The last 10 years have seen a number of drivers excel in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.
As the curtain comes down on the decade in a little over the month, trying to decide who was the best from 2010 though 2019 is not an easy task.
It is relatively simple to identify those who should be up for consideration. However depending on what criteria is applied, the clear-cut winner is a bit murkier.
Six drivers won at least 25 races during the time period. Kyle Busch led the way with 40 victories followed by Kevin Harvick (38), Jimmie Johnson (36), Brad Keselowski (29), Denny Hamlin (29) and Martin Truex Jr. (25).
Harvick had the edge in top-five finishes over Busch 145 to 144 while Harvick was the leader in top-10 runs at 233. Busch had one more pole (27) than Harvick and Hamlin during the decade. But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was far and away the leader in laps led with a whopping 13,030 circuit in front of the field. That’s nearly 3,000 more than Harvick’s 10,893 on the list.
But maybe the best way to decide the best is by the ultimate goal of winning the championship. It’s a tight contest in that department with Johnson’s three titles (2010, 2013 and 2016) topping Busch (2015 and 2019).
There is little doubt in Busch having more opportunities to add to his championship total during his career. Johnson will step away from full-time NASCAR driving at the end of next season and unless there is a significant upswing in his performance, adding an eighth title to his resume is at this point a long shot at best.
Busch continues to perform in what is the prime of his career. There is no end in sight for Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance or Busch hanging up his helmet anytime soon. It’s a potent combination that has the opportunity to elevate Busch into even more of an elite status than he has today is he can add more championships to his total.
However while what lies ahead is definitely tilted in Busch’s favor, the past decade belongs to Johnson.
Johnson’s 2010 title was the last of a five straight championship streak that will never be duplicated. He won six times on his way to the 2013 crown, the last year before the current elimination-style Playoff/Championship 4 format was introduced.
Undaunted, Johnson’s last title came in the third year of the current format. Johnson put five wins on the board that season including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway that gave him a record-tying seventh career title.
Johnson’s legacy will be remembered for many things not in the least of which how many different formats he prevailed in to win the title. His three during the last decade exemplified just how good Johnson was and why he’ll be an immediate inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2023.
While Busch may have the advantage in more than a few statistical categories, Johnson was still the best driver of the decade.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.