Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top-15 Up & Coming Drivers

The NASCAR Cup Series has the week off, so the Power Rankings turns its focus this Wednesday (April 27) towards a different subset of drivers: the ones trying desperately to make it there. There are rising stars from the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series, K&N and ARCA all trying hard to climb the ladder and reach the pinnacle of their chosen profession, battling for the best future opportunity while simply trying to survive through a trying 2011 for developing talent.

Some of them have been competing at their current level for some time while others are gradually making their way up the ranks after proving themselves in each series along the way.

So which one of them, underdogs and favorites alike, has made the biggest impression so far this season? Is it Richard Childress’s grandson, fast-tracking his way towards an automatic Sprint Cup ride? Could it be Johnny Sauter, looking for one last chance at redemption after a failed Cup attempt at RCR and Haas CNC? Or is it Red Bull Racing’s newest young prodigy, tearing apart the Truck Series while keeping his eye on future openings elsewhere? Check out the Power Rankings this week to see if your driver made the list or if they still have some work to do to get their name out there.

How the Rankings Are Calculated: Frontstretch does our power rankings somewhat similar to how the Associated Press does them for basketball or football – writers on staff will vote for the top 20 on a 20-19-18-17-16-15… 3-2-1 basis, giving 20 points to their first-place driver, 19 for their second and so on. In the end, Mike Neff calculates the points, adds some funny one-liners and… voila! You have one batch of Power Rankings to serve to our fans.

Rank Driver (First-Place Votes) Points Previous Rank (March)
1 Cole Whitt (2) 106 T-4
Even if he was doing terrible, either Kasey Kahne‘s “lame duck” effort or Brian Vickers‘s pending free agency would make him a “lock” to run Cup in 2012. The fact he’s running better than Scott Speed or AJ Allmendinger at this stage of the game (five races, five top-15 finishes) is simply an added bonus.
2 Austin Dillon 103 2
Already showing glimpses of ability that make him better than his grandfather’s talent behind the wheel… although it surely doesn’t hurt to have his grandpa’s money behind those efforts.
3 Justin Allgaier (2) 102 1
In some ways, running better than he did with Penske but falling victim to what happens in his series when you get ditched by a big team: “no one cares” syndrome.
4 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 97 T-4
Making it harder and harder for Jack Roush to solve the “Who Will Replace David Ragan Sweepstakes: Stenhouse or Trevor Bayne?” Too bad UPS has the right answer under wraps; jumping ship before they make a choice.
5 Timothy Peters 90 T-15
The quiet contender, liked by nearly everyone from his crew to fellow competitors. The only problem comes with the small group that won’t be satisfied with a man of few words: those guys with the money trying to sell products and sponsor race teams.
6 Trevor Bayne 83 3
He has all of the off-track qualities to be a star; now, if he can start winning on tracks that don’t require restrictor plates.
7 Ty Dillon 71 NR
He and Austin are like the Kurt-Kyle Busch combo, Part II; the only things missing are the trashing of other competitors, ditching interviewers and acting like jerks on the radio portion of their personality. Didn’t someone tell them they have the right to be entitled? Oh, that’s right, humility is a good thing.
8 Aric Almirola 57 9
Got a question for Kelley Earnhardt. Kelly Bires lost this ride while Aric keeps it because…?
9 Parker Kligerman 39 NR
With the right amount of sponsorship, he might be able to do better than his boss in the Blue Deuce. Bad Brad better be careful.
10 Brian Scott 35 NR
Better step it up while he’s got a ride in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment or he’ll be looking for work driving something much slower.
T-11 Josh Wise 34 NR
Needs to realize he was picked up from the poorhouse; he’s at the JR Motorsports palace now. No need to hold out that Folgers can and race at 80% anymore.
T-11 Clay Rogers 34 NR
This ain’t the Pro Cup Series but Rogers continues to surprise this season.
13 Matt Crafton 32 13
Once again, he’s a Truck Series championship contender. But if he doesn’t want to be a lifer in this series, may we suggest winning races, like, now? He’s not getting any younger.
T-14 Reed Sorenson 30 6
The perfect example of a lucky Casey Atwood… someone who got to party, racing on the side through his entire 20s instead of just one year.
T-14 Ricky Carmichael 30 NR
The GOAT continues to learn more about this four-wheeled racing stuff and just might surprise with a win this season.
Dropped Out: Ron Hornaday Jr. (7), Johnny Sauter (8), Todd Bodine (10), Jason Leffler (T-11), Elliott Sadler (T-11), Landon Cassill (14), James Buescher (T-15)
Also Receiving Votes: Ryan Truex 29, Craig Goess 23, Sergio Pena 22, Coleman Pressley 22, Darrell Wallace Jr. 22, Jeremy Clements 20, Johnny Sauter 18, Steve Wallace 16, Nelson Piquet Jr. 15, James Buescher 15, Jason Leffler 12, Elliott Sadler 10, Kimi Raikkonen 10, Brad Sweet 10, Landon Cassill 10, Max Papis 9, Michael Annett 8, Ron Hornaday Jr. 6, Andy Moffitt 6, Chase Elliott 6, Todd Bodine 5, Matt DiBenedetto 5, Brandon McReynolds 4, George Brunnhoelzl III 3, Ryan Blaney 3, Johanna Long 2, Greg Pursley 2, Danica Patrick 1, Nick Hoffman 1, Steve Arpin 1, Maryeve Dufault 1
Writer Voting Panel: Tony Lumbis, Mike Neff, Bryan Davis Keith, Phil Allaway, Tom Bowles 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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