The Backstretch Blog: Countdown to the Season, Sprint Cup the Best of the Rest

Welcome back on the Backstretch. We continue our countdown to the start of the season. Today we move to the Sprint Cup Series and a look at the best of the rest. Those are the drivers I rank 13-30, those that have a chance of winning a race and competing week in and week out. Most are full-time drivers, but not all.

30. Bobby Labonte- The former champ still has it at some tracks, but his weaknesses at other tracks has really been exposed now that he's not in top shelf equipment.

29. David Gilliland- From the day he jumped into a Sprint Cup car he was a threat at the plate races and all you have to do is look at last years results to see he can still compete there. But Front Row has a lot of work to do before he's a player at many other tracks.

28. Casey Mears- The 13 team has slowly gained steam since settling on Mears in the middle of the 2010 season. They still have work to do, but the move to Ford could be a diffence maker for them.

27. Mark Martin- The ageless one is down this far only because he is only running a part time schedule. Don't think for a second he's not a threat to win a race or two this season.

26. Kurt Busch- The same holds true for Busch as it does for Martin. In fact, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Kurt won one of the races during speedways right out of the gate.

25. Aric Almirola- After finishing forth in the Nationwide Series last season, Amirola gets his first chance to drive in the Sprint Cup Series full-time. AA was a part time driver in NASCAR's top series in 2008, splitting time with Mark Martin. He now has the daunting task of trying to put the King's car back in victory lane.

24. Regan Smith- Probably the biggest surprise of last season's first win club, Smith and the #78 continue their steady improvement in the Cup Series. And even though they had some strong runs last season, they are going to get better at finding more consistent finishes.

23. David Ragan- It's going to be hard for Ragan have the kind of runs with Front Row Motorsports, that he did at Roush Fenway. Though we should learn a lot about just how good or bad Front Row is, as he is probably the best driver to ever pilot one of their cars.

22. Marcos Ambrose- The series favorite Aussie showed last season that he can run well at tracks that dont have right hand turns. And of course, he is always a threat to win on those road courses. If he snags a couple of those wins, he could easily find himself in the chase.

21. Paul Menard- Contistancy was the killer for the 27 team last season. They have shown they can win, but his eight top tens was easily the fewest of the drivers in the top 20 in standings.

20. Juan Pablo Montoya- The folks at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will be the first to tell you there was something missing at EGR last season. But can they find it and return to their 2010 form that is the question. JPM also has a new crew chief, so their development together will be key to his success.

19. Joey Logano- Speaking of new crew chief, the 20 team has one for the first time in more than a decade. It could be the kick start Joey needs to finally reach his much talked about potential.

18. Martin Truex, Jr.- Truex is now the senior statesmen at Michael Waltrip Racing. And it's really time for him to make a move. If he can pick up right where he left off last season, he can finish much higher than this prediction.

17. Jamie McMurray- Well after winning every big race there was to win in 2010, the 1 team kind off feel off the map in 2011. So the question is, which is the real McMurrrary. Through out his career we've seen both. But there is no doubt he is a threat to win at just about every Superspeedway and mile and a half.

16.A.J. Allmendinger- Now is the time that we find out just how good a driver Mr. Almendinger really is. He is jumping into a very good car, that had a lot of success and his teammate is the hottest up and comer in the garage area. Dinger has shown potential for sure.

15. Jeff Burton- History has shown that Richard Childress Racing is a better team with three teams, than with four. And this season they have three teams. So it stands to reason that Burton will improve on his 20th place finish in the series last season. He has a new crew chief, but will that be enough to get him back into victory lane?

14. Clint Bowyer- There's a lot more new, than familar for Bowyer. New team, new manufacturer, new sponsor and new crew chief. That's a lot of change for a guy that has been with the same team for his entire career. But ther is no question Bowyer is a wheelman. The only question is how fast it all comes together.

13. Greg Biffle- If I could tell you what was been missing from the 16 team last season, I'd probably have a job at Roush Fenway racing right now. There is no question that he can run of two or three wins in a season. And if he does, he could definitely steal one of those chase spots.

The Sprint Cup Series open its season for some on Saturday night with the Bud Shootout. All the cars take the track on February 23rd for the Duels at Daytona and then on the 26th for the Daytona 500.

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