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Historical Driver Ratings for NASCAR and IndyCar since 1990

by Sean Wrona

Shortly after my previous column, which introduced my new driver rating system that consolidated both consistency data (finish shares) and driver-induced dominance data (lead shares) into one single metric, I proceeded to calculate the driver ratings for every driver in the NASCAR Cup series and the IndyCar Series from 1990 to the present. However, I am only going to include data from the series that formed as the Indy Racing League in this column both to try to keep the column shorter and because I intend on doing year-by-year lead change analyses for CART and Formula One in the same vein as my previous NASCAR and IRL analyses over the coming months, and I will list the driver ratings for drivers in those series in those columns later. This arguably completes my NASCAR and IndyCar leading analysis analysis for this era for the time being.

For each year, I will only be listing the top ten drivers in driver rating along with the other drivers who made the top ten in the actual points standings but failed to make the top ten on the driver rating list. I will also write a short summary of the year discussing how the results differ from the actual points standings for each year. I will then conclude the column with a list of the drivers who are most overrated and underrated over this period based on their points standings ranks versus their ranks using my driver rating system. To do this, I will be using the current Formula One points system, where first place in both the championship and the driver rating system will score 25 points, with 18 for 2nd, 15 for 3rd, 12 for 4th, 10 for 5th, 8 for 6th, 6 for 7th, 4 for 8th, 2 for 9th, 1 for 10th. Drivers with the largest absolute and percentage differences between their points total using the actual points system and those using the driver rating system likely have their careers misunderstood by the general racing media, which believes the finish of individual races and championships are the only things that matter. Don't get me wrong: they do matter a lot (although recent NASCAR championships significantly less), which is why I did give consistency an 80% weight, but consistency in and of itself certainly does not capture everything, and this should be an interesting way of reflecting whose points finishes were better or worse than the actual level of their performance.

Just as before, this does not consider the level of competition in any series at the time, although I could easily use these ratings to calculate this as I did before and eventually intend to. Nor does this attempt to adjust for team strength, although I intend to do that at some point as well. At the moment, I am trying to juggle several intensive projects as I am also simultaneously writing a book on the history of competitive typing, and after I complete that project, I do want to adapt some of my Racermetrics material in book form as well and I am still serious about my ridiculous attempt to rank the top 1000 drivers in motorsports history, although I've put that on the back burner for months, as I think my typing book is attracting substantially more interest at the moment. I'm not likely to proceed with that project until at least after I've completed my leader analysis for Champ Car and F1, and that may take much of the next half year or so as I alternate between one project and the other.

I don't always agree with my driver ratings and I do tend to make instinctive adjustments based on equipment myself when evaluating seasons. However, bearing in mind that this, like any unadjusted statistic, is going to be a reflection of the driver and the team, I think the driver ratings usually come closer to matching the reality of who performed the best than the points standings do, and I would even say that for IndyCar as well as NASCAR now that I have gone through the data there, although I still am iffy about Josef Newgarden coming out as the best driver for 2018, even if he has pretty unambiguously proven himself to be the best duelist for years now, and actually one of the best ever.

NASCAR Cup Series driver ratings


Even though Mark Martin led the points standings for most of the second half of the season, there really isn't any sort of case that he had the best season in 1990. Dale Earnhardt's 1990 was so dominant relative to his contemporaries that only three drivers - Jeff Gordon in 1998, Martin Truex, Jr. in 2017 and Kevin Harvick in 2018 posted a higher one in this era, but no driver ever had a higher rating when adjusting for points per race, with Ernie Irvan in 1994 and Gordon coming closest. Earnhardt's 1.5 point advantage over Martin was also the largest gap between first and second place. I feel this, not 1987, is actually Earnhardt's best season because he was this dominant despite the other Chevy teams being worse than in '87, he faced deeper competition, he caused fewer intentional wrecks, and he also won the IROC title. One can argue Earnhardt was actually unlucky to only win nine races this year (especially because of the Daytona 500) and we start out here with one of the most dominant performances ever. Martin was still consistent enough to get second place even though he was only seventh in lead shares, while Rusty Wallace just a few positions to third because he was second in lead shares. Despite only leading six races naturally, Ernie Irvan was 4th in lead shares which allowed him to jump to 6th on this list (starting a trend of him having a higher driver rating rank than standings rank for basically every year in his heyday), while fifth-place points finisher Morgan Shepherd who actually led the points 1/3 of the way into the season tanks because he rarely took the lead on track himself and his only win came at Atlanta, when leader Bill Elliott got wrecked in the pits by Ricky Rudd on his final pit stop, in the incident that tragically killed his crewman Mike Rich.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dale Earnhardt3.49
22Mark Martin1.99
36Rusty Wallace1.96
43Geoff Bodine1.69
54Bill Elliott1.64
69Ernie Irvan1.35
77Ricky Rudd1.24
810Ken Schrader1.09
98Alan Kulwicki1.07
105Morgan Shepherd1.06


Although nobody really clearly dominated this season over anyone else nobody combined consistency and dominance better than Dale Earnhardt, although Davey Allison came fairly close as he slightly beat Earnhardt in lead shares. Ricky Rudd may have been 2nd in points almost the entire season but he wasn't as dominant as that implies (his only win at Darlington came when Michael Waltrip had his botched final pit stop near the end of the race, and he rarely was a late-race factor finishing only 10th in lead shares.) The other drivers remain roughly in the same places relative to each other, but Gant, whose four in a row streak and especially his Talladega win was fairly lucky, drops further away from Allison than he was in the points and barely ahead of Ernie Irvan and Rusty Wallace, who posted overwhelmingly the best two lead change records of the year and also finished 3rd and 4th behind the Earnhardt and Allison in lead shares (with Wallace holding the slight advantage in both categories.) Interestingly, teammates Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader placed in the exact same positions (7th and 8th) two years in a row, yet Rudd tends to be viewed as a legend while Schrader tends to be viewed as a mediocrity. But really if you consider that Rudd's one win was extremely lucky, Schrader won twice (although his Atlanta win was extremely lucky also), and they had similar leader statistics in every category, it seems Rudd's consistency edge was the only real difference.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dale Earnhardt2.43
23Davey Allison2.24
34Harry Gant1.79
45Ernie Irvan1.75
510Rusty Wallace1.68
66Mark Martin1.48
72Ricky Rudd1.38
89Ken Schrader1.29
97Sterling Marlin1.19
108Darrell Waltrip1.17


