Archive for Thursday, November 25, 2004

Rating the field

Ranking the season’s top racing teams, drivers

November 25, 2004


When That's Racin' ranks NASCAR Nextel Cup teams each week during the season, we're trying to rank how the teams are doing right then.

It's the same story when we do the season's final rankings. What you see below is not done with the idea of rating the teams' entire seasons. The points standings do that quite effectively, we think.

Our purpose is to consider how strong the teams are as they conclude the year, with a dash of consideration about how they might fare when the 2005 campaign gets under way.

And to show you just exactly how inexact this exercise can be, we also show how we ranked that team in our preseason forecast. For more on the final rankings, visit

  • 1. Kurt Busch (car No. 97): This team played the game set forth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup better than anybody else. Six of its 10 top-five finishes came during the 10 Chase races. Preseason ranking: 8.
  • 2. Jimmie Johnson (car No. 48): Twenty of this team's 23 top-10 finishes were top fives, and eight of them were victories. The team didn't win the title, but Johnson gets our vote as driver of the year. Preseason ranking: 2.
  • 3. Jeff Gordon (car No. 24): Never quite capitalized on opportunities to take charge in the title Chase. The pit stop mishap that prevented a Darlington win looms especially large. Preseason ranking: 6.
  • 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (car No. 8): When this team hits it right, it has shown a tendency to blow away the field. To win the championship, though, it has to learn how to better salvage less-than-perfect days. Preseason ranking: 7.
  • 5. Mark Martin (car No. 6): He's fought valiantly in many championship battles without bringing home the spoils. Next year gives him a final sho. Preseason ranking: 11.
  • Car owner Jack Roush, left; driver Kurt Busch, center; and crew
chief Jimmy Fennig celebrate their Nextel Cup title.

    Car owner Jack Roush, left; driver Kurt Busch, center; and crew chief Jimmy Fennig celebrate their Nextel Cup title.

  • 6. Jamie McMurray (car No. 42): His season proves just how important the first 26 races are under the Chase format. Preseason ranking: 10.
  • 7. Tony Stewart (car No. 20): This team was at least part of the mix at Homestead, even if it couldn't close the deal. Preseason ranking: 4.
  • 8. Ryan Newman (car No. 12): The preseason pick for the title fell way short because the car fell out early in nine races. Preseason ranking: 1.
  • 9. Matt Kenseth (car No. 17): Started with a bang, winning two of the year's first three races. After that? Not much. Preseason ranking: 5.
  • 10. Elliott Sadler (car No. 38): Accomplished a lot getting into the Chase. Next year's job is to back up that success. Preseason ranking: 23.
  • 11. Kasey Kahne (car No. 9): The year's top rookie showed great promise. All but one of his top 10s was a top five. Preseason ranking: 24.
  • 12. Greg Biffle (car No. 16): Has to be considered a top-10 candidate for 2005, but needs consistency to get there. Preseason ranking: 16.
  • 13. Joe Nemechek (car No. 01): Six top-10 finishes in the final 10 races. That's something to build on for this team. Preseason ranking: 27.
  • 14. Jeremy Mayfield (car No. 19): Had 10 fewer top-10 finishes than McMurray's team, but somehow still made Chase. Preseason ranking: 12.
  • 15. Bobby Labonte (car No. 18): Five top fives and 11 top-10 finishes? Expect some offseason changes with this team. Preseason ranking: 9.
  • 16. Rusty Wallace (car No. 2): Has his "Last Call" coming up in 2005, and it'll be a surprise if he makes the top 10. Preseason ranking: 13.
  • 17. Kevin Harvick (car No. 29): OK, so we were way off here. Still can't help but think this team's better than it ran. Preseason ranking: 3.
  • 18. Carl Edwards (car No. 99): This team would be a little higher if its 2005 sponsorship picture wasn't so murky. Preseason ranking: 17.
  • 19. Dale Jarrett (car No. 88): Got off to a great start by winning the Bud Shootout, but couldn't return to Victory Lane. Preseason ranking: 14.
  • 20. Jeff Burton (car No. 30): Moved up five spots in the driver points after joining this team. Preseason ranking: 29.
  • 21. Casey Mears (car No. 41): Hints of potential show it's possible '05 could be a breakout year for this young driver. Preseason ranking: 32.
  • 22. Ricky Rudd (car No. 21): Rudd's reunion with crew chief Michael McSwain rejuvenated this team. Preseason ranking: 22.
  • 23. Michael Waltrip (car No. 15): Word in the garage is that Waltrip has to make 2005 top 10 to keep his job. Good luck. Preseason ranking: 15.
  • 24. Robby Gordon (car No. 31): Will be tackling a tall mountain with his intentions to drive for his own single-car operation. Preseason ranking: 21.
  • 25. Sterling Marlin (car No. 40): The few highlights this team experienced this season might mean lower expectations for 2005. Preseason ranking: 19.
  • 26. Terry Labonte (car No. 5): Let's hope Labonte's part-time participation over the next two years isn't just ceremonial. Preseason ranking: 20.
  • 27. Brian Vickers (car No. 25): The rookie demonstrated how big of a leap it can be transitioning from the Busch to the Cup series. Preseason ranking: 18.
  • 28. Brendan Gaughan (car No. 77): Will Gaughan lose this ride to Travis Kvapil, who edged him for the 2003 Truck title? Preseason ranking: 25.
  • 29. Jeff Green (car No. 43): Eleven did-not-finishes hampered this team's efforts to show improvement in 2004. Preseason ranking: 31.
  • 30. Scott Riggs (car No. 10): If his team gives him time to develop, there's reason to think Riggs can be a success. Preseason ranking: 30.

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