Top 10 NASCAR Cup drivers of 2016

Who were the most impressive NASCAR Cup drivers from the 2016 season?

Top 10 NASCAR Cup drivers of 2016
Restart: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota lead
Race action
Restart action
Race action
Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota, crash
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, crashed car
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Race winner Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Champion Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2016 Champion and race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Champion Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Motorsport.com's US team came together to compile a list focusing on just that -- The best drivers, based on their on-track performances during 2016. Each person put together their own list, detailing why said driver deserved their place in the countdown.

Contributors:

Lee Spencer - NASCAR Writer

Jim Utter - NASCAR Writer

Nick DeGroot - News Manager

David Malsher - US Editor

Tim Southers - NASCAR PR Manager

Each ranking was worth a set amount of points with first being 10, second worth nine, third worth eight, and so on. Through that, the below list was created.

10). Chase Elliott - Hendrick Motorsports (4 points)

Jim: Even though he didn't record his first win this season, that should in no way detract from his remarkable accomplishments in his rookie season.

Nick: Don't allow the fact that he didn't win fool you about the kind of rookie season he had. Chase did the No. 24 proud, scoring ten top fives and leading over 350 laps during his rookie campaign.

Tim: Although he didn't score a win, the Dawsonville, Ga. native won ROTY honors and challenged several times throughout the season.

9). Kyle Larson - Chip Ganassi Racing (9 points)

Nick: Larson finally broke through that glass ceiling, earning his first Cup win and making the Chase. He nearly finished the year off with another victory in the season finale, ending up ninth in the championship standings. It makes you wonder what he would be capable of in Hendrick-level equipment.

David: I was tempted to give P10 to Kurt Busch, but teammate Harvick’s performances too often put the older Busch into perspective. For me and I’m sure many others, Larson is one of the main focal points on any tight track where driver ability can compensate for car deficiencies – which makes it ironic that his first win came at Michigan. For what he did with what he had, Larson was outstanding this year.

Tim: The young driver finally scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win and was a challenger in several races down the stretch. This success in 2016 should carry over into next year and this was the season the former NASCAR Drive for Diversity participant gave the program its first victory in the top level of NASCAR.

8). Brad Keselowski - Team Penske (14 points)

Lee: Keselowski wasn’t nearly as dominant as Truex but suffered the same fate at Talladega. Having his teammate go on to win the race was salt in the wound. Still, four wins and an average finish of 11.5 was respectable. 

Jim: Tied for the second-most wins (four) and the second-most top-fives, but failed to make the Championship 4.

David: A strange year for the 2012 champ. Four wins and only two finishes outside the Top 20 through the first 26 races made him my title favorite heading into the Chase, but it’s almost as if the No. 2 team had played all its high cards by then and had nothing extra up its sleeve. However unfortunate BK was in the Talladega crapshoot, his demise there should not have spelt the end of his title challenge.

7). Denny Hamlin - Joe Gibbs Racing (19 points)

Lee: Hamlin’s three wins were the most he’s scored since 2012. His average  qualifying effort of 6.3 was a series’s best. His average finish of 11.8 was marred by four DNFs but fifth on the Cup tour.

Jim: A solid season for Hamlin, which began with a Daytona 500 victory. He and his No. 11 team struggled down the stretch when it needed consistently strong results the most.

Nick: It was a great season for any driver associated with JGR and Hamlin was no exception, coming out of the box swinging with a spectacular Daytona 500 victory. He won three times in the regular season, but faltered when it mattered most -- During the Chase.

6). Martin Truex Jr. - Furniture Row Racing (23 points)

Jim: When Truex and his No. 78 team were on their game, no one could stop them - except themselves. In the end, that may have been the only thing to prevent Truex from challenging for the title.

Nick: Even thought it felt like the universe was against him, Truex still managed to win four races and was the favorite to take the title before the Chase. No driver even came close to his laps led tally at 1,809. But misfortune struck again at Talladega with an ill-timed engine failure. He ended up 11th in points, but had fate been kinder, we could have been calling him champion right now.

David: Despite a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing, there is still a perception of FRR as an underdog team, and some of Truex’s unlucky breaks this year served only to foster this feeling. However, despite the admirable four wins – and the No. 78’s Dover performance was surely the most dominant of the season – technical infringements cost the team much of the objective sympathy vote.

5). Carl Edwards - Joe Gibbs Racing (31 points)

Jim: Edwards wasn't nearly as flashy or dominant as the others in the Championship 4, but until his late-race wreck with Logano, he was just as capable of winning the title as anyone else.

