COMMENTARY | Since the turn of the century, we've seen NASCAR evolve and change quite a lot. We've seen new faces rise to the top and old faces fall by the wayside.
As we reflect on the time between the year 2000 and now, who is the best driver?
Before we start this countdown, it's important to note that this is specifically for drivers in NASCAR's top series, Sprint Cup. Since it is for the top series only, only a driver's performance in the top series will be taken into account. It doesn't matter how dominant he has been in the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series -- all that matters is how he has done on Sundays.
Number 5: Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth has been the definition of consistency, that's how he won the Sprint Cup Series championship back in 2003. That year, he finished with an average finish of 10th with just one win, but a whopping 25 top-10s.
Kenseth has been a middle-of-the-pack driver for much of the new millennium, while still staying competitive in the championship picture. His recent success, including a second-place points finish, puts him on this list.
Number 4: Jeff Gordon
While Jeff Gordon won three of his four championships in 1990s, he's still been a competitive driver year in and year out at NASCAR's top level. He's recorded a win in all but two seasons since 2000 and has had at least eight top-5s in every season. When you look at the championship picture, Gordon has just one finish outside the top 10 and that was his 11th-place finish back in 2005.
Number 3: Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch broke into NASCAR's top division in 2004 and ran his first full season in 2005. Right from the get-go, Busch was a winner and has done everything but win a championship in the Spring Cup Series. He's won a race in each season since 2005, including an incredible eight wins in 2008.
What dooms him in the championship picture and holds him at third on this list? Well, Busch has failed to finish at least two races each season since 2005 and has DNF'd in at least three races during the 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Number 2: Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart has won three championships since 2000 and has been one of the most competitive drivers in the sport regardless of what team he's on. More and more now is the team aspect of NASCAR important, but Stewart is racing well with everybody.
When he was with Joe Gibbs Racing, he won his first two championships and won his third as a driver-owner in 2011. No matter what track the circuit stops at, "Smoke" is always near the top of the leaderboard.
Number 1: Jimmie Johnson
It's hard to argue with six championships, including five straight. Johnson isn't going to wow you with a lot of wins each year, but he's going to stay consistent and take care of his stuff so he's around at the end. Regardless of how his car is handling at the start of a race, he sticks with it and is always running up front by the end. While you can attest much of his success to his crew and crew chief Chad Knaus, you can't deny Johnson's ability to get it done behind the wheel.
Obviously, this list is up for much debate. While you can make solid cases for names like Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, the above five drivers were selected for how competitive they've been week in and week out as well as their consistency.
While Kyle Busch isn't exactly the definition of consistency with his 15th-place average finish, the fact that he's constantly one of the guys teams are chasing on race weekend puts him on this list.
Brian Skinnell is a contributor for RantSports.com and Yahoo Sports covering the Washington Redskins, Wizards and NASCAR among others. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brian_Skinnell.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Matt Kenseth
- Kyle Busch
- Jeff Gordon