With 36 points races and 41 weeks on the calendar, the extensive NASCAR Cup season finally came to its long-awaited conclusion at Homestead, Florida. Denny Hamlin had the championship in hand; all he needed to do was finish ahead of Jimmie Johnson and the Sprint Cup trophy was finally his for the taking.
But that fairy tale ending wasn’t to be, a bitter pill to swallow for a man who’ll scratch his head long into the offseason. A combination of driver errors and bad pit decisions ultimately doomed the No. 11 car, resulting in a 12th-place finish for Hamln and losing the title to who’s now become the reigning five-time champ. Kevin Harvick chased Johnson to the line, but it wasn’t enough, as they both watched Carl Edwards take the checkered flag for a second straight victory that left him fourth in the points. Harvick, the regular season champ, wound up third, two points behind Hamlin and a mere 41 from a first series title in his own right.
Of course, the No. 48 taking home the hardware doesn’t guarantee them the No. 1 spot with the Frontstretch. Was that comeback performance enough to impress our voters, moving him into the top spot of our poll despite one of his weaker seasons in recent history? And for second, was Hamlin able to stay ahead of Harvick following a mistake-filled Sunday? A little further back, where did Joey Logano and Juan Pablo Montoya, favorites to make the Chase in 2011, wind up in our rankings after their exchanging of “pleasantries” ruined both their days? Check out this week’s top 15 Power Rankings to see if your driver finished the season on a high note… or if they wound up buried in the sand.
|*FRONTSTRETCH TOP 15 POWER RANKINGS: NOVEMBER 24th*|
|*Rank*||*Driver (First Place Votes)*||*Votes*||*Last Week*|
|*1*||*Jimmie Johnson (8)*||198||2|
|Memo to the NASCAR Community: It isn’t because The Chase tracks are his best. It’s because this team is the best.|
|Can whine all he wants about the speeding penalty, but there was no way he could finish far enough ahead of Johnson at the end to win the title anyway.|
|*3*||*Denny Hamlin (2)*||167||1|
|He may have been new Denny for most of the season, but was the same ol’ Eeyore for the last two races when it counted the most.|
|Assuming the “Guy to knock off Johnson” role for the second time of his career. Let’s hope no one tells him it’s the third time that’s the charm…|
|Things to do in 2011: 1. Get braces off. 2. Do better in Chase. 3. Stop that stupid Breakfast with The Biff segment.|
|A winless season? Let the “Put Reiser Back As My Crew Chief, Stat” campaign inside the No. 17 camp begin.|
|*7*||*Tony Stewart*||105||T – 12|
|Sure was omnipresent in the No. 48’s celebration Sunday at Homestead. Feel free to start whatever wild unfounded offseason rumor you wish…|
|Would haves, could haves, should haves … the bottom line is Bowyer doubled his career win total this Chase, gained a pit crew that’s motivated to show up their old driver Kevin Harvick and had arguably the most impressive performances of his Sprint Cup career to date. Who cares about 150 points?|
|Was excited as hell about finishing 13th … until he heard Lance McGrew was his crew chief next year. At least there’s a heck of a dartboard game at the Martin household going on right now; guess whose picture is sitting on the bullseye?|
|Juan Pablo vs. Joey in a cage match? We’d pay to see that … except the over/under on how long it lasts would be only about 15 seconds. Wonder who wears the firesuit in the Montoya household?|
|Will be paired with Alan Gustafson in 2011. Wow. Look for him to find the kind of rebirth that Mark Martin enjoyed in 2009.|
|M&M’s melt in your firesuit if the flames get big enough.|
|Surprisingly survived at RPM when so many around him didn’t; remember, just four months ago this guy was the one trying to fight the King at Daytona with his fists, not with bank lenders.|
|He’s looking like the most likely candidate to unseat Jeff Burton for 12th in the Chase next season.|
|*15*||*Kurt Busch*||54||T – 12|
|Much like an old maligned Mopar, fell apart a little at a time as the Chase went along. By Texas, he looked like a ’71 Dodge Dart with a broken torsion bar.|
|*Dropped Out*: Jamie McMurray (14).|
|*Also Receiving Votes:* Jamie McMurray (46), Jeff Burton (45), Aric Almirola (42), Martin Truex, Jr. (36), Kasey Kahne (36), Juan Pablo Montoya (27), Paul Menard (16), Brad Keselowski (16), Regan Smith (15), David Reutimann (13), Bill Elliott (10), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (6), David Ragan (2), Marcos Ambrose (2).|
|*Writer Voting Panel:* Phillip Allaway, Brock Beard, Thomas Bowles, Bryan Keith, Tony Lumbis, Mike Neff, Vito Pugliese, Kurt Smith, Garrett Horton, and Matt Taliaferro.|
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