With 2019 almost over, what a better way to get ready for the 2020 NASCAR season than going over the 10 best drivers of the decade. The 2010s have been big for the cup series with old faces winning, and some new ones making a name for themselves. However, only 10 made the cut.
10. Jeff Gordon
Hendrick fans are already tweeting at me nasty, especially big time Jeff Gordon fans. Look, Jeff Gordon was my favorite driver too ever since my interests hooked into NASCAR. However, Gordon struggled for the first three years of the decade. So why is he on this list if he struggled?
Well, the reason is that he bounced back for the most part in 2011 after going winless in 2010. He had wins at Phoenix, Pocono, and Atlanta, where he surpassed Darrell Waltrip for third on the all time win list beating Jimmie Johnson to the line. his was Gordon’s 85th career victory.
2012 and 2013 saw regression in the 24 team. In 2012, he won a rain shortened Pocono race because of Matt Kenesth and Brad Keselowski wrecking, and won the season finale race at Homestead. However, that year saw struggle and controversy.
With a few laps in the race, both Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer were racing inside the top ten. Bowyer just touched Gordons back bumper, putting Jeff in the wall. With two to go, Gordon retaliated, wrecking Bowyer who was fighting for a championship, while collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process. That then led to a crew fight and fines and suspensions all around.
2013 was a continuation of 2012, Gordon would not win any regular season races and technically missed the chase. Technically because due to the fines with Team Penske and Front Row Motorsports trying to swap positions, and spin gate with Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing, Gordon was put in as a 13th member in the chase while Martin Truex Jr was kicked out. Gordon would win Martinsville and finish six in the points.
2014 saw Gordon have his best NASCAR season since 2007. He won four races and was consistent throughout the season. However, in the Texas fall race, his tire was cut down by Brad Keselowski, causing him to spin out. Then, the fight began between him, Keselowski, and the crews.
He would just miss the round of four after Ryan Newman did a bump and run to Kyle Larson at ISM. Gordon finished fifth in the standings, his best points paying finish since 2009 where he finished third.
Jeff announced his retirement after the 2015 season. 2015 was another step backwards. However, Gordon would make it into the round of four with a big win at Martinsville. That was his 93rd cup series win. He would finish fifth at Homestead, and third in the standings.
Gordon came back from a few races in 2016, subbing in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordons highlights were at 13th in the Brickyard 400 and a sixth place finish at Martinsville. He is now a color analysis for NASCAR on Fox.
In his career, Gordon finishes third on the all time win list, won 93 cup series races, 325 top fives, 477 top tens, 81 poles and an average finish of 12.5. Gordon did not win a championship in the 2010 era, but won three two decades ago (1995, 1997, 1998), and one last decade (2001).
9. Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth started the 2010s slow going winless in 2010. His best finishes that season were seconds at Texas and Atlanta. He may have not won a race, but he did finish fifth in the points. He also went through three different crew chiefs that year.
In 2011, Kenseth snapped a 76 winless streak winning at Texas. He also won Dover and Charlotte that same season. In 2012, Kenseth announced that he was leaving Roush and heading to Gibbs. This was just a few weeks after winning his second Daytona 500.
In Kenseth’s first year with Gibbs, he won seven races and finished runner up behind Jimmie Johnson. This was his second runner up finish. Another memorable but not so fun moment was in 2015 where he was wrecked by Brad Keselowski. This went back to where Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate, wrecked Kenseth on the final lap at Kansas.
Matt waited for Joey, and then took him out with 48 laps to go. He was suspended for the final two races of the season and was replaced with Erik Jones. He made up for that incident in 2015, finishing fifth in the points in 2016. He won his final race at Phoenix in 2017 in his final full-time season.
Due to the struggles of Trevor Bayne, Matt was brought in by his long time owner Jack Roush in 2018. He started in 15 races, won a stage at Indianapolis, won a pole in the Monster Energy All-Star Race, and finished two top tens in his last two races of the season.
The 2003 cup champion, had 21 wins of his 39 wins during the decade, 161 top fives, 329 top tens, 20 poles and an average finish of 14.2. He won the 2003 Winston Cup Championship.