Using any more reasonable points system than the Latford points system, which would award larger points differentials for the top positions and much smaller ones for the bottom positions, it seems unlikely that Alan Kulwicki would win the title, but he doesn't drop as badly as some champions (Matt Kenseth in 2003 and several chase champions ranked lower.) Kulwicki was a pretty dominant force especially on the short tracks, but Davey Allison and Bill Elliott's wins and Allison's dominance in terms of laps led and races led swung the difference here. The big surprise is Mark Martin rising from 6th in points to 3rd. Although he was technically a championship contender in the final race, he was an afterthought most of the season but still posted the 2nd most lead shares and a 20-6 lead change record that year, one of the best ever seen. This allowed him to narrowly and surprisingly nose out Kulwicki for 3rd, who won the same number of races (two.) Ernie Irvan, who had the most inconsistent season of his pre-injury career, won three plate track/road course races in the summer amongst an unusual number of crashes, but in a year when there were relatively few lead changes, he benefited greatly from his on-track passing, as did Rusty Wallace and Geoff Bodine similarly. Harry Gant took a hit due to his fuel mileage win at Michigan. Although Ricky Rudd got a win and was the highest finishing Chevy in points, it wasn't a natural win and he hardly ever factored and dropped out of the top ten, while Terry Labonte, basically a season-long non-factor who only made the top ten because he was involved in zero on-track incidents all season (which is, admittedly, impressive) also drops out. I think adjusting for equipment that Kulwicki still probably had the best season, but I also think he should not be leading this considering this is not adjusting for equipment.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Davey Allison2.15
22Bill Elliott1.96
36Mark Martin1.87
41Alan Kulwicki1.85
55Kyle Petty1.76
611Ernie Irvan1.48
74Harry Gant1.35
89Darrell Waltrip1.31
913Rusty Wallace1.25
1016Geoff Bodine1.22
1110Sterling Marlin1.18
127Ricky Rudd1.16
148Terry Labonte0.92


The next two seasons were overwhelmingly dominated by only four drivers start to finish: Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Ernie Irvan, although Irvan's continuing inconsistency caused him to still finish behind the more consistent Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty in points. Regardless, this isn't really a surprise as those four drivers led 13 races or more naturally while no others led more than 8. Although Wallace won 10 races to Martin's 5, Martin was actually more impressive in terms of on-track passing while Wallace was a lot luckier in the races than Martin was for the most part considering how many times Wallace took the lead out of the pits due to having one of the most dominant pit crews relative to the field in NASCAR history. Regardless, even though Martin beat Wallace in lead shares by a good bit, I think Wallace should still be ahead. Hendrick teammates Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader finished 7th and 8th again, but this time they are reversed. Looking at how even they appear in this period should possibly cause people to rethink their impressions about both careers. As in 1990 and in 1994, Morgan Shepherd was extremely consistent but hardly ever factored for the lead (which is understandable considering at this point he was already in his 50s), although he did win the spring Atlanta race on fuel mileage. Darrell Waltrip surprisingly breaks into the top ten despite a mediocre season largely because he was the TNL at the spring Richmond race. Bill Elliott, who only led one race naturally after nearly winning the title the year before, tanked and fell out of the top ten.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dale Earnhardt2.86
22Rusty Wallace2.58
33Mark Martin2.56
46Ernie Irvan1.84
54Dale Jarrett1.43
65Kyle Petty1.42
79Ken Schrader1.11
810Ricky Rudd1.05
97Morgan Shepherd0.96
1013Darrell Waltrip0.94
128Bill Elliott0.92


Ernie Irvan was so dominant in terms of leading this year that despite missing the last 11 races of the season he is ranked 3rd in overall driver rating, ahead of all but two drivers who ran the entire season, and measuring average driver rating per race, Irvan's 1994 is second only to Dale Earnhardt's 1990. Despite his partial season, he led Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace by over a full lead share, Geoff Bodine and Mark Martin by about two, and nobody else was even close. Wallace's eight wins versus Martin's two does help him take over second place here, while Bodine, who was one of the most dominant drivers of the season but also exceedingly crash-prone to post one of the most inconsistent seasons in NASCAR history, is still rewarded here for his dominance rising to fifth over several drivers who more consistent but much less dominant. The Hendrick drivers remain in the same general positions, but although Jeff Gordon stole all the headlines, Terry Labonte pretty much outperformed him no matter how you look at it - beating him by one position in the points, winning one more race, and posting the best lead change record of the season (fairly shocking considering his conservative style.) Although Ken Schrader beat the other Hendrick drivers in points, he factored in far fewer races and this makes a lot more sense. Irvan and Bodine's dominance had to knock somebody out of the top ten and that was the two drivers who took the bottom spots of the top ten, although Bill Elliott jumped Darrell Waltrip thanks to his natural Southern 500 win while Waltrip never really contended.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dale Earnhardt2.68
23Rusty Wallace2.41
322Ernie Irvan2.26
42Mark Martin2.09
517Geoff Bodine1.57
67Terry Labonte1.41
78Jeff Gordon1.33
84Ken Schrader1.23
95Ricky Rudd1.12
106Morgan Shepherd1.07
1110Bill Elliott0.99
139Darrell Waltrip0.84


Most of the years of the Jeff Gordon era are fairly boring as apart from the farcical 1996 championship result, most drivers' points ranks were roughly more or less what they deserved regardless what metric you used, but there are a few minor changes. While Rusty Wallace was exceedingly lucky to win 18 races in 1993-1994, he was a bit unlucky to win only twice this year as he was an easy third in lead shares and races led naturally, and from a leading perspective, his season really wasn't much worse (he led 13 races naturally all three seasons), but Wallace lacked consistency and luck in a year he probably should have won four times. Sterling Marlin was a bit too restrictor plate-dependent and him dropping to 5th makes sense, meaning that when ignoring Ernie Irvan's injury really we see a continuation of Earnhardt, Wallace, and Martin's dominance except that Gordon jumped them all. Rudd, who was tied for fourth in races led, had a rare underrated season for him and jumps a couple of positions, while Bobby Labonte, who won three times, and Dale Jarrett, who had an impressive win at Pocono and factored a bit more than is generally remembered, jump Ted Musgrave who may have been in the top five in points most of the season but hardly factored at all for race wins. For the third straight year, Bill Elliott fails to earn a top ten driver rating despite finishing in the top ten in points. It's hard to say whether this is because his style had gotten too conservative at the time or just that his equipment after 1992 did not allow him to be competitive for race wins.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jeff Gordon3.15
22Dale Earnhardt2.73
35Rusty Wallace2.22
44Mark Martin1.94
53Sterling Marlin1.85
66Terry Labonte1.42
79Ricky Rudd1.34
810Bobby Labonte1.15
913Dale Jarrett1.11
107Ted Musgrave1.06
118Bill Elliott0.92


