Series Report Card: Johnson still head of class, Kenseth closing in

Series Report Card: Johnson still head of class, Kenseth closing in

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Published in Sprint Cup Series News
Monday, 11 March 2013 13:47
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Series Report Card: Johnson still head of class, Kenseth closing in Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

I know that it’s still early and you can’t accurately predict how a season will go after only three races, but I feel that the picture is much clearer after three weeks on three different types of tracks.

I’m well aware of the comments made by Denny Hamlin about the Gen-6 car, and yes I understand where he’s coming from, but I really wanted to see the cars at Las Vegas before I jumped to any conclusions on the new car, and I’m glad I did.  My take on the new car is much more positive after Las Vegas than before and I do feel that in time, the Gen-6 car will provide the side-by-side racing that fans enjoy.

Now that I’ve got my weekly Gen-6 comments out of the way, let’s get down to business and talk about something we all love, the racing.

As I alluded to in my opening statement, I feel you can get a pretty good gauge as to what 2013 will bring us after three weeks.  And what is it my gauge is telling me?  That much like last year, the same guys will be battling for the top spots.

If I were to construct my own set of power rankings, it’s obvious that Jimmie Johnson would be atop the list.  Yes he won at Daytona, but it’s his consistency early in the season is what would have me  concerned if I were an opposing driver or crew chief.  We all know what he and Chad Knaus are capable of in the Chase, but it appears that they have that Eye of the Tiger and are on a mission to return to the champions table at the awards banquet.

Statically speaking, Johnson is about as perfect as you can get.  His average starting position, mid-race average, and average finish are all better than 5.0, and his average running place is 4.2.  He’s only led 84 laps but 763 of the 783 laps he’s run this year have all been in the Top-15, and he has a driver rating of 125.4.

Not far behind would be defending champion Brad Keselowski.  While he’s yet to visit victory lane, he’s got a driver rating of 110.5 and has led laps in each of the first three races.  He leads the series in number of fast-laps and has an average running position of 10.066.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would round out my Top-3, but Earnhardt still needs to start closing out races to move up the ladder.  Yes, he’s running better than last year and has an average running position of 9.5, but he needs to lead more laps and show that he can win races before I tag him as a championship contender. 

Matt Kenseth has shown me the most to start the season.  Take away the engine problems at Daytona and it’s possible he has two wins and three Top-5 finishes.  Kenseth is second to Johnson with a 8.2 average running position, and he’s led the most laps of any driver at 128.  I feel that he’s one of the drivers that could go on a run and win multiple races in the first part of the season.

Rounding out the top drivers to this point are Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kasey Khane, and Mark Martin.  You also have to keep an eye out for Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, and Tony Stewart.

While I’m not officially concerned yet, I’m cautiously watching Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. I still feel that both can certainly break through and win races, but I would like to a larger body of work before making that projection.

Of course rankings are very fluid and can change from week to week.  With Bristol ahead this week, many of the top ranked drivers could find themselves with bent sheet metal and out of the race early.

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Chris Hughes

About Me: I'm a high school football journalist turned NASCAR writer.  I'm a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, and have been around the sport of NASCAR since the early 1980's.

I'm retired from the United States Army and disabled veteran.

 

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