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Looking Forward: NASCAR Power Rankings for 2014 

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Now that another season has passed and Jimmie Johnson has won another championship, the NASCAR fan in me wants more. The end of a season always sucks and now we have to wait until February for Daytona. A lot of teams have undergone personnel changes so 2014 will end up looking much different than this past season. Let’s rank some of the drivers/teams moving forward and have a little fun doing so.

837. Michael Waltrip Racing

Just two and a half months ago MWR was looking like it was going to have two teams in the 2013 Chase and a third team that had just picked up a win at Loudon a few races prior. They were a legit threat to the top tier teams. Now they have lost their main sponsor in NAPA, let Martin Truex Jr. go, and turned their third team into an R&D team. Lesson to be learned… don’t fuck with NASCAR.

497. Rain

A year longer than it should have taken, but in 2014 the Air Titan technology will be at every single race. As long as there is some clear skies at some point on race day, they should get all the races in on their scheduled day.

496. The underpants of the #27 crew after Homestead

No amount of bleach is going to take the shit stains out after this transpired…

495. Random chaos  

I’m going to miss Juan Pablo Montoya. Weird stuff seemed to follow this guy around. Whenever your favorite driver was racing with him, it made you nervous. Especially if your favorite driver was one of the guys in a jet dryer…

Now all we have left is Dale Jr.

120. Travis Pastrana’s NASCAR career

I feel bad for Pastrana, but I also feel like he is giving up. In his first full season in the Nationwide Series, he finished 14th in points with 4 top 10’s in 33 starts. Danica finished 10th in points with 4 top 10’s. I feel like Pastrana has the talent to be in the sport, and he would be good for the sport. I know he lost a sponsor and a lot of that is probably because he only led 5 laps all season, but again he had just 6 previous races under his belt. Danica had 25 Nationwide starts before her first full season. My point is Pastrana should have made more of an effort to try and find sponsorship, he has a place in NASCAR, but apparently doesn’t want it.

119. Jeff Burton’s career

For the most part I like Jeff Burton, but he has been the definition of a mediocre full time Cup driver. Though he had a pretty nice run from ‘97-’01 where he won 17 races and finished inside the top 5 in points in four of those years, he never won a championship. He has raced 20 years in this sport and never tasted a championship. Lately things are getting worst for Jeff. In the past three years he has finished 20th, 19, and 20th in points with an average race finish of 19th. Now he has lost his ride in the #31 and may not find another full time gig. Rumor has it that he has found a new deal, but isn’t ready to announce it yet. I would be shocked if there was a full time job for the 46 year old that hasn’t won since 2008.

118. Mark Martin

I think they only way he is going to race again would be if Tony Stewart’s leg isn’t ready to go at Daytona. But given the competitor Smoke is, that isn’t going to happen. However, he has been signed on to be a consultant for SHR, so I’m happy for Mark regardless and will continue cheering him on. He is an all-time great and now works for my personal favorite guy in NASCAR.

97. AJ Allmendinger

Good for Dinger. After being suspended for violating the drug policy, it took a lot to regain his position in this sport. After so much, he has earned his way back into a full time ride in the #47 machine.

56. #51

Phoenix Racing’s new owner Harry Scott Jr. appeared to be looking for a young talent to fill the seat of his #51 machine this year and that is exactly what he found. 28 year old Justin Allgaier will be stepping up from the Nationwide Series to run full time in the Cup Series. In his five full time Nationwide Series seasons, he never finished outside the top 6 in points. They also were able to pull Steve Addington away from Tony Stewart and the #14, to be Allgaier’s crew chief this season. It would be unfair to expect a big season from him, this year, but I like what they are building, and I think they are very excited about the future.

