NASCAR Power Rankings: The best of the 2000s


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).


COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s new Cup Series aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses will be tested in competition on a road circuit for the first time this weekend as the tour stops at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

All three major national series will be in action at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn track this weekend. The schedule begins Friday with practice for all three series and qualifying for Xfinity and Trucks.

MORE: Drivers say North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will be challenging

The Friday practice was added for Cup teams because of the new competition package, providing 50 minutes of on-track time for adjustments. Teams also will be racing with a new tire compound this weekend.

Chase Elliott (2021) and Ross Chastain (2022) are winners from the previous Cup races at COTA. Elliott won the inaugural event in a race shortened by rain, and Chastain won after a last-lap battle with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. The victory was Chastain’s first in the series.

A look at Friday’s schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning. Mostly sunny later. High of 87 with an 80% chance of rain.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)