Top 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers of 2015 - Part 1

The Motorsport.com team have come together to determine who the ten best NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers were during the 2015 season.

Top 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers of 2015 - Part 1
Restart action
Victory lane: race winner and 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota celebrates with wife Samantha
Race action
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Race winner Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets and Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports celebrates
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wins, while Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota spins
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Media attention around the car of Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with team owner Rick Hendrick
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet takes the win
Winner Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

The panel

Jim Utter (JU) - NASCAR Editor

Lee Spencer (LS) - NASCAR Editor

Nick DeGroot (NDG) - News Editor

Charles Bradley (CB) - Editor-in-Chief

David Malsher (DM) - U.S. Editor

Valentin Khorounzhiy (VK) - Editorial Assistant

Pete Fink (PF) - Motorsport.com Germany U.S. Racing Expert


Welcome to Part 1, where we will take you through which drivers slotted in between positions six and ten on our list. (CLICK HERE for Part 2)

But before we get to the actual countdown, here's a look at the honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut for the final ten.

Honorable Mentions

Denny Hamlin: The only driver to win multiple races but in the end fail to make it onto our list, Hamlin ran another solid season, but unfortunately it was yet another year where he was remembered more for something that happened off the race track than on it.

Brad Keselowski: If he doesn't wreck at Martinsville, he likely makes the final four. If he doesn't get passed with less than five laps to go and wins Texas, he makes the final four. 2015 was the story of 'what could' have been for the former series champion.

10.) Carl Edwards - Joe Gibbs Racing - 5th in points, 2 wins

JU: Got off to a slow start but seemed to turn the corner in time for the Chase. Apparently there were still lingering issues as Edwards is getting a new crew chief for the 2016 season.

NDG: Considering this was a brand new team for JGR, Edwards' 2015 season was impressive. It was a slow start, but there some flashes of brilliance throughout their debut season.

CB: His big move to Joe Gibbs Racing was pretty impressive, given his long association with Jack Roush’s team. Judge him on next year’s campaign.

9.) Kurt Busch - Stewart-Haas Racing - 8th in points, 2 wins

JU: Second only to brother Kyle in comeback stories. Kurt Busch began the season suspended for his involvement in a domestic violence dispute with his ex-girlfriend. He, like his brother, wasted no time upon his return winning a race and qualifying for the Chase.

LS: Mere inches kept Busch from a potential spot in the Champion’s Round. Still, he ran three fewer races than most of the field and only eight drivers scored more cumulative points.

NDG: Kurt's impressive comeback story was overshadowed by brother Kyle's, as was his successful season, due to his blistering fast teammate in the No. 4. Suspended for the first three races with a cloud of turmoil surrounding his name and yet, he still overcomes it all and scores two wins before season's end.

CB: On the back of all the off-track drama in his life, the elder Busch bro put the baggage behind him with some tidy performances.

DM: Off-track distractions resolved, Kurt Busch was solid, consistent and swift, but needs to step up his game to match the speed/consistency combination of his SHR teammate Harvick.

PF: Remember Phoenix? A jumped-start away from the Final Four. Very solid performance, and, don't forget, he also missed three races.

8.) Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Hendrick Motorsports - 12th in points, 3 wins

JU: There were highs and lows for Earnhardt in his first season working with crew chief Greg Ives but the sport's most popular driver once again made the Chase and is enjoying his most consistent run of success since joining Hendrick Motorsports.

LS: Oh the one that got away. It’s unlikely Junior slept well after Talladega. But knowing what he accomplished with rookie crew chief Greg Ives offers the No. 88 team promise for 2016. 

NDG: Don't let his final position in the championship standings misguide you in regards to how well Earnhardt ran this year. The debacle that was the Talladega finish eliminated the No. 88 from the Chase, but after seeing his performance in the following round, one has to wonder how different his 2015 story would have played out if fate was just a couple feet kinder in Alabama. 

CB: If I’d offered at the start of the season that he’d score as many wins as Kevin Harvick, you’d have taken the bet, right? NASCAR’s most popular beard-wearer looks more and more convincing at Hendrick, and is a contender once again.