48. Martin Truex Jr.

While the #78 team has shown that they have what it takes to compete, what a fall Martin Truex Jr. has had despite being basically no fault of his own. You could argue that he has raced his way into the Chase each of the last two seasons while picking up one win last year. Now he is 31 years old with two career wins moving to a single child team. It could be a perfect storm for Marty, or it could be a disaster. He has a ton of talent but has never really delivered on it. Now going to a one car team, anything is possible. He could drive his way back into the Chase winning a couple of races, or he could finish outside the top 25 in points, nothing would shock me this season.

PS. ESPN is so up to date on their NASCAR, that Truex Jr.’s player page has him listed as being the driver in the #8 Freightliner Trucks Chevy… good work ESPN.

33. Smoke’s right leg

It took three surgeries to fix the two breaks in Tony Stewart’s right Tibia and Fibula after this Sprint Car crash…

One surgery to stabilize and clean the wound, one to insert a metal rod into his Tibia and a third two months later to observe and close the wound. As ugly and depressing, for a Smoke fan, as it was he remains on track to return on time for the Daytona 500. Not that he doesn’t show up to win the 500 every year, but after missing the final 15 races, he will be itching to get back into a race car and seeing as to how he has never actually won the Daytona 500, it will be all that more important to him.

22. #42

Just by default this team will be better without Juan Pablo Montoya and his crazy bad luck. But they are replacing him with a budding talent in Kyle Larson. Larson will be just 22 years old come the start of the season. He has totaled six Truck Series races over the course of two years and has already won one of them. Last year he raced full time in the Nationwide Series and finished 8th in points. This year he may be a little out of his league, but he will be up for Rookie of the Year, and seems to have a bright future in that #42, which will certainly be a change of scenery for us fans.

21. #31

I’ve already touched on how Jeff Burton has struggled, now they will be replacing him with Ryan Newman. While Burton hasn’t won since 2008, Newman has won once in each season since 2007 except for 2009 in which he had his best overall points finish, over that stretch. While RCR hasn’t found a title contender, they may have someone that can race their way into the Chase. Despite five mediocre years at SHR, this is an upgrade for RCR, just not a long term solution for this struggling team.

13. #17

The 2013 Rookie of the Year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., hardly burst onto the scene this past season. But he did grab a pole, finished inside the top 5, and finished inside the top 20 in points. However, the reason I am high on him this coming season is that he will be reunited with Mike Kelley, his crew chief for his two Nationwide Series championships. He is barely 26 and still getting better. I expect him to compete for a spot in The Chase this coming season. He may even win a few races. They could even end up being like a Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe combination.

12. #3

What a big time rookie class this is. This 23 year old has already won a championship in the Truck Series (2011) and the Nationwide Series (2013). Now he will be driving the legendary #3 machine. There are huge expectations for this kid and a lot of pressure on him. But he may be the next big thing in this sport. The one thing he needs to figure out, is how to actually win. He won the Nationwide Series Championship this year by being consistent as hell, not exactly a bad thing, not by winning races, in fact he didn’t win a single one. Also in 2011 he won just two Truck Series races. It’s probably a good problem to have, but it could suggest an inability to close the deal, like me in college. He should have a long career at this level, but the question is if he has what it takes to actually win at this level, especially with the pressure of #3 on his shoulders.

11. Carl Edwards

What do we make of this 34 year old? Sure he has not one but two finishes as the runner up to the champion. But it doesn’t seem as though he has been able to bounce back after being completely beaten up by Tony Stewart in the 2011 Chase. Time and time again Carl has proven himself to be one of the best in the sport. In his first full season (2005) he won four times and finished 3rd in the final standings. After a winless 2006 Carl bounced back with three wins and a 9th place finish in 2007. Then he rode some of that momentum to a monstrous 2008 in which he won a staggering nine races and tallied 19 top 5’s in 36 races. However, he ran into some bad luck and sort of choked away a championship by finishing 29th and 33rd in back to back Chase races. Other than those two he had Chase finishes of 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 4th, and 1st. For those of you keeping track, that is an average finish of 2.25… decent. But Carl has struggled with consistency especially from year to year. After winning three of the final four races of 2008, Carl didn’t win another race until he won the final two races of 2010. Then as the trend continues he rode that momentum into the next season before he lost the championship and media battle with Tony Stewart and he has been kind of off the rails since. He missed the Chase in 2012 and finished last out of Chase drivers this past season. While he did record two wins this past season, he really struggled in the Chase. Maybe he has another great season in him, but his biggest seasons have come on the heels of great finishes to the season and he didn’t have a great finish to this past season and that is me being nice.

