10. Kurt Busch
The former Sprint Cup Series champion led Penske to two victories in 2010, plus a win in the All-Star race in May. However, all that happened in the first half of the season as his team failed to keep its momentum into the second half, even on the intermediate tracks, which it seemed to have a good grasp of. Being the only Dodge team in the field brings a certain handicap, even more so when Busch is the only NASCAR 'veteran' in the line-up.
9. Matt Kenseth
The only driver in the Chase who managed to finish every race this season, Kenseth proved once again that consistency pays off, although it alone won't deliver championships anymore. Worked with three different crew chiefs during the year, starting off with Drew Blickendersfer, then switching to Todd Parrott after only one race, finally getting Jimmy Fennig halfway through the season and for the remainder of the year. The lack of continuity on his garage obviously hampered Kenseth, who didn't look a happy man in 2010. Still made the Chase despite all that.
8. Greg Biffle
Delivered two wins for Roush Fenway Racing, the first of them key to the outfit's comeback in the second half of the season, giving Jack Roush a great present in hospital with his Pocono trophy, after the man known as 'The Cat in the Hat' survived - for the second time - an airplane crash. Biffle was the first from his outfit to show results from sharing information with fellow Ford runner Richard Petty Motorsports, something that proved vital in the team's return to form.
7. Jeff Gordon
After 18 seasons at NASCAR's top level Gordon still has the fire inside, as proved by his boxing act with Jeff Burton at Texas, following an on-track incident. Came close to win a few times this year but went without a single victory, thus failing to mount a serious challenge for the title despite his great consistency of old. Following Johnson's fifth title, Gordon is now the only four-time Cup champion, bettered by the man who was once his pupil. Remains a threat and a key element to success at Hendrick Motorsports.
6. Carl Edwards
His trademark backflip appeared in the Sprint Cup again this year as he wrapped up the season in style with back-to-back wins at Phoenix and Homestead. Since the 2008 season-finale he had not been to Victory Lane in Cup and instead made the headlines for getting into a famous feud with Brad Keselowski, which reached a peak at Atlanta early in the year where the Penske Dodge of his rival dangerously flipped over following a retaliatory move from Edwards. Seems to be back to his winning ways, as does Roush Fenway, but the aero changes to the front of the cars coming in 2011 will have to be well dealt with by the team in order to keep its momentum going into next season.
5. Kyle Busch
Once again the younger of the Busch brothers made impressive displays of his undeniable talent and raw speed, yet it was his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Hamlin who put a championship challenge together. Busch won 24 races across the three NASCAR national series in 2010, but only three of them were in Cup. His first year with crew chief Dave Rogers was one to build up for the future, as Busch continues to shape himself and his group into championship contenders. Still needs to keep his temper under control at times.
A year ago he was left as the odd man out at Roush Fenway Racing as the team downsized from five to four cars, but he proved his worth to his old employer Chip Ganassi at his first chance by taking victory in the Daytona 500. He added the Brickyard 400 and a win at Charlotte to his season tally, making Ganassi and his sponsors happy enough to get a new multi-year deal with the outfit. Missed the Chase due to a lack of consistency, but after winning both NASCAR's crown jewel events in the same year - a first in Cup history - few would argue that he had an outstanding season. Together with team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya - also a winner in 2010 - he showed his Earnhardt Ganassi outfit builds some of the fastest cars in the field.
Under the old cumulative points system nobody would've been even close to Harvick come Homestead, thanks to an impressively consistent season. Led the standings for most of the year but not winning during the Chase hampered his chances of beating Johnson and Hamlin. Arguably the best restrictor-plate racer of the year, he made the headlines as usual for getting into a few feuds on and off the track. Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and even his team-mate Jeff Burton were on the receiving end when the fuse let go on him.
2. Denny Hamlin
Started the season on the back foot by injuring his knee while playing basketball before Daytona. After winning his first race of the year, he fought back on his recovery with great determination to become Johnson's greatest title challenger ever. Fuel mileage seemed to be his team's Achilles' heel and that may well have cost him the title. Joe Gibbs Racing's most senior driver has been in every Chase since his maiden full season in Cup and a first NASCAR title seems to be edging closer.
His team-mates have usually been among his closest challengers for the past few years, but this time he was the only one able to win races for Hendrick Motorsports, which further enhances his record-setting fifth consecutive title. Achieved his first road-course win in June at Sonoma, following his maiden victory at Bristol. His crew chief Chad Knaus took some bold decisions that were part of their joint success, including swapping pit crews in the middle of a Chase race at Texas. Became a father during the year, but that only seemed to make him even better. Unquestionably one of the sport's greatest of all time.
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