For the first time since 1991, the same ten drivers rank in the top ten by both the driver rating metric and the actual points standings, but they are radically shuffled, with only three drivers: Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin, and Bobby Hamilton staying in the same position. While Jeff Gordon leading this is obvious since he actually led finish shares as well as lead shares, since finish shares weight wins more heavily than the Latford-era NASCAR points system did, Dale Jarrett also barely surpasses champion Terry Labonte as well, and this really isn't as surprising as it seems considering he won twice as many races and finished less than half of a race's worth of Latford points behind Labonte; considering how much Jarrett continued to light it up in 1997, he was definitely providing more excitement than Labonte was. Rusty Wallace was second in wins with 5 and third in lead shares for the fourth consecutive year, so his 1996 was nearly as underrated as his 1995 to slightly compensate for the overratedness of his 1993-94. As usual, Ernie Irvan's passing ability is well-reflected here as he gains several positions despite another string of crashes, while on the flip side Ricky Rudd falls to the very bottom of the top ten in a year his 1 win was unnatural and he was only 17th in lead shares.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Jeff Gordon3.21
23Dale Jarrett2.29
31Terry Labonte2.26
44Dale Earnhardt1.81
57Rusty Wallace1.70
65Mark Martin1.60
710Ernie Irvan1.52
88Sterling Marlin1.26
99Bobby Hamilton1.05
106Ricky Rudd1.01


Considering Jeff Gordon beat Dale Jarrett by only 14 points in the actual points standings yet Jarrett had over an entire lead share more than Gordon, this isn't hard to figure out. Yes, it's fairly close but I do agree Jarrett was stronger here and the main difference is that Gordon was luckier (even flipping the Southern 500 where Gordon beat TNL Jarrett out of the pits would be enough to flip the title.) Martin on the other hand wasn't even close to the other two and shouldn't have really been in the title hunt, much like in 1990. Once again Rusty Wallace moves up quite a bit and is still fourth in lead shares; however, by this point in his career, he was really becoming a short track specialist who dominated there and did little anywhere else, although I still probably like his season over Dale Earnhardt's or either Labonte's. Ernie Irvan had a massively underrated season again as he had four TNL but only one win and that allows him to barely make the top ten here, while Ken Schrader's 16th in driver rating tied Jeremy Mayfield's 2005 for the second-worst ever among drivers who actually made the top ten in points, although Terry Labonte's 17th in 2003 was the absolute worst. While Schrader's Hendrick period looks significantly underrated, I think it's clear his Petree period is overrated. However, Schrader beat Johnny Benson by a single point for that last spot, and had it been Benson instead, that would have been even worse, as Benson, who failed to lead naturally that entire year, was only ranked 20th.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Dale Jarrett2.98
21Jeff Gordon2.87
33Mark Martin2.10
44Jeff Burton1.66
59Rusty Wallace1.42
66Terry Labonte1.35
75Dale Earnhardt1.30
87Bobby Labonte1.25
914Ernie Irvan1.24
108Bill Elliott1.20
1610Ken Schrader0.69


This may be the most boring year of the lot, as I'm sure most people watching it would agree. By any standard, Jeff Gordon overwhelmingly dominated Mark Martin, who overwhelmingly dominated Dale Jarrett, who dominated a bunch of others who were relatively even. Considering the top ten in points all won and were ten of only eleven drivers to win that season, with Ricky Rudd's longshot Martinsville race being the only exception, it's no surprise the same top ten drivers are listed here, and nobody changes more than one position. Gordon did post the highest driver rating this season until Kevin Harvick matched him last year (in more races), but still trailed Dale Earnhardt's 1990 and Ernie Irvan's 1994 in terms of points per race. The drivers who flipped largely did so more because their non-win finishes tended to be better than because they were actually more dominant. In the case of Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt, we see here that they were essentially tied, and in cases like that (which become more frequent in more recent years), I will extend to more than two digits as I have done below.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jeff Gordon3.66
22Mark Martin2.83
33Dale Jarrett2.25
45Jeff Burton1.92
54Rusty Wallace1.90
67Jeremy Mayfield1.51
76Bobby Labonte1.44
89Terry Labonte1.145
98Dale Earnhardt1.143
1010Bobby Hamilton1.03


Until I calculated this, I had no idea who would be leading this metric for this year, as Jeff Gordon was the most dominant but wildly inconsistent, Dale Jarrett was the most consistent but not as dominant as he had been in 1997, and Bobby Labonte was second in both categories. Although they're all quite close to each other here, I think I agree that Bobby Labonte's combination of his consistency and his (for once, and only once in his career) legitimate dominance trumps the other two. Even though Gordon beat Labonte in lead shares and in wins, Labonte did beat Gordon 21-20 in races led naturally to lead that category, indicating that in that year, he was definitely more than a 1.5-2 mile specialist; this is honestly quite similar to 1991, with Labonte's 2000 also being similar to Allison's 1992 as a less dominant, but arguably more consistent, version of the previous year's result. While there were significant changes at the top, there were fewer and fewer as you move down the field as you can see with the 7th-10th place drivers remaining in the same position. It's little surprise that Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, and Mark Martin flip positions though, as Burton won six times, Stewart won three times, and Martin won only twice. Martin's decline already begins here.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Bobby Labonte2.73
26Jeff Gordon2.65
31Dale Jarrett2.58
45Jeff Burton2.22
54Tony Stewart2.09
63Mark Martin2.06
77Dale Earnhardt1.60
88Rusty Wallace1.55
99Ward Burton1.22
1010Mike Skinner1.12


Honestly nobody really stood out this year, as should be expected from a season that started with ten different winners in a row. The three drivers who were most dominant, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, and Rusty Wallace, were a lot more dominant than champion Bobby Labonte, with Burton earning a full lead share over Stewart and Wallace and over two full lead shares over Labonte, which was enough to swing this in Burton's favor, although he was obviously greatly aided by the farcical Loudon race where he led start to finish and earned an entire lead share from that alone, although since lead shares were weighted 20% that only counts as .2 points here and even if he had won that race and never led naturally, he'd still be leading this (narrowly.) Stewart and Wallace's dominance is enough to rank them over Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt's consistency, while Rudd once again drops significantly, and Jeremy Mayfield's 2000, perhaps even exceeding Geoff Bodine's 1994 for the least consistent NASCAR season of my lifetime, noses in the top ten due to his dominance despite his utter lack of consistency, but honestly I feel Penske had the best cars that year and both Wallace and especially Mayfield actually underachieved with them. Mayfield knocks Ward Burton out of the top ten, where he actually finished in points.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Jeff Burton2.56
21Bobby Labonte2.31
36Tony Stewart2.12
47Rusty Wallace2.03
54Dale Jarrett1.843
62Dale Earnhardt1.838
79Jeff Gordon1.66
88Mark Martin1.59
95Ricky Rudd1.57
1024Jeremy Mayfield1.33
1110Ward Burton1.20