8. Denny Hamlin
The Joe Gibbs driver had one of his best seasons in a long time to finish out the decade. Denny Hamlin has had his ups, and his downs from 2010-2019. Hamlin started out the decade right, as he won eight races and finished second in the points.
His down sides to the decade have been his injuries like in 2013 where he was sidelined after a horrible last lap crash between him and Joey Logano. Hamlin missed the chase, but ended the season right winning at Homestead. He finished 23rd in points that year.
After a winless 2018 season, Hamlin needed a change and Gibbs helped. Mike Wheeler was moved to the 95 ride of Matt DiBendetto, and Hamlin would work with Chris Gabehart. He had his best season since 2010, winning five races, made it into the round of four in the playoffs, and finished fourth.
Hamlin is 39 and currently the winningest driver to never win a championship. Since coming into NASCAR in 2006, he has scored 37 wins, 161 top fives, 259 top tens, 33 poles and an average finish of 13.6. Maybe 2020 can be a game changer where Hamlin finally ends the drought and wins the championship.
7. Joey Logano
Hall of Famer Mark Martin once said that Joey Logano was “the next best thing since sliced bread.” At first, it did not look like that. With Gibbs replacing the legend Tony Stewart in the 20 Toyota Camry, the pressure was on a young Logano to win races.
Joey would only win two races and was released. Team Penske picked him up in 2013, and suddenly, there was a change. Logano would make his first ever appearance in the Chase (now playoffs) in his first year with Penske.
Logano has been on a roll since winning the 2015 Daytona 500, and the NASCAR Cup Championship in 2018. This past decade, he has won all but one of his 23 cup career wins with Team Penske.
Logano has reached the championship three times while winning a race each season with Penske. His only season where he struggles with the team was in 2017. Besides that, joining Penske saved his career and proved that he can race in the big leagues.
With the 23 career victories, his finishes as of now are this: He has 116 top fives, 200 top tens, and an average finish of 14.3.
6. Tony Stewart
This past decade for now former driver Tony “Smoke” Stewart was really up and down. The decade started off right as he won five races in the 2011 chase, and would win the championship in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards.
2012 saw some success too. Stewart with new crew chief Steve Addington, won three races and finished ninth in points.
Tony got off to a slow start in 2013, but got a needed victory early on at Dover, and just a few races before the chase started, he was sitting 11th in a wildcard spot.
However, tragedy struck as during a sprint car race, Stewart was involved in a horrific crash. His sprint car would barrel roll over multiple times. He broke the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg and was sidelined for the rest of the 2013 season. He was replaced by Austin Dillon and Mark Martin.
Stewart missed three races in 2014 due to the death of Kevin Ward Jr. He was replaced in those races by Regan Smith and Jeff Burton. Even though he missed three races, he was still eligible for the chase, based off the new you win you’re in rule. However, he failed to do so.
That year was his worst year mentally and statistically. 2016 was not any better as Stewart was hurt once more, suffering a burst fracture in his lumbar vertebra in a dune buggy accident. He was sidelined for eight races, replaced by Ty Dillon and Brian Vickers.
Two years later, Stewart gained his confidence again. On the final lap at Sonoma, Denny Hamlin looked like he was going to win.
However, Stewart drove deep into turn 11, and pushed Hamlin out of the way, winning his first race since Dover of 2013. Stewart finished 15th in the points.
Now as an owner, he has one of the strongest teams in NASCAR with two championships this past decade. Stewart was part of the reason to revive the careers of Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer. Tony finishes with three championships (2002, 2005, and 2011).
5. Martin Truex Jr
Martin Truex’s Jr career was in Jeopardy since joining the cup in 2004. At the time, he only had one win which was in 2007.
After two mediocre seasons in 2010 and 2011, Truex turned his season around in 2012 where he finished seventh in the standings. However, he still wanted to end a big winless streak.
Fast forward a year later, and he broke a 218 winless streak, winning at Sonoma. However, he was kicked out of the chase due to spin gate and left Michael Waltrip Racing after 2013.
He would head to Furniture row in 2014. The first season got off to a slow start, but once Barney Fisher paired Truex with Cole Pearn, his career made a complete 360.
He made the championship four in 2015 in the 78 Chevrolet SS and finished fourth in points. Two years later, he won the championship with TRD engines.
