Hot 20 – The cream of the crop for the Daytona 500

There will be no Daytona 500 victory listed on Tony Stewart’s resume. His recent off-season back injury ensured that. Well, maybe. I cannot help but notice that Michael Waltrip already has a lock on his 29th place in the Great American Race. There is always the chance that, given an opportunity and still with the ability to squeeze into a firesuit, Smoke could be back, at some time.

The hottest 20 drivers heading into Sunday are all locked in. Thanks to some large wallets, even Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch are good to go for the rest of the season, buying up those Charters from Waltrip’s defunct operation.

As far as the debate over the Wood Brothers not getting a Charter, I agree that as they have been running part-time, they should not have received one. I do disagree that B.K. Racing got two, or that Go Fas Racing or Premium Motorsports received any. Instead of the only criteria to receive one being reduced to only those who attempted to quality for the past 108 straight races, maybe they should have taken performance into consideration. I mean, between them, those four operations failed to qualify for 29 events last season. Maybe those Charters should have been held for those who attempted the past 36, AND who were among the Top 36 in owner’s points. Good enough to earn a one-year Charter, something they could regain through a Top 36 finish in 2016.

Thirty-six entries, just like the 36 provisional spots once awarded in past years; awarded based on performance. Qualifying spots should have remained at 43, giving teams seven openings to make it and still be able to challenge for one of those 36 Charter positions. A Charter gives peace of mind, but seven open spots still allow those without a parachute an opportunity to challenge, to compete, to succeed. Just what in hell NASCAR and the members of the Race Team Alliance were thinking when they guaranteed places for at least the next three years while all but closing the door on challengers is beyond me.

At least, we still have the race, albeit minus three entries and the entire backstretch grandstands. I am sure nobody will notice, or ponder the reasons why. Here are our hot 20, based on their 2015 season long performance.

1. Joey Logano – 6 Wins – 1299 Points
Logano arrived in 2014, confirmed that in 2015, and as for 2016….

2. Jimmie Johnson – 5 Wins – 1155 Points
The official standings have him finishing 10th; a rather misleading statistic.

3. Matt Kenseth – 5 Wins – 1046 Points
When Matt says he is going to run a driver down, he just might mean it.

4. Kyle Busch – 5 Wins – 867 Points
His greatest year featured a championship, a busted leg, and a late May start to the season.

5. Kevin Harvick – 3 Wins – 1321 Points
Recorded an average of nearly 36.7 points per race in 2015.

6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 3 Wins – 1198 Points
After just two wins in seven seasons, he has seven wins in his last two.

7. Denny Hamlin – 2 Wins – 1117 Points
Finishing in the season’s Top Ten eight times in 10 tries, is this the year he takes all the marbles?

8. Carl Edwards – 2 Wins – 1108 Points
Wins two and still has to pay for a Charter spot, while BK Racing gets two, after four DNQ’s.

9. Kurt Busch – 2 Wins – 1108 Points
Kurt wins twice and gets nothing while the No. 62 DNQ’s 19 times last season and “earns” one.

10. Brad Keselowski – 1 Win – 1217 Points
Just a single win but a personal high of 25 Top Tens kept him close.

11. Martin Truex, Jr. – 1 Win – 1165 Points
A team that made it all the way to top tier status without the benefit of a Charter.

12. Ryan Newman – 1052 Points
I still think Tony let go the wrong driver.

13. Jamie McMurray – 1052 Points
He might not be great, but you might have to be in order to out-point him.

14. Paul Menard – 972 Points
You hear more about his driving ability and less about his daddy’s cash these days.

15. Aric Almirola – 940 Points
Last year, Petty trumped Roush.

16. Kasey Kahne – 939 Points
In fact, Hendrick’s weak sister would have led the way for Jack’s crew.

17. Clint Bowyer – 891 Points
Teammates once were Waltrip and Truex. Today, he is Michael Annett.

18. Kyle Larson – 872 Points
Maybe the best of the kiddie corps…but Chase probably will contest that thought.

19. Greg Biffle – 869 Points
Damn good driver with what has become a damn poor team.

20. Austin Dillon – 832 Points
Grandpa expects more this time out.

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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