Yahoo Sports Minute:

2014 NASCAR.com Driver Draft

NASCAR.com

One of the biggest differences between NASCAR and the stick-and-ball sports is the implication of the word "draft."

On the NASCAR circuit, it's a term -- and a strategic concept -- that means finding speed in two-car packs, slicing through the field as a single unit by cutting down on dirty air. But in an organization like the National Football League, it's an event -- and an opportunity to select incoming players from college and own their rights for several years.

The NFL draft begins Thursday after months of coverage and fanfare and will finally answer some pressing questions. Will a team trade up for star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney? Will Johnny Manziel be the first quarterback selected?

That got us at NASCAR.com thinking. What if drivers in all three national series were suddenly released from their contracts and available for teams to draft? How would NASCAR teams balance picking between drivers in their prime -- or past it -- and drivers with less experience, but loaded with potential? Would you rather pick Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, or the next Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon?

What might a NASCAR "draft board" look like?

It was that last question that led to 12 editorial staff members ranking 40 NASCAR drivers in order of who would be most draftable to a team owner.

We combined those results and pared that 40-driver list down to 25 below for the ultimate NASCAR draft board, with the No. 1 ranked driver being the guy we collectively would pick No. 1 overall.

Use the comments feature to share with us your own personal top five (or top 25), and let us know what we got right -- and wrong.

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25. Jeb Burton

Highest vote: 11th
Lowest vote:
37th
Why Burton:
The son of five-time Cup winner Ward Burton and the nephew of 21-time Cup winner Jeff Burton, Jeb Burton has racing in his blood. In his rookie season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year, Burton claimed seven poles and won at Texas -- he also posted a top-10 finish in his lone Nationwide Series start. At only 21 years old, the future is plenty bright. -- RJ Kraft

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24. Ty Dillon

Highest vote: 15th (2)
Lowest vote:
38th
Why Dillon:
You can argue all you want about the advantage Dillon has riding in Richard Childress Racing equipment and having his grandfather's support behind him. But a driver still needs to go out in that equipment and perform at a high level, and Dillon is doing just that. He followed up his fourth-place overall finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012 with a second-place in 2013, and he's currently fourth in the Nationwide Series standings. In other words, he's trending in the right direction and doing it at just 22 years old. -- George Winkler

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23.Trevor Bayne

Highest vote: 16th
Lowest vote:
35th
Why Bayne:
No. 23 is quite a suitable placing for the -- you guessed it -- 23-year-old, who has 50 Sprint Cup Series starts under his belt already while driving for the small Wood Brothers Racing operation. If Bayne ends up with a Roush Fenway Racing Cup ride, he could be set to take off faster than most people might realize -- especially when you consider the whirlwind of experience that comes along with winning the Daytona 500 at the age of 20 in just his second career start. -- Pat DeCola

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22. Ryan Newman

Highest vote: 16th (2)
Lowest vote:
31st
Why Newman:
A 17-time race winner and 51-time pole-winner, Newman has proven himself on NASCAR's biggest stages, including the 2008 Daytona 500 and the 2013 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. When it comes to championships, however, he's only finished in the top 10 three times in the last nine years. His draft stock falls not because of his ability but more because of his age -- 36 -- and the timing of a huge crop of talented youngsters making their way into the Cup ranks -- Holly Cain

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21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Highest vote: 12th
Lowest vote:
32nd
Why Stenhouse:
At just 26 years old, Stenhouse Jr. still has not hit his peak in the Sprint Cup Series. Remember, just a few years ago he was winning back-to-back titles in the Nationwide Series. Opinions on Stenhouse were mixed as he was voted in 10 different spots among our staff. While I'm not certain that his career will skyrocket, I wouldn't count him out of my draft pool, either. -- Taylor Starer

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20. Brian Vickers

Highest vote: 10th
Lowest vote:
38th
Why Vickers:
Vickers has tons of experience (he'll make his 300th career Sprint Cup start later this year) and his age (30) means he is just entering his prime years as a racer. He also adapts well to his surroundings, having won with three different organizations. -- Kenny Bruce

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19. Darrell Wallace Jr.