Despite how astonishingly competitive this season was, very little changes. That makes sense considering the top five drivers in lead shares and the points standings were the exact same. Sterling Marlin, who finished third in both and second in races led, drops to fifth however because Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett's best finishes tended to be higher and strong finishes were given more weight by this system. The only other change was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who would effectively be the Ernie Irvan of the new generation as in most seasons (especially in his heyday) he was way more impressive by driver rating than he actually was in the points standings because of his ability to dominate. Because Junior was fifth in lead shares (even beating onetime championship contender Rudd) he moves up a couple spots here above Bobby Labonte and Rusty Wallace, who were less dominant. Honorable mention goes to Junior's teammate Steve Park who finished 11th in driver rating despite missing the last twelve races of the season (he is greatly aided by posting the best lead change percentage that year.) If his driver rating of 1.1888 were extended to the entire season, he would have finished sixth at 1.78.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jeff Gordon2.93
22Tony Stewart2.01
34Ricky Rudd1.88
45Dale Jarrett1.840
53Sterling Marlin1.837
68Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.64
76Bobby Labonte1.50
87Rusty Wallace1.495
99Kevin Harvick1.488
1010Jeff Burton1.25


While very little changed in 2001, which was arguably the second most competitive season in NASCAR Cup history, a lot changed in 2002, almost certainly the most competitive season in history, despite the fact that champion Tony Stewart also led in driver rating. I really had no idea how the rest of this ranking would go, but I knew Mark Martin would not be in second place because he didn't factor for many race wins, his Coca-Cola 600 wasn't natural, and he seemed to be in second in points more by default than because he actually raced up there. One can say the same thing for that year's most frequent points leader Sterling Marlin but despite missing the last eight races of the season, he was still fifth in lead shares and he had an extremely hot start to that season before coasting to protect his points lead as the season went on. His 8th place rank of 1.54 would go up to 3rd at 1.98 for the season, and possibly better, since he likely would have won the fall Charlotte race that Jamie McMurray did and he did the year before just as easily. It was definitely not the worst points-leading performance. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the most dominant driver this year despite a midseason concussion and in a year when nobody really stood out and almost all the drivers were close to the drivers around them in points, that is enough to propel him to fourth place, but I do still like Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch over him. Even though Jimmie Johnson won three races, finished higher than Ryan Newman in points, and even led the points for one race late in the season I was still more impressed with Newman at the time and prefer that result. Matt Kenseth led the series in wins but most of his wins were lucky, so it's kind of a wash for him. Mark Martin's 2002 might have been the most undeserving second place points finish of the modern era, topping Ricky Rudd's 1991 (at least until the farce that was Ryan Newman's 2014.) Rusty Wallace went winless while all the other drivers on this list at least won, which slightly knocked him out of the top ten here, and he would never be in the top ten in driver rating again.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Tony Stewart2.20
24Jeff Gordon2.05
33Kurt Busch1.94
411Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.83
56Ryan Newman1.79
65Jimmie Johnson1.65
78Matt Kenseth1.60
818Sterling Marlin1.54
92Mark Martin1.47
109Dale Jarrett1.43
117Rusty Wallace1.35


This year is a mess, which is well known. Matt Kenseth may have won the championship and led the points standings for almost the entire year but he was rarely a factor in individual races other than that, finishing only 10th in lead shares. Ryan Newman led the way with eight wins but most of them were assisted by fuel mileage, and he tended to dominate at the start, fade in the middle, and return to the front on strategy to win at the end; he was only 8th in lead shares. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ends up coming on top rather easily because he led 20 races naturally, while nobody else was really close with Jeff Gordon's 15 coming in second, but Gordon only rises to 3rd here as Tony Stewart also had over an entire lead share more than Gordon, even though Gordon led more in the races (Gordon was more dependent on his crew while Stewart was more dependent on his talent.) Jimmie Johnson may have finished 2nd in points but he was not yet really the dominant otherworldly threat he soon would be and was still at this point a bit of an afterthought relative to Stewart and Gordon (though he probably shouldn't have been.) Kurt Busch's four wins allow him to bounce into the top ten by driver rating, while Terry Labonte, who rode his consistency to one of the most overrated top ten points finishes of all time, ranked a mere 17th in driver rating because he was only 29th in lead shares.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Dale Earnhardt, Jr.2.63
27Tony Stewart2.18
34Jeff Gordon2.00
42Jimmie Johnson1.92
56Ryan Newman1.91
61Matt Kenseth1.80
75Kevin Harvick1.65
88Bobby Labonte1.61
911Kurt Busch1.55
109Bill Elliott1.29
1710Terry Labonte0.83


Much like 2018, this season was clearly overwhelmingly dominated by three drivers and it's a pity none of them ended up winning the title. Although Gordon did score the most points, lead the most races naturally, and lead in cumulative races led, Jimmie Johnson led in most of the categories that are more driver-dependent than team-dependent and this is clearly when he took over the team and he is correctly rated over Gordon here. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. might have been able to match Johnson blow-for-blow if not for his injury in the sports car crash at Sonoma, but 3rd is right here. Kurt Busch didn't do badly by any means but the season was really no more, no less impressive than his 2002, and considering his relative mediocrity in his post-Roush years except for 2009 and 2013, this title is looking worse and worse than it did at the time, when he really did look like the next big thing, which obviously overlooks that this was Roush Racing at its absolute peak and he had Jimmy Fennig as his crew chief, who gave many mediocre drivers their best career points finishes. This is not to say Busch is mediocre, but by champion standards, he is. Once again, Mark Martin drops considerably as he is being elevated by the strength of his team throughout this period. Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray break into the top ten and that makes a lot of sense as Kahne factored for many more race wins than some of the chase drivers and McMurray had an awesome season in terms of consistency. I think most people would agree in retrospect that their seasons were better than Elliott Sadler's and Jeremy Mayfield's, the two drivers they drop out of the top ten.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Jimmie Johnson2.87
23Jeff Gordon2.52
35Dale Earnhardt, Jr.2.37
41Kurt Busch1.93
56Tony Stewart1.87
67Ryan Newman1.57
713Kasey Kahne1.54
84Mark Martin1.46
911Jamie McMurray1.37
108Matt Kenseth1.32
119Elliott Sadler1.22
1210Jeremy Mayfield1.04