DM: He certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by his teammates as he has been occasionally in years past, but he was as lucky to win at Phoenix as he was unlucky to miss out at Talladega and therefore his chance to progress in the Chase. I still think there is a Sprint Cup title in Junior, so long as he can maintain his motivation at the age of 41.

VK: In a year to forget for most of HMS, Earnhardt was, in all likelihood, the team's strongest driver - and particularly excelled when the package seemed at his best. His Chase was a slapstick comedy of ludicrously poor luck and was fittingly capped off with a ludicrously lucky win at Phoenix, a cruel reminder of what might have been.

PF: Best plate-racer once again. Needed just a few yards to not be kicked out of the Chase in Talladega.

7.) Jeff Gordon - Hendrick Motorsports - 3rd in points, 1 win

JU: A storybook final season for Gordon. He makes the Chase without a win, then inherits a victory at Martinsville when Matt Kenseth wrecks leader Joey Logano. That victory provided Gordon the chance to win one final championship before his NASCAR driving career ended.

LS: Four-time delivered the win at Martinsville Speedway in order to transfer to the Champion’s Round. No, he didn’t go out on top but Gordon will be hard to replace. 

NDG: We didn't get the fairytale ending to Gordon's storybook Chase. The team's regular season struggles only amplified the impact his postseason success had on us all. It will be a futile task to find another driver in the short term with the ability to reach the level of respect and admiration the driver of the No. 24 attained.

CB: His last hurrah was a great effort, but his underlying powers have faded to the point that he’s timed his retirement to perfection. What a driver, what a gentleman, what a career – what a great TV pundit he’ll make.

DM: He went out on a high, despite not winning the title, and that does help salve the wounds from the three years he lost the title to the strange Chase system. But consistency alone is not what should win racing titles, and I think seventh would be a more accurate representation of his season.

VK: The rose-tinted glasses of the retirement year aside, Gordon was, quite simply, not that quick in 2015 - and it was not impossible to imagine him missing the Chase entirely. The No. 24 got better when it counted, but this was never going to be a championship year.

PF: To keep a long story short: Delivered the best emotional moments of 2015.

6.) Jimmie Johnson - Hendrick Motorsports - 10th in points, 5 wins

JU: He began the season looking like a serious contender for Sprint Cup championship No. 7 but was eliminated early in the Chase. He rebounded late in the year with another win at Texas to hopefully provide some momentum into next season.

NDG: You know you're good when a five-win season isn't good enough. The No. 48 had no trouble finding Victory Lane, but this new Chase format has thrown the six-time champions off for the second consecutive season, shockingly eliminated in Round 1.

CB: Scored as many wins as KyBu, but fell foul of the Chase playoffs that were seemingly devised to thwart him.

DM: Is it a mini crisis when JJ fails to win the Sprint Cup title for two straight years? On his day, there are few who can match Johnson, and his robbing Keselowski of the win in Texas showed supreme opportunism and also his still-intense desire. Tenth in the points is not representative of Johnson’s season, nor ability.

VK: Even his biggest fans will admit this wasn't Johnson's strongest season. His pace seemed a bit erratic and there were a couple of uncharacteristic, unforced errors. That being said, the early exit from the Chase was not his fault in the slightest and five wins is nothing to scoff at.

Ranking Table

*Each position inside the Top 10 is worth a single point on the chart

Drivers Utter Spencer DeGroot Bradley Malsher Khorounzhiy Fink Points
Jimmie Johnson 5th 10th 6th 5th 4th 8th 7th 31
Jeff Gordon 7th 8th 7th 10th  7th 9th  5th 27
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6th 6th 8th 9th  9th  6th 8th 25
Kurt Busch 9th 7th 9th 7th  10th  -- 9th 15
Carl Edwards  10th  9th  10th  8th  6th  -- -- 12
Brad Keselowski  -- -- -- -- 5th 7th -- 10
Denny Hamlin -- -- -- -- -- 3rd 10th 9

 

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