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Hot 20 – The season’s best driver does not always claim the Cup championship

There is something about having a single win and getting into the Chase. It gives everyone a chance, one that for some would have pretty much been gone in the wind. Kurt Busch is having about as much luck as Danica Patrick right now, but he has his win. If Danica could just get one, somehow, somewhere, she also could launch herself amongst our contenders. It is that simple. Heck, even Josh Wise could make some noise if he could win, and work his way into the Top 30. Everyone in the Top 36, in fact, still has hope, and that might be a good thing. If not, then the debate as to who will be our new champion would be down to talking about no more than nine or ten drivers.

Using today’s point system, but giving the winner 25 points instead of just 3, the Hendrick duo of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson rise to the top. Yet, should Matt Kenseth take the prize at Pocono on Sunday he would take over the top rung no matter what the other two boys did. Winning has its privileges, and while it is not as generous or as forgiving as the official method, this does offer a truer reflection of who is hot and who is not.

If you are a sponsor of Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, or Kevin Harvick, you should be pleased. At the one-third mark of the season, those drivers and the aforementioned trio have been the most relevant each week, with a nod to Denny Hamlin. He remains close even after having to take an extra week off. Yes, that win does help.

Being the best over the course of the season has never ensured a driver of a championship, no matter what points system or method has been used in the past. Jimmie Johnson (2004), Ryan Newman (2003), Jeff Gordon (1996), Rusty Wallace (1994), Bill Elliott (1985), Darrell Waltrip (1984), and David Pearson (1973) are just the most recent examples. Come to think of it, I wonder how we would look at Newman today had his 8 wins trumped the single victory of Kenseth in determining the crown that season? How would our perceptions have changed in regards to the likes of Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Terry Labonte, and Benny Parsons?

While we will watch each week to see if a win can salvage somebody’s season, to witness which 16 will be eligible for the title, and who gets eliminated from contention over the final ten events, we should try and remember the drivers who gave us cause to watch each and every week. Here are the hot 20 who have done just that this season.

(Win bonus increased from 3 points to 25)

Driver – Points (Wins)
1 Jeff Gordon – 483 (1)
2 Jimmie Johnson – 480 (2)
3 Matt Kenseth – 463
4 Carl Edwards – 460 (1)
5 Joey Logano – 458 – (2)
6 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 451 (1)
7 Kyle Busch – 433 (1)
8 Brad Keselowski – 426 (1)
9 Kevin Harvick – 417 (2)
10 Denny Hamlin – 401 (1)
11 Kyle Larson – 377
12 Ryan Newman – 374
13 Brian Vickers – 366
14 Paul Menard – 362
15 Austin Dillon – 358
16 Greg Biffle – 357
17 Clint Bowyer – 350
18 Kasey Kahne – 349
19 Aric Almirola – 344
20 A.J. Allmendinger – 337



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Ron Thornton
Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.


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