As we get deeper into the chase period, we will of course inevitably start to find more and more drivers with absurd gaps between their driver rating rank and their points standings rank. There are few surprises at the top here, as Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle would easily come out first and second here by most metrics, and I think regardless of how the chase turned out, most people would agree Jimmie Johnson had the third best season. Because this system rewards top finishes more and poor finishes or failing to start races hurts you less, both of those things help Kurt Busch to rise to 5th despite missing the last two races of the season, although most of that is largely because he ranked 3rd behind only Stewart and Biffle in lead shares. No matter how you look at it, Roush was absurdly dominant, and looks moreso by this metric with all five drivers placing in the top seven alongside only Stewart and Johnson, probably the actual two best drivers of that time. I do think the ranking of the Roush drivers themselves is probably correct as well. Mark Martin was getting outperformed by all his teammates more often than not by this point. The big surprise here is rookie Kyle Busch, who jumps from 20th in the actual points standings to 9th by this rating, but it actually doesn't look that spurious as he was 7th in lead shares and actually 4th in races led naturally despite what was a generally bad season for Chevrolet in spite of Stewart's title. Four-time winner Jeff Gordon also breaks into the top ten as well, and the two Hendrick drivers, who combined for six wins, knock out the last hurrahs of former teammates Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield; considering Wallace went winless and Mayfield's only win came in one of the most ridiculous fuel mileage races of the decade, those both make sense as well.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Tony Stewart3.11
22Greg Biffle2.61
35Jimmie Johnson1.94
43Carl Edwards1.86
510Kurt Busch1.84
67Matt Kenseth1.63
74Mark Martin1.47
811Jeff Gordon1.38
920Kyle Busch1.27
106Ryan Newman1.26
118Rusty Wallace1.11
169Jeremy Mayfield0.92


Flip a coin. This was the first season where the top two championship finishers would have been closer using the old Latford points system than with the chase, despite the chase being intentionally designed to artificially create closer championship finishes, and the same result essentially happens here with champion Jimmie Johnson defeating runner-up Matt Kenseth by .002 points, easily the closest difference in driver ratings in all the years covered here. Johnson had the consistency advantage but both Kenseth and Tony Stewart slightly beat him by about .4 lead shares, which actually made this surprisingly close between the three of them. It all essentially comes down to two things: how much weight you give to consistency versus dominance and on-track passing and which driver you think had the stronger car. I tried a variety of different weights for both finish shares and lead shares until I found a weighting system that came closest to my own impressions of who had the best performances in each season, and the years I was primarily looking at to evaluate this were years like 1991, 1992, 1999, 2002, 2003, and 2014, so I hardly chose the weights I did just to get close results, but it appears that no matter what statistic you look at (including both the actual points system and the chase) Johnson and Kenseth had basically indistinguishable seasons. Considering Johnson and Kenseth both struggled in the chase relative to their earlier-season consistency, Stewart might very well have won if he had made the chase given how dominant he was at times during it, and his third-place is well-deserved, as is Harvick's fourth. Hamlin's 3rd place points finish might have been the best rookie finish of the moden era, but it was certainly inflated, as this reflects. Kasey Kahne got a bit of a boost due to his six-win season, but he's still not really anywhere near having the best season. What's interesting is how almost everybody on this list is extremely close to other drivers on the list, with me having to extend the number of digits after the decimal point to five to distinguish between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This definitely looks like a low-key contender for one of the most competitive seasons in Cup history, though I don't think it edges out 2002.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jimmie Johnson2.359
22Matt Kenseth2.357
311Tony Stewart2.25
44Kevin Harvick2.08
56Jeff Gordon1.87
68Kasey Kahne1.86
73Denny Hamlin1.62
810Kyle Busch1.53403
95Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.53395
1013Greg Biffle1.51
117Jeff Burton1.48
139Mark Martin1.22


While three of the titles in Jimmie Johnson's five in a row streak were rather close in terms of driver ratings (2006, 2008, and 2010) and his 2009 was one of the best Cup seasons of my lifetime, it is not necessarily obvious whether Johnson or Jeff Gordon should be higher rated here considering Johnson became the only driver to win 10 races in a season in the last 20 years but Gordon became the only driver to score 30 top tens in the modern era. However, it should be more obvious when you look at the on-track passing data. Although Gordon led more than Johnson using both unadjusted (laps led) and adjusted (cumulative races led) measures of dominance, with him actually having a greater percentage advantage in CRL due to dominating the Watkins Glen race which had a small number of laps, Johnson managed to double Gordon in lead shares. This gave him a much bigger lead than you would expect, and it does seem to jibe with the reality. Gordon's season certainly wasn't bad and was certainly championship caliber, but he got unusually lucky in his wins, and it's telling that Johnson's lead change record was 43-28 while Gordon's was 23-33. Gordon got passed more times than Johnson did even though Johnson took the lead on track almost twice as much! Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth actually beat Gordon in lead shares continuing the trend from 2006, which allowed them to finish third and fourth, while Carl Edwards finished 5th in driver rating due to having the best lead change record all season. Denny Hamlin mainly gains here because his chase was so miserable. Both third-place points finisher Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick drop out of the top ten as Richard Childress Racing had developed an incredibly conservative style at this point as they cared more about finishing than fighting for race wins, and as a result their points positions were always better than they were actually running in the races in these seasons, as these results reflect, with all three RCR drivers dropping, although I'm a bit surprised Jeff Burton is the driver who remains in the top ten of the three.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jimmie Johnson2.98
22Jeff Gordon2.49
36Tony Stewart2.29
44Matt Kenseth2.08
59Carl Edwards1.68
612Denny Hamlin1.66
75Kyle Busch1.65
87Kurt Busch1.60
98Jeff Burton1.37
1011Martin Truex, Jr.1.34
113Clint Bowyer1.32
1210Kevin Harvick1.20


Just as they were in the actual season, champion Jimmie Johnson and second-place finisher Carl Edwards were incredibly evenly matched, with Johnson being slightly more consistent and also posting .3 more lead shares than Edwards as well. Then why does Edwards vault Johnson to take the lead here? Because his nine wins and the fact that his highest finishes generally were better gives him substantially more weight towards finish shares than he would get in NASCAR's Latfordized points system, which is practically linear. While I think I personally like Johnson's year better mainly because it was more versatile while Edwards was certainly very good but not otherworldly outside the intermediate ovals (and I also think Johnson had slower cars), I do think Edwards should be leading this statistically. Although Kyle Busch tanked in the chase, his first 26 races were so dominant at times his third place ranking is obvious, and if you recall the races went, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a pretty obvious fourth as well as he was often just as dominant as that year's Big Three before fading in the end, especially in the first half. Matt Kenseth had a fairly underrated season as he missed the top ten in points in both the chase and the regular season points standings but finished 6th in lead shares and quietly jumps up to 8th here. The RCR drivers once again had an extremely overrated season as they finished 4th through 6th in points, but only 10th through 12th in driver ratings because of how rarely they fought for the lead in each individual race.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Carl Edwards3.14
21Jimmie Johnson2.97
310Kyle Busch2.47
412Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.82
58Denny Hamlin1.69
63Greg Biffle1.67
79Tony Stewart1.54
811Matt Kenseth1.53
97Jeff Gordon1.51
104Kevin Harvick1.38
116Jeff Burton1.32
125Clint Bowyer1.15