Highest vote: Sixth
Lowest vote:
35th
Why Wallace:
At just 20 years old, "Bubba" Wallace has age, potential and marketability on his side. He's had success in limited Nationwide Series starts, but needs to get more opportunities. More checkered flags this season in the Camping World Truck Series would put him higher on my draft board.
-- Alan Cavanna

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18. Ryan Blaney

Highest vote: Fifth
Lowest vote:
34th
Why Blaney:
Being ranked a spot higher than his good buddy Darrell Wallace Jr. is almost sure to spark a Twitter debate between the pair of 20-year-olds, but it's justifiable. Blaney earned his first Nationwide Series win last season at age 19 and appears to be the clear-cut choice to fit into a third Team Penske Cup car, should the organization look to expand in the next few years. Plus, you can't "discount" the intangibles that come along with submitting yourself to starring in one of those Discount Tire "Racing Cowboys" spoofs.
-- Pat DeCola

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17. Clint Bowyer

Highest vote: Eighth
Lowest vote:
19th (2)
Why Bowyer:
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver might be a little underrated here, due to a word NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. would be well familiar with: upside. Bowyer is 34, just about peak age for a NASCAR driver, and we probably still haven't seen his best -- his old team (RCR) didn't run up front often enough, and MWR is again an underdog after the losses of last year. Who knows what Bowyer would be capable of in, say, Hendrick-level equipment? Maybe he should have more than eight career wins, but you're still looking at a guy with great car control and a lot of career ahead of him.
-- David Caraviello

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16. Kasey Kahne

Highest vote: Seventh
Lowest vote:
21st (2)
Why Kahne:
A 16-time winner in the Cup Series, Kahne has accomplished plenty in the premier series, including three victories in the sport's longest race (the Coca-Cola 600). The 2004 Sunoco Rookie of the Year has won on a wide variety of tracks and has finished as high as fourth in the final standings. His early-season struggles likely contributed to a spot on the second half of this list, but any driver currently running in the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut has plenty of upside to offer going forward.
-- RJ Kraft

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15. Tony Stewart

Highest vote: Second
Lowest vote:
24th (2)
Why Stewart:
Yes, Stewart is 42 years old. And yeah, he's still recovering from a broken right leg. But 'Smoke' still has 48 career Cup wins along with three glittering trophies recognizing him as the premier series champion. Given his respect in the garage and his natural leadership abilities, he's still a guy you'd want to build your team around. -- Brad Norman

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14. Kurt Busch

Highest vote: Seventh
Lowest vote:
22nd (2)
Why Busch:
Busch more than proved his worth in 2013 when he single-handedly carried his former Furniture Row Racing team, a single-car operation, into the Chase. And at 35, there's still plenty of gas in the tank -- witness his attempt to compete in this year's Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Busch is no wallflower, but given the right equipment and surroundings, he has been and can be a champion. -- Kenny Bruce

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13. Austin Dillon

Highest vote: 10th
Lowest vote:
20th
Why Dillon:
Dillon seemed destined to make history as he brought the legendary No. 3 back to the Sprint Cup Series, winning the Coors Light Pole at Daytona to show the prophecy may come true. But he's entering the Cup Series among a strong rookie class -- with possibly stronger ones behind him. Dillon's moments of brilliance (and his two national series titles), youth and an upbringing of racing were enough to rank the 24-year-old above a pair of former champions, but not enough to make him the top young gun in the draft.
-- Kristen Boghosian

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12. Denny Hamlin

Highest vote: Fifth
Lowest vote:
22nd
Why Hamlin:
Injuries have kept Hamlin from showing everything he's capable of achieving. He's challenged for a championship (2006 and 2010) and won 24 races, plus he's driving for a title-contending organization in Joe Gibbs Racing. Lost in all the initial success he had breaking into the Cup ranks, people forget he's only 33 years old. If Hamlin can stay injury free he should be a perennial Chase driver with at least another couple title runs in him.
-- Holly Cain

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11. Carl Edwards

Highest vote: Third
Lowest vote:
24th
Why Edwards:
What you get with Edwards is more than just his prodigious natural talent behind the wheel. The 34-year-old is wonderful with sponsors and easy to market. Although it took time to shake off his near-title miss in 2011, Edwards seems to have rallied this year and looks more like a guy pushing for a title than a guy struggling to make the Chase.
-- Brad Norman

