December 20, 2011
Sure, it's the offseason, but that doesn't mean we can't throw out a few Power Rankings now and then. Today, we focus on the young bucks, the drivers under the age of 30 who will be dominating the sport for the next 15 years or so. Most NASCAR drivers don't seem to hit their peak until their early 30s, so we've got plenty of time to watch these cats in action.
1. Kyle Busch (26): His constant struggles in the Chase notwithstanding, Busch is far and away the best driver in this crew, and one of the top handful now in NASCAR. Love him or hate him, he'll be around for a long, long time,
2. Brad Keselowski (27): Kes probably would have struggled to make the top five on this list as recently as July. But his hot streak vaults him almost to the top, and he actually beat Busch in the 2011 season standings. Now, what does he do for an encore?
3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (23): The 2011 Nationwide Series champ is very, very close to the big time. Question is, where's he going to drive on the Sprint level?
4. AJ Allmendinger (30). He turned 30 last Friday, so we're bending the rules a bit to let him in, but what the heck. Dinger is this offseason's unquestionable hard-luck case, with rumors running rampant of him getting pushed out of his car by Kurt Busch and now losing his primary sponsor in Best Buy. Shame, too, because his on-track career is definitely on the upswing.
[Related: Power rankings: AJ Allmendinger to drive No. 22 for Penske Racing]
5. Joey Logano (21): We're getting close to a make-or-break year for Logano. One more season outside the Chase competition and he may well become expendable for the Gibbs organization. Still, he's shown the ability to reel off strings of strong finishes, and perhaps a new crew chief will invigorate him.
6. Trevor Bayne (20): He's got himself a Daytona 500 win, and they can't take that away from him. Not even Tony Stewart has one of those. But now it's time to see if he's a legit Sprint Cup-level driver, or the world's luckiest right-place, right-timer.
7. Brian Vickers (28): His stock took a sharp hit in the wake of several on-track incidents later this year, but he's still talented enough to run with (and into) the leaders. Perhaps a year in Nationwide will settle him out; he ought to be challenging for the championship if he's there.
8. David Ragan (26 on Dec. 24): Another Sprint Cup-level driver who's way too young to write off completely. He too will benefit from some time at a lower level to let things shake out at the Sprint Cup level; his days at NASCAR's highest level probably aren't done.
9. Justin Allgaier (25): Still a bit of an X factor; it'll be interesting to see what he can do once he gets up to the Sprint level and gets some reliable equipment. Strong enough to run with the Sprint regulars in Nationwide, but can he do it in the show?
10. Austin Dillon (21): The trucks champion is already the heir apparent at Childress, and the big "3" on the side of his car is a target. So far, though, he's kept moving. He'll be one of the most fascinating on this list to watch over the next five years, for many reasons, and could well be at the top within a half-decade.
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All right, your turn. Who's your pick for the best of the young guns?
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