The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be heading back to Daytona this weekend to mark the halfway point of the season. It has been an interesting first half of the season that has seen 12 different winners so far.
One of those winners was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who snapped a four-year race winless drought and has been one of the most consistent drivers this season. He sits second in points and has made himself known as a serious contender for this year’s championship.
This week’s rankings we will look at the driver’s season overall to this point and discuss what the future will hold for them.
1. Jimmie Johnson– He only got one lap under his belt to start the season before his day ended with a hard crash during the Daytona 500. However, since then his season has only gotten better. Johnson sits third in the points and has two wins on the season. He may not roll off five straight again, but he is the favorite to win the championship this year. Last week: 1
2. Matt Kenseth– The news of Kenseth leaving Roush at the end of the season was a surprise to most people, but that shouldn’t affect how his team will perform for the rest of the season. They are leading the points and Kenseth has one his best opportunities to win a second championship and his team needs to continue to perform to attract sponsors. Last week: 2
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.– There is a different attitude with Earnhardt this season as he seems more determined than ever. With Junior finally ending that long winless streak, it makes him serious contender for the championship. He has proven that he can go out and dominate races this year. Last week: 3
4. Brad Keselowski– He may be 10th in the points now, but so far he would be the points leader when the chase starts. Keselowski needs to find some more consistency as he only has seven top 10’s in 17 races. However, three of those top 10’s are victories. If he can find ways to turn bad days into top 10 finishes he will be a serious threat this year. Last week: 6
5. Clint Bowyer– A new team for Bowyer has not stopped him from performing well. He is in a solid position to make the chase and will probably be battling for a top five spot in the points at the end of the year. Bowyer will be a driver to watch for next year with the way Michael Waltrip Racing has been performing, but this year has been a success so far as well. Last week: 4
6. Greg Biffle– The Biff has had a tale of two seasons. He started out on fire and was consistently getting top 10’s. Lately his season has been turned upside down. The performances have not been there and mistakes have been made. Biffle still hangs on to the fourth spot in points, but the team will need to find the speed they had at the beginning of the season if they want to be a championship contender. Last week: 5
7. Martin Truex Jr.– Another driver who had a hot start to the season but has faded back some as of late is Truex. He was close to ending his long winless streak at Kansas this year, but finished second to Denny Hamlin. His winning streak is now the longest of all Sprint Cup drivers and the pressure will be on for Truex to finish this season strong. Last week: 8
8. Denny Hamlin– For a while it looked like that Hamlin was going to be the driver to notch his third victory of the season at Kentucky. However, he finished third and moved up to fifth in the points. Hamlin will be a driver to watch for as the chase begins as he has been under the radar for someone who has two wins on the season. Last week: 11
9. Jeff Gordon– It was said by Kyle Petty during the TNT broadcast this weekend that Gordon will have to win two or three races during the last 10 races before the chase if he is going to make it. However, Gordon has been running strong as of late without having any mistakes during the races. This has led to him only being 10 points behind the last wild-card spot. So with just one win, Gordon can be wild car position barring that Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman or Joey Logano don’t win again. Keep an eye on Gordon as he may be closer to making the chase then people might think. Last week: 10
10. Kevin Harvick– Along with Truex, Harvick is the only driver in the top 10 in points who doesn’t have a win this season. The entire RCR bunch has not run well this season, but Harvick has managed to make the best of it. He avoids disaster weekends and keeps the car in one piece. He sits a quiet sixth in the points and needs to start improving his performance during the second half of the season if he wants to win the championship. Last week: 9
11. Tony Stewart– A highly up and down season for the defending champ who now sits ninth in points. He has two wins on the season already and had three straight top three finishes before Kentucky. His season is full of streaks which is how he ended last season. We will just have to wait and see come chase time whether or not Stewart will have a hot streak or not. Last week: 7
12. Kasey Kahne– After his win at the Coca-Cola 600, Kahne was thought to be a lock to race his way into the top 10 in points. However, after that win he had a stretch of bad races. Now with his strong second-place run at Kentucky, this is thought to be another turning point for Kahne. Last week: NR
Follow me on Twitter @kevin_vanpelt10