10. Joey Logano

In his first season with Penske in the #22 machine Joey Logano finally took a giant step forward. Previously to this past season his best points finish was 16th back in 2010. This year he wound up finishing 8th thanks to an amazing stretch run. After back to back 40th place finishes at Daytona and Loudon, Joey logs ran off a run of 11 top 10’s in the final 17 races. He won one of them at Michigan and tallied six top 5’s out of his 11 top 10’s. After those back to back 40th place finishes Logs fell to 18th in points 36 points behind 10th place in the standings. If it weren’t for a 37th place finish at Chicagoland to start the Chase, Logs might have had a chance to compete for the title. He is still just 23 years old and getting better. With a former champion in Brad Keselowski as his teammate, the sky may be the limit for this kid. Joe Gibbs may have landed a replacement in Matt Kenseth that competed for the title this year, but he may end up regretting the decision to replace Logs once it’s all said and done. But he is going to need to stop being a punk. He still has some things he should be paid back for. Maybe he escaped them this year, but things have a way of evening out. Which is exactly why I think he may regress a bit next year before really making a push to become a legit championship contender. It’s also the reason why I bumped this next guy up ahead of Logs.

9. Kasey Kahne

In each of his two seasons at Hendrick, Kasey has won two races and made the Chase. In his first season with them he finished a career best 4th in the standings. Last year, he had so many things go wrong for him that this may be a great year for his luck to turn. He had numerous mechanical issues, he was taken out by Kyle Busch a few times and just ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time most of the season. He was 14th in top 10’s this season, good for just 14th overall. Maybe it was bounce back from his 4th overall finish the year prior, but things can’t possibly continue along this road next season. If he is good enough to race his way into the Chase this season, he could be a contender to win the whole thing next season.

8. Jeff Gordon

It is becoming more and more difficult to accurately gauge Gordon’s abilities. In a sport that is starting to see a big time youth movement Jeff still manages to post top 10 seasons. Maybe he is over the hill and has already won his final championship, but how can you count out a guy who has only finished outside the top 10 in the final points standings twice (11th in 2005 and 14th in his rookie campaign back in 1993)? He still has a knack for stepping up when he needs it the most and you could argue he has had some of the worst luck in the sport in the past few years. Maybe we have seen the end of an all time great’s best but at 15-1 to win next year’s championship, for a guy that is at least in contention every single year is a gift. He has shown time and time again that when he needs to win he can deliver, it’s just a matter if he can be consistent enough and if he can get his first win early in the season instead of needing his first win late just to get in. Since his first career race came back in 1992, it seems like he is a dinosaur, but he is only 32 years old. Something tells me he has at least one great season left in him. It may be this coming year.

7. Kyle Busch

Seemingly every year Kyle comes into the season as one of the favorites to win the championship. And every year it seems as though he is a threat to win almost every race. But he never seems to be consistent enough to deliver a championship. Kyle’s greatest asset is his biggest weakness. If he doesn’t win a race he is disappointed in himself. That drive for perfection will win him a bunch of races, but ultimately it causes him to press a bit too much when he shouldn’t causing him to wreck out of several races a year. He is a great bet on a week to week basis but as far as him being 6-1 to win the championship? … total stay away. One would think he will eventually get over the hump and win a championship, but until he matures a bit more it’s not going to happen. He is however only 28 years old. He has plenty of time to get his head screwed on right. We may be a couple more years away from it, but it should happen, eventually.

