With the retirement of Jeff Gordon, fans have been left to ponder who the 'best driver' in the garage is in modern day times. While opinions will run rampant on this topic, this post is going to try and list the top-5 best driver's in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series right now. Before we get going, I want to discuss two things. First, I put aside any biases I may have had as a fan, and made this list, so I ask you to read and evaluate this list with the same notion. All of us fans have favorite drivers, but we have to look at the big picture and realize that our driver may not be the BEST as of the 2016 season. Secondly, the criteria used to determine this list was based off of current & past success. Considering this list is labeled as the 'best of 2016', the current success of a driver was the first criteria considered. Next, a drivers past success was also evaluated. Considering drivers have down years, their performance can be based on a 'what have you done for me lately' system 100% of the time. Overall, these drivers were picked due to their success during the early part of the 2016 season, along with considering past achievements. While past achievement is weighted heavily, drivers who have struggled recently will more than likely not make the cut (Ex: Tony Stewart). It is in my honest opinion that these five drivers are in fact the cream of the crop in the Cup series today. One last thing to acknowledge is that these drivers are ranked by performance in just the Cup series, lower divisions have no weight in this countdown.
Before we get going, here are a few drivers that just missed the list: Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart
5. Joey Logano: 0 Championships, 14 Wins, 261 Starts (as of April 5th)
Sliced bread himself has finally risen since moving to Penske Racing in 2013. Logano has scored 12 of his 14 wins in the last 3 seasons, which has catapulted him into the top-5 most active drivers. Logano was the odds on favorite to win the championship last season after winning 3 consecutive races at Charlotte, Kansas, and Talladega. Of course, the incident with Kenseth at Martinsville combined with some untimely bad luck kept Logano out of championship contention once again. Even with the downs of last season, Logano finally emerged as a championship contender week in and week out. Considering the #22 is a constant threat each week, Logano makes the top-5 list. There is still much more Logano needs to prove, but his youth and already impressive resume is good enough to put him in the top-5. Logano is the only non-champion on the list currently, but don't be surprised if that changes in the coming years. Logano has won 11 races in the last 2 seasons, which means his peak is just beginning. If I was betting on his future success, I would say Logano hoists the big trophy within the next 3 seasons.
4. Brad Keselowski: 1 Championship, 18 Wins, 239 Starts (as of April 5th)
Bad Brad was originally 5th on my list but when being compared to Joey Logano, Keselowski has to move up a spot. To my suprise Keselowski has 22 less starts than Logano, and has scored 4 more wins. Four wins may not be too big of a deal, but when comparing the top-5 active drivers, even the smallest advantages have to be considered. Another major factor that puts Keselowski above his Penske teammate is his championship from 2012. Brad has been kind of quiet since his championship win over Jimmie Johnson over 3 years ago, but don't be fooled. Keselowski has scored 9 win's between 2013-2016, and has stayed among the Cup series elite. Brad took home is 18th career win earlier this season at Las Vegas, which as locked him into the Chase for the 5th time in his career. Keselowski's consistency and championship win in 2012, put him above Logano for now, but both drivers have much more racing ahead of them.
3. Kevin Harvick: 1 Championship, 32 Wins, 544 Starts (as of April 5th)
Happy Harvick was a lock to make this list, but the biggest question was where he would land. Harvick has been on a tare since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Harvick has always been a top-tier driver since stepping into the #29 car after the death of legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. Winning races has never been a big issue for Harvick, but winning a championship was an obstacle for him in his first 13 seasons. Everything changed in 2014 as Harvick won his first ever Sprint Cup championship. The championship was enough to prove Harvick was one of the best in the garage, but his ranking will bring some debate among die-hard fans. As much as I like Harvick, the decision to put Busch ahead of him was the result of comparing basic statistics. Harvick has started 148 more races than Busch, but has scored 3 less wins. In addition, both have just 1 championship, with Busch running 4 less seasons than Harvick. Lastly, the fact that Harvick is 9 years older than Busch also comes into effect. Busch has much more time to win races and championships, while Harvick may only have another 5 or 6 years. At the end of the day, Busch and Harvick are almost interchangeable, but Harvick will land 3rd in this ranking.
2. Kyle Busch: 1 Championship, 35 Wins, 396 Starts (as of April 5th)
Love him or hate him, Rowdy Busch has talent. Sitting in the stands at Martinsville last weekend and watching Busch lead 352 of 500 laps made me realize how good the 2015 champion really is. Every few years we see a driver hit their peak, and Busch has finally hit his. Kyle Busch has always been an elite contender inside the Cup series, but always fell short when it mattered the most. This was especially evident in 2008, when Busch scored 8 wins before entering the Chase where he had multiple issues inside the Chase ruining any chance to win a title. With these issues behind him, Busch turned a new page in 2015. After sustaining an injury at Daytona that put him out of action for a third of the season, Busch battled back to clinch a Chase spot and eventually won the championship in Homestead-Miami. Busch has now carried his momentum into 2016, scoring five top-5's in the first six races. The new mature Busch seems to be as deadly as ever, which is scary when thinking of the potential of the 31-year-old driver. Busch has many more races ahead of him, and he is almost a lock to win a second championship in the coming years. Busch is willing to do whatever it takes to win each race, which puts him at #2 on this list. Busch looks even smarter and stronger than he did last season, so in other words, get used to hearing the name Busch this season.
1. Jimmie Johnson: 6 Championships, 77 Wins, 513 Starts (as of April 5th)
Jimmie "Superman" Johnson already had fans questioning if he was the best in the series well before his mentor Jeff Gordon decided to call it quits. With Gordon in the commentary booth, there is no longer any doubt that the 6-time champion is the BEST driver in the series today. Many fans will debate on Johnson being ranked over Busch and Harvick, but we have to look at the overall performance of each driver. Johnson who holds the most championships of any active driver (3rd all-time), also leads the series in wins (6th all-time). Though there is proof that Johnson isn't the unbeatable force of nature he was just a few years ago, the #48 is out front almost every weekend on the schedule. Johnson has already claimed two wins this season, continuing the dominance we have seen through his 15-year career. While Johnson has eclipsed the age of 40, there is no doubt that he is far from calling it a career. Johnson said himself that he is in the best shape physically and mentally he has ever been. Projections show that Johnson will more than likely become the third driver ever to win 100 Cup races, and don't be surprised if he eventually wins a record tying 7th championship (maybe even 8). You don't have to agree, but Johnson is clearly the best driver in the Sprint Cup Series right now... POINT, BLANK, PERIOD.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the list of the top-5 drivers in the Sprint Cup Series in 2016!!! As always, let me know what you think!!! Comment below or tweet at me on Twitter at @nascar_opinion (make sure you follow)! Don't be afraid to follow us on Instagram as well at NASCAR OPINION! Hope you have a great day/week ahead!