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.
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).