Grading the top 10 after Darlington

Grading the top 10 after Darlington

Grading the top 10 after Darlington
Sporting News

Here's our weekly grading of the top 10 drivers in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points standings. All race and performance references are from Sunday's Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway.

1. Jeff Gordon, A;
1,881 points. Team 24's gamble paid off, which reminded me of Tony Stewart's win at Kansas last year. Question: If this were a Chase race, would the 24 have stayed on the track?

2. Jimmie Johnson, C; 1,650. I know Johnson posted another terrific finish, but I can't get past the 48's decision to pit with the lead. Question: If the 24 weren't running in clean air at the end, would it have made it to the finish? I don't think so.

3. Matt Kenseth, A; 1,582. Kenseth started 31st and finished seventh. His average start through 10 races is 23.7; his average finish is 8.5. Question: Would he have more than one victory if he didn't have to spend so much time and energy fighting through the field every week? Still, the cat is third in points.

4. Denny Hamlin, C; 1,539. Hamlin's grade dropped a letter for each time the front tire changer dropped lug nuts. Hamlin has led 611 laps this year, second only to Gordon's 674. Gordon, though, has three wins; Hamlin has none. Hamlin deserves much better. Question: Who has led 27 laps in 2007 but has a win? Answer: Keep reading.

5. Jeff Burton, B; 1,486. The answer is Burton (who finished 10th Sunday), and he led one lap when he won at Texas -- which was the last time he finished in the top 10. Burton started 34th but was able to work his way through the field. He must be getting used to that. His past four starts have been from 34, 39, 42 and 31, although the 42 at Talladega was by design.

6. Tony Stewart, A;
1,375. Smoke really wasn't in the center of the action. He didn't lead a lap, and his average running position was 13th; only Burton's 18th was lower among drivers in the top 10. But you know what? Stewart finished sixth, and that's what matters.

7. Kurt Busch, B; 1,325. Busch finished 12th, fading at the end -- he was third with 37 laps to go. Still, his finish was strong enough to move him two spots higher in the points standings.

8. Kevin Harvick, B; 1,315. An untimely caution flag buried the No. 29 two laps down. He spent the rest of the race climbing back to the lead lap and ultimately finished 17th on the lead lap. Nice effort.

9. Clint Bowyer, A; 1,302. Bowyer got his first pole and responded with a ninth-place finish aided by the No. 07 team's best day on pit road -- Bowyer's pit crew earned him 16 positions in the pits.

10. Carl Edwards, A; 1,291. Edwards had fun at his favorite track, starting fourth and finishing fifth. He might have had more fun if not a for a commitment-line penalty that forced him to restart 25th on Lap 189. Still, Edwards made up the ground for his best finish since November 2006 at Phoenix.

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