6. Brad Keselowski

Another guy you never would have guessed is as old as he is. He will be turning 29 nine days before taking the green flag at the 2014 Daytona 500. Not that he is old by any stretch of the imagination but how many people would have guessed that he was older than 25? Brad had one of those hangover seasons after winning the 2012 championship. While he wasn’t all that bad his season was marred by pre/post race penalties that never really allowed him to get any positive momentum. His one win this past season didn’t come until the October Charlotte race. The consistency wasn’t there and the genius that is Paul Wolfe may have over thought some things throughout the season. But there remains something to be said for a guy who has made the Chase two out of his four full seasons, especially since one of them resulted in a championship. There may not be another driver as excited as Brad to start with a clean slate in 2014, well maybe with the exception of…  

5. Denny Hamlin

I have a few thoughts about Denny. First off, maybe it’s his boyish looks, or maybe it’s that his first full season was in 2006, but the fact that he is 32 years old is stunning to me. I never would have guessed that he is five years older than his teammate Kyle Busch. However, I don’t think that is anything to worry about. The only thing I’m worried about is that Vegas is as on board with Hamlin in 2014 as I am, as his odds to win the championship are just 8-1.

Hamlin has really had an underrated career. While most of us remember him heading to Homestead with a chance at knocking off Jimmie Johnson and earning his first Sprint Cup Championship, only to lose and seemingly lose his mojo. He has earned more than that from the fans and the logical thinkers and clearly Vegas agrees. In his seven full seasons, Hamlin has never finished worse than 12th in the final standings. In fact 12th in 2007 was his only finish outside of the top 10. While many think that him losing to Johnson in the final race really hindered his next few seasons, I would disagree and I have the stats to prove it. Certainly the following season (2011) he didn’t appear to be himself. But he did manage to win once and finish 9th in the standings. You could argue that his loss at Homestead really took the wind out of his sails that season. But in 2012, he bounced back winning a total of five races and tallying 14 top 5’s in 36 races. He ended up finishing 6th in points thanks to a rough Chase, but ultimately he was back where he wanted to be. In fact he led more laps in the 2012 season than he did when he finished 2nd with eight total wins back in 2010.

Now this past season was lost thanks to a back injury suffered at the hands of Joey Logano. He never really seemed right this year and it happened at such a crucial part of the season. While he only missed four races, he was clearly never the same after the injury. Now he conquered some of his demons by winning the final race of the season at Homestead, narrowly escaping his first winless season, and has something to build off of heading into next year. He should have his confidence back and he should have his back back.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Of course it would sound insane to say that a guy that finished 5th in the standings and went winless in 2013 may be the driver carrying the most momentum into next season, but it may be true. Of course you can argue Jimmie Johnson and you would be right, but he doesn’t really rely on momentum. Remember heading into this year’s Chase when Johnson had finishes of 40th, 36th, 28th, and 40th in the four races leading up to NASCAR’s playoffs? Then he flipped the switch and dominated the Chase en route to his sixth championship. My point is the #48 doesn’t need momentum, they have made a habit of creating their own luck. However, not every driver has that ability, definitely not Dale Jr., who has a habit of finding bad luck. But if you look at the close to his season, you could argue there has never been more of a reason to believe in Junior’s chances at bringing home his first title. After finishing in 35th at Chicagoland in the first race of the Chase, Jr. posted finishes of 6th, 2nd, 8th, 15th, 2nd, 8th, 2nd, 4th and 3rd and he led multiple laps in all but two of those races. He had several chances to win this year, especially late in the season, and in typical Jr. fashion was unable to seal the deal. But that #88 team should be able ride that momentum into a big 2014 season. Usually “public teams” hold no value when it comes to betting, especially future bets, but 15-1 for the #88 to win the 2014 championship feels like an investment that could provide you with some extra cash for the 2014 holiday season.