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10. Jeff Gordon

Highest vote: Fourth
Lowest vote:
23rd
Why Gordon:
Are Gordon's best days behind him? Perhaps, but even an average day for the 42-year-old is better than most -- and with 88 wins behind him, it's doubtful he's had his last. With consistent top-10 performances, the No. 24 driver is showing he's still got it in 2014 by sitting atop the points standings. With hints at an impending retirement, however, teams likely won't get more than a few seasons out of the four-time champion -- though Jeff Gordon apparel will certainly continue to bring in revenue for the team long past the end of the driver's career.
-- Kristen Boghosian

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9. Matt Kenseth

Highest vote: Second
Lowest vote:
14th (3)
Why Kenseth:
Kenseth, 42, won seven times in 2013 in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. It's also worth noting that he has won three or more races for the past three seasons and qualified for the Chase nine times in 10 years. Don't let his age scare you -- the low-key Kenseth could remain a title threat for years to come.
-- Kenny Bruce

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8. Chase Elliott

Highest vote: Second (2)
Lowest vote:
20th
Why Elliott:
Franchise players don't come around often, and this is the closest you'll get in NASCAR. I personally was reluctant to put him so high since he still may be a decade away from his prime, but this appears to be a low-risk, high-reward type of selection. Draft him now and you have a driver for the next 20 years.
-- Alan Cavanna

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7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Highest vote: First
Lowest vote:
22nd
Why Earnhardt:
It's hard to find fault with a high rating for Junior, fresh from his second Daytona 500 victory and currently enjoying one of his most consistent seasons to date. Still, Earnhardt is just a few months shy of crossing the 40-years-old barrier, meaning he may have more Sprint Cup seasons behind him than ahead of him. Regardless of age, selecting the most popular driver in the sport would be a hard draft pick to pass up.
-- Zack Albert

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6. Kevin Harvick

Highest vote: Third
Lowest vote:
19th
Why Harvick:
We're probably only beginning to see the best of a driver who now has cars equal to his ability. At 38, Harvick is right in the sweet spot of his career arc, and the results show it. This is a guy who managed three third-place points finishes in RCR cars that didn't lead a lot of laps, and can flat dominate in the Stewart-Haas equipment he has now. He's a ruthless competitor driven by the title that always evaded him, and his crew chief is one of the best in the garage. Pass on this draft pick, and he'll beat you later on.
-- David Caraviello

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5. Kyle Larson

Highest vote: Third
Lowest vote:
11th
Why Larson:
Regarded as a driver whose massive talent is equaled only by his huge potential, Larson is an easy top-five selection. Factor in that he's only 21 years old and the current Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader, Larson should be on everyone's draft board as top-ranked driver among the young guns. -- Holly Cain

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4. Brad Keselowski

Highest vote: Second (3)
Lowest vote:
23rd
Why Keselowski:
I'm surprised that Keselowski came in lower than his Team Penske cohort in our list. Keselowski is only 30 years old and already has a Sprint Cup Series championship to his credit. Sure, he drives a little too aggressively at times and has opinions that he readily shares on Twitter, but if I'm starting a team, Keselowski would make a great foundation because he has the perfect combination of youth and championship experience. As for a little spunk? It can be a good thing, too.
-- George Winkler

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3. Joey Logano

Highest vote: Second (2)
Lowest vote:
13th
Why Logano:
He's living up to the talent that earned him a premier Sprint Cup Series ride at age 18. OK, Logano only has five career Cup wins -- but he has two in 10 races this season and a rebuilt sense of self after such a difficult beginning to his career. With his confidence soaring, and still only 23 years old, Logano has the look of one of the sport's next superstars.
-- Brad Norman

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2. Kyle Busch

Highest vote: First (4)
Lowest vote:
Ninth
Why Busch:
It's impossible to name a sheer talent with 130 NASCAR national series victories at just 29 years old. In those terms, "Shrub" remains without peer. The scary part: As a student of the sport, he's still learning. The only thing holding him back from the top spot on the draft board is the dearth of championships at NASCAR's highest level. Which leads us to ?
-- Zack Albert

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1. Jimmie Johnson

Highest vote: First (7)
Lowest vote:
Sixth
Why Johnson:
At 38 years old and with six titles behind him, it would be easy to bet that Johnson is due for a slide, and maybe he is. But as we've seen throughout the history of the No. 48 team, their troughs aren't nearly as deep as those of other programs. No question, Chase changes have made individual race wins tougher to obtain -- but at the same time, this is still a driver built for the playoffs, which still play to his strengths. They may not come with the regularity they once did, but the undisputed Jadeveon Clowney of NASCAR still has more titles left to win.
-- David Caraviello

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