NASCAR Power Rankings: The best of the 2000s

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With the Cup Series idle last weekend, the regular weekly version of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings stayed frozen.

The Rankings never rest, however, so this week we present a detour of sorts – the Top 10 Drivers of the 2000s.

There are many ways to rank athletes, of course. Numbers sometimes tell the story. As former NFL coach Bill Parcells said: “You are what your record says you are.”

But alongside the numbers there are other measurements – skill, persistence, dependability, resilience and, for drivers, that thing they have on the last lap that separates winning from second place.

Here’s a look at our top 10 for the 2000s (so far):

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, the 2000s

1. Jimmie Johnson – Boy, does he have numbers. Eighty-three wins and seven championships (five in a row) since winning for the first time in 2002. He’s a no-brainer at No. 1 and would be in the top five all-time.

2. Tony Stewart – Stewart won three championships and 46 races over the course of the 2000s and visited victory lane at least once from 2000-13. A racer’s racer, especially with a chip on his shoulder.

3. Kyle Busch – Often described as one of the best wheelmen to pass through these parts, the younger Busch brother has checked off two championships and 60 victories.

4. Kevin Harvick – Harvick made himself “Happy” through most of the 2000s, recording 58 wins and a title. He should have won more championships, but the cards often fell the wrong way when he was in the hunt.

5. Jeff Gordon – Many of Gordon’s highlights came in the 1990s (33 wins from 1996-98, for example), but the new century found him still a top threat. He won six races and his fourth career title in 2001 and had 10 more multiple-win seasons in the 2000s.

6. Matt Kenseth – Kenseth won the last “points-system” championship (in 2003). The ultimate points racer, he remained a title threat throughout most of the rest of his career, totaling 39 victories in the 2000s.

7. Brad Keselowski – When Keselowski got his shot at Cup, he wasn’t shy, crashing Carl Edwards on a frantic last lap at Talladega in 2009 to get his first win. A championship followed in 2012, and Keselowski continued to log victories for Team Penske.

8. Kyle Larson – Once Larson found his footing, he was a rocket. A driver who would rather be rampaging across short tracks across the country, he has transferred success on that landscape to the big time.

9. Denny Hamlin – He’s dancing perilously close to joining that group of drivers (see: Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Junior Johnson) who excel but stop short of winning a championship. But 48 victories speak loudly.

10. Joey Logano — Few expected Logano to be a slow starter (he was nicknamed “Sliced Bread,” after all), but once he got rolling at Team Penske, he began stacking wins and added a championship in 2018.

On the edge of the list: Chase Elliott, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr.

Watch some of the drivers on this list add to their resumes in Sunday’s Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway (5 p.m. ET, NBC).