After the closing of Furniture Row Racing, Truex would replace Daniel Suárez in the 19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. He won seven races in 2019 and once again, made it to the championship four for a third year in a row.
He finished third in the points. In his career, he has 26 wins, 102 top fives, 205 top tens, 19 poles and an average finish of 15.7.
4. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski had one win in 2009 at Talladega and was looking for more in the next decade.
Although the went winless in 2010, 2011 proved that he was an up and coming star as he won three races. His biggest win was at Pocono, where he raced with a broken leg.
In 2012, Keselowski put his name into the Hall of Fame discussion. He won five races and the championship. He did win one race in 2013, but it was a struggling year as he missed the chase for a second time.
Keselowski has finished in the top five twice since the championship season. One was in the championship four.
In his career, Keselowski has 30 wins, 115 top fives, 130 top tens, 17 poles and an average finish of 14.0. He is the winningest active driver at Talladega, earned Team Penske their first Brickyard 400 win, their first win at Darlington since 1975 and is the winningest driver since the “captain” Roger Penske.
3. Kevin Harvick
Harvick had a tough situation starting out in 2001 after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
There was questioning if this young kid from Bakersfield California was able to win in the car and team that Dale drove for. He would win 11 races from 2001-2009. Two of those wins were a Brickyard 400 and a Daytona 500.
In his last four years with RCR, he would win 12 races. However, due to some disagreement with Richard Childress Racing and the Dillon brothers, Harvick would not resign with RCR.
Harvick moved to Stewart Haas Racing in 2014. That is when his career took off. Harvick won five races and that championship that same year, beating out a winless Ryan Newman who drove for his former team.
Harvick won a career best eight races in 2018, but finished third in the standings. He has made the chase/playoffs five out of the six years in the elimination format.
Harvick has 49 wins, 206 top fives, 362 top tens, 31 poles and an average finish of 13.0 in his NASCAR Cup career.
2. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson will only have one last shot to win the championship next decade. Jimmie announced back in November that 2020 will be his last season racing full time in the Cup.
Jimmie Johnson started the decade winning his fifth straight championship. Three years later, he won his sixth while also winning the Daytona 500. In 2016, he would win his seventh, tying both The King, Richard Petty, and the Intimidator Dale Earnhardt.
The last few years have not been kind to Johnson, as he has not won a race since Dover in the spring of 2017. Last season, he missed the playoffs for the first time in his career (made all of them since 2004).
Johnson has 83 career wins which is tied sixth all time with Cale Yarborough. He also has 227 top fives, 364 top tens, 36 poles and an average finish of 12.9. He has won championships from 2006-2010, 2013, and 2016.
Before the number one pick, there is a driver that just missed the top ten list. That man was Carl Edwards.
Edwards first started with Roush and in 2015, he moved to Joe Gibbs Racing. He finished second in points with Roush back in 2008 and 2011. He made the chase/playoffs his last two years with the team.
In 2016, he made it to the championship four and looked as if he would finally win that championship. However, him and Joey Logano got tangled up, losing hope for his first cup title.
Edwards surprisingly announced his retirement January ninth 2017. He finished his career with 28 wins, 124 top fives, 220 top tens, 22 poles and an average finish of 13.6.
1. Kyle Busch
Like him or hate him, there is no denying that Kyle Busch has been the most accurate driver this past decade.
He has claimed two cup titles (2015,2019), and was the first to sweep Bristol in the Trucks, Xfinity (Nationwide) and the Cup in 2010.
Busch has been involved in a number of rivalries, too. One with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, his teammate Denny Hamlin in the 2010 All-Star Race, Ron Hornaday, and the media. His only bad season was in 2012 where he missed the chase, after that, he was hard to stop.
It looked as if his NASCAR career was over after a horrific crash at Daytona during the beginning of the season. However, he came back, won Sonoma and would ultimately win the championship.
In his career, Busch has 56 wins, 200 top fives, 296 top tens, 32 poles and an average finish of 13.6. He is the best driver Joe Gibbs has ever had, even better than when Tony was there. Look for Busch to be winning championships at the start of the next decade.
Ian O’Brien is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @Ianthekicker41 on Twitter.