Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 15 After the 2011 Daytona 500

The 2011 season is underway, and it started off with a Cinderella story for the ages – or at least for the last nine years. Not since Jamie McMurray came out of relative obscurity to win his second race at Charlotte has someone won in their Cup career as quickly as Trevor Bayne did in taking the Daytona 500. Mind you, while they both share the speed record now there’s a big difference between the two situations.

In McMurray’s case, he was in a car that had won two races earlier that season and had been leading the points shortly before he got behind the wheel. Bayne took the checkered flag first for a team that hadn’t won a race in almost 10 years and had nearly gotten out of the sport just three years ago. So if the rest of the year comes close to living up to the standard set by this 500 – a race that included a record 74 lead changes – well, then expect 2011 to be a racing season none of us will soon forget.

See also
Ford's New Star? Wood Brothers Savior? 20-Year-Old Trevor Bayne Fits the Bill

So after the complete Mixmaster that was the first race on the new Daytona pavement – just three of last year’s Chasers finished inside the top 10 – the standings are a complete gallimaufry that may take months to shake out with the new points system. With that as a backdrop for this week’s Power Rankings (and now that you’ve looked up a word in the dictionary) know the jumbling carried over right into our pollster’s voting ballots.

How badly did Jimmie Johnson’s customary slow start cause him to fall through the standings? Could last year’s regular-season darling, Kevin Harvick keep a place in the poll after a 42nd-place finish in the Great American Race? Did Bayne’s win give him the momentum to start the season where you’d never expect: in position number one? And did his biggest helper, Bobby Labonte, get rewarded for his first top-five performance since 2006?

Check out the Power Rankings this week to see if your favorite driver was able to succeed in the two-car tangos Sunday (Feb. 20), moving up in the rankings or if they fell to the bottom after their engine done blowed up.

Rank Driver (First-Place Votes) Votes Last Week
1 Carl Edwards (4) 135 3
Was running second coming down to the last lap at a plate track and didn’t get 10 feet off the ground and into the fence at the finish. Does that get a bonus point under this new system?
2 Kurt Busch 112 5
Would never have guessed that A) he’d pick Regan Smith, of all people to work with at the 500. That’s like getting nine “nos” before the prom and settling for what’s left; B) he has three second-place finishes in the 500, seeing as he didn’t win a plate race until last Saturday’s Shootout; C) in the last laps, without a drafting partner he’d try and turn to his evil twin, er brother for help.
3 Trevor Bayne (2) 104 NR
More “Aw, shucks” than Edwards ever dreamed of being. Let’s hope we never uncover another side to him.
4 Kyle Busch 99 6
Looks like a lot of people wanted to steal M&M’s on Sunday, because this guy’s front end looked like it had been through 500 laps at Bristol by the end of the race.
5 Mark Martin 83 NR
Just your typical come from three laps down to line up in the second row on the final restart performance for Martin in the Daytona 500. Way to totally not bring attention to it, FOX.
6 Bobby Labonte 77 NR
The last time Bobby came that close to winning and didn’t, he kicked the side of his car. Luckily, this time it’s only David Ragan kicking himself after that one.
7 Juan Pablo Montoya 76 NR
Did you realize that he finished sixth in the Daytona 500? We didn’t, either. Although when you think about it, any package where you have to bump people repeatedly is perfect for him…
8 Tony Stewart 75 13
With 22 different leaders in this year’s 500, it is hard to believe that Stewart’s name is not on that list.
9 Clint Bowyer 69 8
Heartbreaking ending for him after leading over 30 laps in the 500. But hey, we can look at it this way considering recent history: At least he didn’t blow up and finished on all four wheels.
10 David Gilliland 67 NR
What were the Vegas odds on a Bayne-Edwards-Gilliland trifecta? Ask the guy who just bought an island in the Caribbean Monday; he should know.
11 Jimmie Johnson (1) 64 1
Twenty-seventh or worse in five 500s in a row, so don’t write him off for title number six just yet.
12 Paul Menard 61 NR
Led 11 laps in the Daytona 500. We’re amazed the world hasn’t ended yet. Then again, there’s still time ’til Sunday.
13 AJ Allmendinger 60 NR
You know The King is going to be on AJ now to get the No. 43 back into victory lane; he can’t let the Pearson/Wood Brothers camp one-up him now, right?
14 Regan Smith 57 NR
The best two weeks of his Sprint Cup career, yellow line notwithstanding.
15 Denny Hamlin 40 4
Didn’t finish on the lead lap but fared better than almost all of the Chase contenders from last year. Good thing Daytona’s a horse of a different color.
Dropped Out: Kevin Harvick (2), Jeff Gordon (7), Greg Biffle (9), Jeff Burton (10), Matt Kenseth (11), Jamie McMurray (12), Ryan Newman (14), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15)
Also Receiving Votes: Ryan Newman (36), Kevin Harvick (35), David Ragan (30), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (26), Bill Elliott (24), Robby Gordon (22), Jeff Gordon (19), Jeff Burton (19), Jamie McMurray (19), Greg Biffle (16), Matt Kenseth (11), Terry Labonte (10), Steve Wallace (7), Joey Logano (6), Kasey Kahne (4), Brian Vickers (3), Martin Truex Jr. (2), Brian Keselowski (2)
Writer Voting Panel: Phil Allaway, Thomas Bowles, Bryan Davis Keith, Tony Lumbis, Mike Neff, Vito Pugliese and Garrett Horton

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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