Jimmie Johnson utterly dominated basically everything in this season to an unfathomable degree for an era when NASCAR has been intentionally trying to make the races closer through gimmicks and pot-sweeteners and that makes this result possibly even more impressive than Dale Earnhardt's 1990 and Jeff Gordon's 1998 in a way, since they were allowed to be a lot more dominant then. Johnson joins Earnhardt as the only drivers who managed to lead in driver rating by an entire point, and nobody else even comes close to him. Certainly not his new teammate Mark Martin, who was extremely lucky to finish 2nd in points and win five races. Besides that, few drivers change very much except Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch gaining substantial ground, and that definitely makes sense because we are now entering an era when Hamlin and Busch were usually the second and third most dominant drivers in the field behind only Johnson. Although Busch's lack of consistency certainly sinks him here, it's still pretty ridiculous he missed the chase.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jimmie Johnson3.29
25Denny Hamlin2.29
33Jeff Gordon2.25
44Kurt Busch2.01
56Tony Stewart1.97
62Mark Martin1.86
713Kyle Busch1.78
88Juan Pablo Montoya1.31
910Kasey Kahne1.29
1011Carl Edwards1.24
117Greg Biffle1.23
139Ryan Newman1.11


This season in several ways is almost a carbon copy of 2008 in that it was almost entirely dominated by three drivers with Jimmie Johnson ultimately winning the championship despite having slightly fewer wins than his closest challenger (Edwards/Hamlin), while a third driver (Busch/Harvick) almost entirely dominated the regular season before fading in the chase, although there it falls apart because Harvick was still competitive in the chase while Busch struggled in 2008. Even Edwards and Hamlin's seasons were fairly similar as they both posted the best lead change records, led most of the leader statistics, but slightly trailed Johnson in lead shares because Johnson factored in more races. Although neither Johnson and Hamlin in 2010 were as strong as Johnson and Edwards in 2008, Johnson takes this season because Hamlin was a lot less consistent than Edwards was. Harvick may have led the full-season points standings, but I do think he still had the distant 3rd best season and was solely being carried by his consistency, as was the general RCR trend at that point (if you want to argue that RCR had slower cars at this point, which I would also probably agree with) it's possible you could argue he had the best season for that reason. However, most of the wild shifts here come from the Roush drivers, who all fall significantly from their points positions, especially Matt Kenseth, who definitely backed into his 5th place points finish in one of his few Roush years when he didn't win a race. Jamie McMurray's most dominant season was reflected in him making an appearance in 8th place, surpassing 2004 as his best season ever. If drivers like Geoff Bodine in 1994 and Jeremy Mayfield in 2000 still made the top ten in those years, it shouldn't be much of a surprise McMurray did with his lesser dominance but greater consistency.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jimmie Johnson2.44
22Denny Hamlin2.30
33Kevin Harvick2.06
48Kyle Busch1.84
59Jeff Gordon1.80
67Tony Stewart1.60
711Kurt Busch1.53
814Jamie McMurray1.52
94Carl Edwards1.51
106Greg Biffle1.46
1210Clint Bowyer1.35
145Matt Kenseth1.16


Probably the last gasp for legendary competitiveness in NASCAR racing, I had literally no clue what this season's results would look like and this was probably the one that intrigued me most in advance. In a year when nobody really stood out in terms of dominance at all, I guess it's not very surprising that Carl Edwards's consistency carried him to the lead here, and although many will be, I'm not surprised Jeff Gordon finished 2nd. This is definitely the most underrated season in Gordon's career as he led in lead shares and even in lead change percentage, the latter for the only time in his career. In a year when almost everybody behind Edwards were rather close to each other in consistency and dominance, that was enough to lift Gordon to 2nd place. Tony Stewart wasn't an especially deserving champion, and as far as seasons where he did little in the regular season and dominated in the chase, his 2006 definitely seems stronger statistically even if the narrative of his 2011 comeback makes a better story. But since nobody especially stood out either, Stewart isn't all that far behind since he is less than a quarter point behind Edwards, and other champions have definitely done worse than that (Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch especially.) The Busch brothers' dominance helps them here as Kyle especially once again makes a huge jump in driver rating as compared to his actual championship finish, while Brad Keselowski's weak first third is harder to overlook when the later races in the season get more weight. Although Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was finally consistent again after a miserable 2009 and 2010, it was a paper tiger season along the lines of Kenseth's 2010 or even Jeremy Mayfield's 2005, and that definitely is how I remember it from watching it at the time. Junior was consistent but he wasn't at all relevant. Denny Hamlin may have fallen out of the top ten, but his 13th was still better than the 14th he finished in full-season championship points.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Carl Edwards2.32
28Jeff Gordon2.14
34Matt Kenseth2.10
412Kyle Busch2.083
51Tony Stewart2.076
66Jimmie Johnson1.95
73Kevin Harvick1.67
811Kurt Busch1.59
95Brad Keselowski1.41
1010Ryan Newman1.32
139Denny Hamlin1.21
157Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.00


Brad Keselowski's championship season is actually worse than people remember. Most people thought it was fairly justified because he did tie Jimmie Johnson in wins and lead the overall points standings, but his being .68 points behind Johnson is nearly as far behind as Kenseth's 2003 or Kurt Busch's 2004, and this obviously requires explanation. First of all, Johnson did beat Keselowski in finish shares as well as lead shares as it seems Keselowski beat Johnson in overall points more because his bad finishes were better than because of his good ones. Secondly, as in 2009 and 2010, Hamlin and Kyle Busch were the 2nd and 3rd most dominant drivers in terms of cumulative races led behind only Johnson, and they were also 2nd and 3rd in lead shares this year (Kyle was extremely lucky in a lot of his 2009 and 2010 leads and only finished fourth in lead shares in both of those years.) That was enough to overcome Brad's consistency advantage for them in a year when Brad led only eight races naturally (although he was still fourth in lead shares, and to be fair Busch and Keselowski's gap was even closer than it looks: 2.1756 to 2.1748.) Despite Clint Bowyer finishing 2nd in points, he had a tremendously overrated season especially when you consider he only led four races naturally and his eighth-place finish here seems closer to the truth. As usual, RCR was too conservative and Kevin Harvick had another tremendously overrated season, but Kahne is really only inflated because of his 4th place finish in the chase - the 11th matches his overall season points finish. Besides Kyle Busch, who nosed out the champion despite missing the chase, the driver who gains the most is easily Tony Stewart when you consider he finished 12th in overall points, but that makes some sense when you consider he actually had the best lead change record this season in what was basically his last hurrah.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Jimmie Johnson2.85
26Denny Hamlin2.43
313Kyle Busch2.18
41Brad Keselowski2.17
59Tony Stewart1.86
67Matt Kenseth1.84
75Greg Biffle1.82
82Clint Bowyer1.67
912Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.522
1010Jeff Gordon1.518
114Kasey Kahne1.50
138Kevin Harvick1.29


