Looking Great for The Chase
Jimmie Johnson- A+
Johnson is having an old school points system type of year showing consistency and a threat to win every week. The one problem is, it's a completely different points system. But we aren't going to worry about The Chase right now. With 3 wins, 13 Top 5's, and 14 Top 10's Johnson is having an amazing year. Johnson currently holds a 105 point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr for the points lead.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.- A
NASCAR's most popular driver started out hot this year, winning the Daytona 500. He hasn't slowed down since then either. But Earnhardt and his team have had two races this year where it seemed they just weren't quite yet in championship form. Earnhardt was running so bad at Las Vegas he was black flagged for not being able to maintain the minimum speed. Chicago wasn't quite as bad but Earnhardt unraveled and finished 22nd. Earnhardt has 3 wins, 9 Top 5's, and 12 Top 10's. He is 105 points out of 1st place and in 2nd place in the points.
Jeff Gordon- A+
Jeff Gordon started out extremely inconsistent this year and had it been 4 races ago, Gordon would have had a B. But with 2 wins, 3 poles, and 3 Top 5's in the past 3 races Gordon has pushed himself to an A+. The 4 time champion absolutely exploded starting at Infineon Raceway and beat out restrictor-plate king Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. He overcame a bad beginning at Chicago to finish 4th. Gordon has a series high 4 wins, a series high 6 poles, as well as 7 top 5's and 13 Top 10's. He is 3rd in the points.
Tony Stewart- B
Stewart has been on the front of the Sports section more than any other driver this year… but not because of his racing. The most controversial racer since Dale Earnhardt is having a pretty good year racing as well. Stewart picked up his first win of the year at Chicago last week and seems to be getting in mid-season form. If Stewart doesn't get suspended he should be a force for the title. Stewart has 1 win, 6 Top 5's, and 9 top 10's. He is 4th in the points.
Matt Kenseth- B+
Half-way through the season the defending NASCAR champion already has more wins than he did the entire year last year. But he has had a few races where bad luck has struck. Kenseth has 2 wins, 6 Top 5's, and 10 Top 10's. He is 5th in the points.
The 2000 NASCAR champion is the only driver besides Kevin Harvick in the Top 10 in points without a win. Labonte, in his normal form, has quietly moved to 6th in the point standings. He and Elliot Sadler are my dark-horses for the Nextel Cup. With several of his best tracks coming up in the final 10 races we should see a strong surge from Labonte at the end of the year. Labonte has 0 wins, 5 Top 5's, 9 Top 10's, and is 6th in the points systems.
Elliot Sadler- B
I'm trying to think of how many times I have seen Elliot Sadler on TV so far this year. All I can remember is Texas and Martinsville. Sadler won Texas and was the story on the pre-race at Martinsville. But since then very rarely have you seen the Virginia native on TV. Sadler is quietly in the Top 10 in points and along with Bobby Labonte, is my dark-horse to win the Nextel Cup. Sadler has 1 win, 4 Top 5's, and 9 Top 10's. He is 7th in the point standings.
Kevin Harvick- C+
Happy Harvick is back in the Top 10 in the point standings and is fighting hard to stay there. Harvick, who had an amazing rookie year, has faded ever so slightly since then. But he is back on the top of his game and should be in The Chase for the Championship with 10 races to go. Harvick has 0 wins, 3 Top 5's, and 7 Top 10's. He is 8th in the point standings.
Kurt Bush- B-
Kurt Bush has had two great things happen to him so far. The first is he is currently in the Top 10 in the point standings and the second is that he is no longer the most hated driver in NASCAR, that spot is reserved for Tony Stewart. The short-track king won early this year for his only win of the year and has added 3 Top 5's and 7 Top 10's. He is 9th in the point standings.
Ryan Newman- C+
The man who won 8 races this year hasn't been quite so good this year, but has shown fairly good consistency. Newman is fighting hard to stay in the Top 10 but is ready to explode. Newman has 1 win, 5 Top 5's, and 8 Top 10's. He is 10th in the Points system.
Contending for The Chase
Mayfield is experiencing a comeback year for Ray Evernham. He has finished 2nd two times this year and is has a fast car almost ever week. He and teammate Kasey Kahne have had some bad luck come to them when they had their best shots at winning. For example at Dover Mayfield and Kahne appeared to be heading for a 1-2 Evernham Motorsports finish when bad luck struck. Mayfield was caught up in an 18 car wreck and Kahne was swept up in oil from Casey Mears when NASCAR decided not to throw a caution flag after Mears let out oil on the track. He is 11th in the point standings.
Dale Jarrett- C-
Jarrett, who had an embarrassing season last year has improved slightly in 2004. Jarrett, who came close to winning at Michigan and Chicago appears to be getting on a roll. He currently has 0 wins, 2 Top 5's, and 5 Top 10's. He is 12th in the point standings.
Jamie McMurray- C-
McMurray is having the best year of his short career and is challenging for the 10th and final spot in The Chase for the Championship. McMurray finished 2nd at Infineon. He has 0 wins, 4 Top 5's and 9 Top 10's. He is 13th in the points standings.
Kasey Kahne- C+
Kahne, who has been compared to Jeff Gordon, is having a great rookie year. Kahne who has been fast in qualifying with 4 poles has also been fast in the race with 4 2nd place finishes. Kahne has made some rookie mistakes this year but has been amazing at other times as well. He has 0 wins, 5 Top 5's, and 5 Top 10's. He is 14th in the point standings.
Mark Martin- C
The 34 time race winner is having a comeback year. He took advantage of good fortune to win Dover and end his winless streak. Martin is not back to his 2002 season form but him and the Viagra Ford team are coming close to becoming contenders again. Martin has 1 win, 2 Top 5's, and 7 Top 10's. He is 15th in the point standings.
Casey Mears- C
The former open wheel racing driver has shown he can drive stock cars this year as well. Mears, who was runner up to Bill Elliot two years ago at Homestead, has shone that he is no pushover in the NASCAR world. He has 0 wins, 0 Top 5's, and 7 Top 10's.
Rusty Wallace- C-
Wallace finally got a win this season after having his losing streak extend into triple digits. He hasn't come back to his past form yet since switching to Dodge. Wallace has a small chance to make The Chase but never count out the 55 time race winner. Wallace currently has 1 win, 3 Top 5's, and 6 Top 10's. He is 17th in the point standings.
Michael Waltrip- D+
After Waltip was in the Top 10 much of last season he began to fade late last year. That slump carried into 2004 and Waltrip seems like he is beginning to get out of the slump. He just resigned with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and is hoping he can rebound in the 2nd half of the season. Waltrip has 0 wins, 2 top 5's, and 7 top 10's. He is 18th in the point standings.
Sterling Marlin- D
When Sterling Marlin was injured in 2002 he was leading the point standings. He hasn't even sniffed the Top 10 since then. Marlin looks as if he maybe ready to get back up to par for the year. He has 0 wins, 2 Top 5's, and 5 Top 10's. He is 19th in the point standings.
Brian Vickers- D+
Vickers has had a solid rookie year but hasn't been able to contend with Kasey Kahne for Rookie of the year honors. Vickers has 0 wins, 0 Top 5's, and 3 Top 10's. He's 20th in the point standings.