3. Matt Kenseth  

Matt set out to do all he could to give Johnson a run for the title at Homestead. He locked up the extra bonus point for leading the most laps before the sun started to set, changing the track. He was able to rebound and finish 2nd but obviously it wasn’t enough to top the #48. I don’t want to say Matt had a lucky season, because he earned every bit of his 2nd place finish, but he succeeded at tracks he is traditionally bad at all season long. At least once he was gifted a win by Jimmie Johnson when the #48 spun late on a restart at Kentucky. It’s tough to say if his great runs at tracks that don’t particularly suit his driving skills, can be attributed to his new team or just straight up luck. Maybe JGR had a massive impact on his ability to succeed at tracks he doesn’t really enjoy and maybe it was all a farce. The only way to tell is to watch the upcoming season. He deserves to be ahead of Kyle Busch on the favorite power rankings, yet is 7-1 to win the 2014 championship to Kyle’s 6-1. However, both odds feel too low to get in on now. I need to see if Matt can replicate what he did this past season before I am going to put money on him to win the next Sprint Cup Championship.

2. Stewart-Haas Racing

While I really wanted to bump SHR ahead of the #48, it just wouldn’t be right and it would make me look like a total homer. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of Smoke but I can’t remember a more anticipated debut from a whole racing team since Dale Jr. debuted with Hendrick. The Stewart fan in me can’t help but think that the 2013 Chase may have looked much different if Stewart never had his leg broken. Enough looking at the past though, because the future's so bright at SHR. They replaced Ryan Newman after five mediocre seasons in the #39 machine with Kevin Harvick, one of three drivers that had a chance to win the Championship in the final race of the year. Then thanks to the wallet of Gene Haas they added former Cup champion Kurt Busch who was able to race his way into the Chase on a single car team this season. Suddenly SHR went from a team with one legit title contender and a contender to make the Chase with one of the best drivers on the planet in Kevin Harvick and a guy that won the 2001 Cup Championship in Kurt Busch. All of a sudden SHR has three teams with a legit shot at winning the 2014 Sprint Cup as well as a money machine in Danica Patrick. SHR should certainly be a threat to JGR for the second best team and may end up making Rick Hendrick regret giving SHR their engines.

PS. The odds for SHR drivers to win the 2014 Championship are loaded with value. Tony Stewart is 15-1. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are 18-1.

1. #48

What a year from the #48 team. They got back to their championship winning ways by earning their sixth Sprint Cup Championship, putting them only one behind the likes of “The King” Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. There is a legitimate chance that we are all witnessing the greatest NASCAR team in the history of the sport. Jimmie may be 38 years old but there are absolutely no signs of slowing down. While 2007 ended up being his best statistical season, you could make an argument that this year was even more impressive. In 2007 he won 10 times, while tallying 20 top 5’s in 36 races and led 1,289 laps. This past season he won six times but probably should have won another six times. At Dover he had that mistake on the restart that quickly was met with a rule change. At Michigan he blew a tire late. At Kentucky he spun on a late restart. At the Brickyard his pit crew failed him by having a pit stop that lasted at least five seconds longer than expected. At Charlotte a phantom debris caution came out late with him in the lead, causing him to come down pit road. While he took four tires a handful of other drivers took just two. He should have been able to drive past them all but was unable to recover after a slight hiccup on the restart. Then at Talladega he lead the most laps but couldn’t seal the deal with a victory. If you are keeping track, that could have made for 12 wins, 20 top 5’s and 27 top 10’s while leading over 2,000 laps for the second time in his career.

You know they want to get to eight championships and cement their names in the record books and in the minds of the fans, as being the greatest ever. With how well they have been running, ten championships may not be out of the realm of possibility. Who knows how long until age starts catching up with this team but their track record says it all right now; six championships (including five straight), and two runner ups in his twelve full time seasons. By the way the only time he has finished outside the top 5 in the final standings was in 2011 in which he finished 6th.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

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