While everyone would correctly expect Jimmie Johnson to lead this going away since he led the season in overall points for all but a few races all season, the big surprise is seeing Kyle Busch nose out his teammate Matt Kenseth, but this is actually not spurious as Busch actually barely beat Kenseth in both finish shares and lead shares (he actually beat Kenseth by three ten-thousandths of a finish share over the entire season.) This is not immediately obvious when you consider that Kenseth led the season with seven wins and Busch only won four times, but he had 16 top fives to Kenseth's 12 and 22 top tens to Kenseth's 20, and Busch only actually trailed Kenseth by 29 points in full-season points (and was ahead of him entering the chase.) Busch also had four second places while Kenseth only had three podiums outside his wins. This largely comes down to the Southern 500 when Busch cut a tire late handing Kenseth the win - had I adjudicated that race differently and counted it as a pass for Kenseth, which some people might have, he'd probably come out ahead, but it's interesting that Kenseth's season does seem to be objectively closer to Busch's than Johnson's when it is not what people remember. Kevin Harvick actually finished second in overall championship points but takes another big drop, while Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski, who quietly finished 4th and 5th in lead shares, make a massive jump despite both of them failing to make the top ten in the points standings with or without the chase. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s season was again overrated but at least he had his dominant Michigan race and was definitely more of a player than he was most of the surrounding years. Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle, who have been consistently falling almost every year, both fall out of the top ten this time.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Jimmie Johnson2.72
24Kyle Busch2.30
32Matt Kenseth2.25
412Kasey Kahne1.81
58Joey Logano1.66
614Brad Keselowski1.65
73Kevin Harvick1.64
85Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.54
913Carl Edwards1.496
106Jeff Gordon1.495
1110Kurt Busch1.48
127Clint Bowyer1.38
149Greg Biffle1.11


The top four drivers this year were really quite evenly matched in terms of their finishing positions as they were separated by only .14 finish shares, which is a rather small amount over an entire season, so this ended up coming down to the lead shares, which Kevin Harvick led by nearly two full lead shares over Joey Logano. Brad Keselowski nosed out Jeff Gordon for 3rd place in lead shares, but Gordon's greater consistency allowed him to barel take that position, and it's kind of a pity in a year that four drivers so utterly dominated the others that Gordon and Keselowski failed to make the Final Four, especially considering who did make it. Ryan Newman's 2nd place finish is probably the most laughable 2nd place points finish in the modern era and possibly ever, but I'm actually fairly surprised he ended up as high as 12th, so I guess he was more consistent than I was remembering, but that still sort of proves my point that he was a complete afterthought (he did somehow finish 6th in overall championship points so that explains it.) Jimmie Johnson was unusually inconsistent and it seems very unlucky, but he was still fifth in lead shares and that carried him to fifth in driver ratings, even though he barely made the top ten in the overall points and just missed it in the chase. The rest of the drivers in the top ten do seem to be about where they deserved as well, although I at the time thought Kyle Larson had a hugely overrated rookie season. Apparently not as his consistency (he was eighth in lead shares) was enough to counteract his seldom ever battling for the lead in a year his teammate Jamie McMurray actually fought for the lead more.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Kevin Harvick2.79
24Joey Logano2.46
36Jeff Gordon2.274
45Brad Keselowski2.271
511Jimmie Johnson1.90
68Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.79
77Matt Kenseth1.60
83Denny Hamlin1.37
910Kyle Busch1.29
1017Kyle Larson1.22
119Carl Edwards1.17
122Ryan Newman1.14


I can certainly understand the griping. Kyle Busch missed the first twelve races of the season and still won the championship, something unthinkable before the elimination/final four format. His rating of 1.85 is one of the lowest for a champion, matching Alan Kulwicki's 1.85, narrowly finishing behind Jimmie Johnson's 1.86 the next year, and finishing about halfway between Matt Kenseth's 1.80 in 2003 and Kurt Busch's 1.93 in 2004. That's not very strong company, championship-wise. But let's look at this a different way. All those drivers had twelve more races than he had to accumulate points, except for Kulwicki who had five. If you prorate Kyle Busch's 1.85 for 24 races over the entire season, that brings him to 2.78, which looks very championship-caliber in most seasons. Yes, that would still be second behind Kevin Harvick's insanely high 3.25 (a result of Harvick nearly doubling everybody else in the field in lead shares, and only Dale Earnhardt in 1990, Jeff Gordon in 1996 and 2001, and Jimmie Johnson in 2009 really dominated in that statistic to that degree.) But it was still Kyle Busch's most impressive performance to date with only 2017 and 2018 since being of the same caliber and if you're going to throw the entire season away and make everything a knockout as NASCAR wants to do, his season performance clearly deserved to make the finals. However, Jeff Gordon's clearly did not. Although he did narrowly edge out his 2005 driver rating, it was his second worst rating since his rookie season and actually the lowest rank he had in his entire career, including his rookie season. If you don't think Busch and Gordon should have made the finals, Joey Logano (who was close to Harvick on consistency) and Johnson (who was 2nd in lead shares) would have been better choices, but Johnson wasn't particularly consistent and Logano was lucky to be fighting for the lead as much as he did with 6 wins and 2 TNL (Logano was actually behind Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. in lead shares, despite Busch missing twelve races.) Logano's feuding partner Matt Kenseth had a very strange season. While he certainly ran far better than the 13th in overall points/15th in chase points accrued would imply, he also wasn't nearly as dominant as his five wins would imply either, as despite winning five times he only led seven races naturally. His 8th place is an excellent compromise for a season that was overrated in terms of wins but still somehow underrated on performance due to his suspension. Kenseth's fellow rookie classmate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had an excellent last hurrah with a season that showed solid signs of consistency and dominance, and while didn't quite run as well as his 4th in overall points implied, he surely deserved to finish better than 12th in the championship. Carl Edwards's season isn't that overrated when you notice he only finished tied for 9th in overall points.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Kevin Harvick3.25
26Joey Logano2.39
310Jimmie Johnson2.22
44Martin Truex, Jr.1.90
57Brad Keselowski1.892
612Dale Earnhardt, Jr.1.886
71Kyle Busch1.85
815Matt Kenseth1.82
98Kurt Busch1.73
109Denny Hamlin1.70
115Carl Edwards1.50
123Jeff Gordon1.38


