters out there… Gut feeling this is the year Jamie Mac kicks it up into high gear and makes us all forget about his wunderkind teammate. Just you wait and see!
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Coming off his big Rookie of the year winning season, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a lot to prove on the track in 2014. He’s much more than just Danica’s other half you know!
18. Marcos Ambrose- At the crossroads of his NSCS career Marcos Ambrose has publicly challenged himself to do better in 2014. Now the only thing he has to do is go out and battle to maintain his future at RPM on a weekly basis. Sounds easy enough right?
19. Paul Menard- Seriously Paul would it kill you to show a little emotion. I can respect your whole ice man persona, but it’s alright to smile when you accomplish something of importance. Keep that in mind Paul should you win a race this season.
20. Brian Scott- RCR’s 4th driver to enter the Daytona 500 is there for only one good reason, and that’s hopefully to steal the biggest race of the year from the cup regulars. How ironic isn’t it always the Cup regulars pickpocketing the NNS regulars. A change of pace never hurt anyone.