David: He is still not quite the prolific winner I expected he’d be ever since watching him score four wins in his first full season at Cup level.  But there were days this year when Edwards looked unmatchable in terms of pure pace, when only other drivers’ opportunism on restarts bumped him down the order.

Tim: He won three races this year and literally did everything he could to go for the win at Homestead resulting in the accident with Logano that ended his chances for the title.  A popular driver who I feel will use this finish to drive him next year and be the odds-on favorite to win the crown next year.

4). Kevin Harvick - Stewart-Haas Racing (36 points)

Lee: Harvick posted stout numbers — four wins, 17 top fives, 27 top 10s and 1,384 laps led. But the Closer couldn’t close at Phoenix.

David: The 2014 champ’s occasional frustrations with his pit crew were often understandable but it would be wiser, as well as more charitable, to vocalize them in private. But while he’s a hard personality to like (at least from afar), Harvick is an easy driver to admire and I was gutted for him that two consecutive DNFs in the Chase effectively ended his hopes of regaining his title.

Tim: The veteran won four races and repeatedly showed down the stretch of the Chase why you can never count him out. A surprising performance at one of his best tracks - Phoenix International Raceway - kept him out of the final four, but he and crew chief Rodney Childers enjoyed another solid season.

3). Joey Logano - Team Penske (42 points)

Lee: Logano fell short of winning the championship again but with three wins and the second-best average finish he has the consistency to eventually break through.

Jim: If Logano was 10 years older, it would still be way to early to rule out his chances to close the deal and win a championship. And that's a scary proposition for his competition.

David: Given how highly I regard Brad Keselowski, the best compliment I can pay Logano is that I came to expect to see the No. 22 ahead of the No. 2 at any given race this year. It’s hard to say he’s become de facto team leader, given Team Penske’s notoriously even-handed approach to racing, but he continues to endorse The Captain’s faith in him. He will be champ one day, I’m certain.

2). Kyle Busch - Joe Gibbs Racing (43 points)

Jim: Last year's champion showed his performance was no fluke because his season was shortened by injury. He was one of three drivers (Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. were the others) to lead more than 1,300 laps this season.

Nick: Although not nearly as impressive as missing a third of the season with a serious leg injury before winning it all, Busch's season was still impressive. He may not have defended his title, but he defended his worthiness to be champion.

David: It seems a lot (though not all) of Kyle’s internal furies have been quelled since winning the title last year, and his driving seems to be all the better for it. He still gets mad when his car falls off the pace, but he controls his emotions to bring it home. I’d argue that not only did he drive better this year than last, he could scarcely have done more to defend his title.

1). Jimmie Johnson - Hendrick Motorsports (48 points)

Lee: After winning a seventh title and the most races (5) of the season, it’s hard to argue against Johnson being on top. 

Jim: It's only a matter of time before he breaks the record of seven Cup titles that he now shares with Earnhardt and Petty. A legitimate argument could be made that he's the best there ever was in NASCAR.

Nick: One seems to forget that Hendrick Motorsports was struggling as a whole throughout the middle part of the season, but as always, Johnson and company stepped up their game when they needed to. Winning a seventh championship is a feat we may not say again in our lifetime, but the fact that the No. 48 did it with three generations of cars and is through all variations of Chase formats is am accomplishment that stands alone.

David: Ranking the champ only third on my own list is not to say he didn’t deserve the title; the No. 48 team played the game perfectly throughout The Chase. But judged across the whole season, I felt there were too many days in the previous 26 races when Johnson was quite anonymous, as if the early wins guaranteeing his place in the Chase had dampened his competitive fire ... Albeit only temporarily!

Tim: While he didn't have the most dominate season, the veteran got it done when it mattered. Johnson, who struggled along with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates throughout the summer, showed once again that his team can get it done when it matters most. The end result - a seventh title.

Complete lists

Driver Name Lee Spencer Jim Utter Nick DeGroot David Malsher Tim Southers Total points
Jimmie Johnson 1st 1st 1st 3rd 1st 48
Kyle Busch 3rd 3rd 2nd 1st 3rd 43
Joey Logano 2nd 4th 3rd 2nd 2nd 42
Kevin Harvick 4th 2nd 5th 4th 4th 36
Carl Edwards 5th 5th 4th 5th 5th 31
Martin Truex Jr. 6th 6th 6th 8th 6th 23
Denny Hamlin 8th 7th 7th 6th 8th 19
Brad Keselowski 7th 8th 8th 7th X 14
Kyle Larson X 9th 9th 10th 7th 9
Chase Elliott X 10th 10th X 9th 4
Matt Kenseth 9th X X 9th X 4
Kurt Busch 10th X X X 10th 2

 

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