This was almost certainly the most ridiculous of the Chase "Final Four" years, which no doubt partially explains why the stage racing was introduced the next season. Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick were the top two in lead shares and were the top two in every single one of my advanced leader statistics and led all leader categories except for wins, where eventual champion Jimmie Johnson nosed them out by one. Considering Harvick also led in finish shares, this really should have been his championship, but no matter. Both Harvick and Truex were eliminated from the championship due to bad luck. Truex was far too inconsistent to really deserve to be any kind of title threat, but considering how solid he was in every leading statistic, third seems fine for him. Even though nobody was using the "Big Three" term at the time, Kyle Busch was third in almost all my advanced leader statistics and places second here because he was more consistent than Truex. 2016 was actually something of a precursor for what we saw in 2018 - indeed, the same five drivers took the top five positions with only Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski flipping between 2016 and 2018. Keselowski was also eliminated alongside Truex at Talladega, while Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, who quite honestly weren't even close to top four drivers that year, advanced and Johnson won the title only barely outscoring Kyle Busch in driver rating the previous year despite twelve more races. Admittedly, Johnson's had other years like 2004 and 2012 where he realistically should have been the champion and wasn't, so one could merely argue that the chase giveth and the chase taketh away. This is clearly the beginning of Kurt Busch's decline. Despite being Harvick's teammate he only scored half his driver rating and he had a massively overrated season in terms of both actual points finish (7th) and full-season points (6th). I still find this fairly odd considering Harvick is older, but then looking at what they were doing given the equipment they had, he was probably better all along since Kurt was competing for Roush at its absolute peak while Harvick spent most of his career for a steadily declining Childress team.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
18Kevin Harvick2.78
23Kyle Busch2.56
311Martin Truex, Jr.2.42
42Joey Logano2.23
512Brad Keselowski2.05
66Denny Hamlin1.95
71Jimmie Johnson1.86
85Matt Kenseth1.76
94Carl Edwards1.67
109Kyle Larson1.65
1110Chase Elliott1.45
127Kurt Busch1.38


The introduction of the stage racing largely cleared up many of the issues that the knockout chase introduced in 2014, as rewarding drivers' performance at periods of the race earlier than the finish came much closer to matching overall dominance than just looking at the finish does, and as a result the top eight are the same, although most drivers slightly change positions. Martin Truex, Jr. posted the best driver rating since Jeff Gordon's 3.66 in 1998, and there's little to be said there since he led almost every leader category that year, with Kyle Busch a fairly close second and Kyle Larson a fairly distant third in most leading categories. Certainly Larson should have made the Final Four instead of Kevin Harvick, but one could call it a makeup for Harvick's 2016, and it doesn't seem that egregious, particularly compared to 2016. People made a lot of fun about Joey Logano missing the chase and particularly his encumbered Richmond win. While he definitely had a disappointing season as he barely scored half of Brad Keselowski's driver rating (when he usually beat him in most of their Penske seasons), it wasn't nearly as bad as people were making it at the time. Logano only finished 17th in points because he was locked out of the chase, but finished 11th in overall points, and trailed Jamie McMurray and Ryan Blaney closely for 9th and 10th. I'd say he pretty clearly outperformed both of them especially when you note the 10 top tens compared to their seven combined.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Martin Truex, Jr.3.61
22Kyle Busch2.79
38Kyle Larson2.40
44Brad Keselowski2.33
53Kevin Harvick2.03
66Denny Hamlin1.80
75Chase Elliott1.78
87Matt Kenseth1.40
917Joey Logano1.24
109Ryan Blaney1.212
1110Jimmie Johnson1.211


In an era of NASCAR that has become arguably even more boring than Jimmie Johnson's five-in-a-row streak given the stasis of the Big Three's recent dominance, Kevin Harvick posted the top driver rating for the fourth time in five years and Kyle Busch posted the 2nd best driver rating average for the fourth year in a row. Martin Truex, Jr., also finished in the top four for the fourth year in a row, Brad Keselowski had his fifth consecutive top five finish, and Joey Logano had his fourth top five finish in five years, with the same five drivers placing in the top five in 2016 and 2018 in almost the exact same order. What is frustrating about this winner-take-all finale era is that not only have the same five drivers been dominating for most of the last five years, but you don't even see it reflected in the points standings due to gimmickry. So not only is the competition the weakest it's been since the '90s but a winner-take-all finale essentially ensures that the first 35 races don't matter much (although more than they did from 2014-16 thanks to the stage points.) To be fair, one can't say the four drivers who advanced to the finals were undeserving, but it's pretty easy to argue they should have finished in the opposite order as well. To be sure, Harvick had the best season in terms of statistics when you look at how he dominated the races, but I feel Busch had much weaker equipment and dominated his teammates much worse. I do not suddenly think Clint Bowyer, who has never finished better than eighth in driver rating and never actually beat his championship finish in driver rating until last year, is better than Denny Hamlin, whose 2018 I believe was an inexplicable off year like Logano's 2017. But regardless of whether you prefer Harvick or Busch's seasons, they both clearly outperformed Truex, who clearly outperformed Keselowski and Logano, who were about equal, but I'll give it to Logano for his clutch performance. Besides the final four drivers, everybody else was pretty close to where they were in full season points, and the only driver who looks way off is Kurt Busch who finished 7th in points and 5th in full-season points but last of the only twelve competitive drivers in lead shares, in a year where his teammate Harvick tied Jeff Gordon's 1998 for the best driver rating since 1990, no less. Aric Almirola may have finished fifth in points but that was a left-field fluke due to the chase resets and I don't think most would be surprised to see him in 12th, but I do think Kurt Busch in 11th is a surprise, and his Stewart-Haas career in general looks very bad as he never managed to do better than 9th, when even Bowyer (who never finished better than 8th in driver rating) and Almirola were pretty much in the same range as Busch for the most part.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Kevin Harvick3.66
24Kyle Busch3.12
32Martin Truex, Jr.2.61
48Brad Keselowski2.12
51Joey Logano2.05
69Kyle Larson1.87
76Chase Elliott1.67
812Clint Bowyer1.63
910Ryan Blaney1.54
1011Denny Hamlin1.50
117Kurt Busch1.45
125Aric Almirola1.33

IRL/IndyCar Series driver ratings


Although Buzz Calkins and Scott Sharp tied for the championship in an IRL inaugural season that had no tiebreaker, Calkins leading here is correct as he won the first-ever race while Sharp went winless in the three-race season. Tony Stewart was the only driver to lead two of the three races naturally, which was enough to carry him to third place over more consistent drivers who didn't lead naturally at all. The other two winners, Buddy Lazier and Arie Luyendyk are lower than you'd expect because Lazier missed one race due to his injury at Phoenix and DNFed at the Walt Disney World season opener, and Luyendyk's win at Phoenix wasn't natural. But a three-race season is very weird, weird enough that Davy Jones's 2nd place in his only start in the Indy 500 was enough to carry him to 8th place solely because he led it naturally.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Buzz Calkins0.38
21Scott Sharp0.28
38Tony Stewart0.26
43Robbie Buhl0.218
514Buddy Lazier0.215
67Arie Luyendyk0.19
74Richie Hearn0.16184
826Davy Jones0.16182
96Mike Groff0.158
104Roberto Guerrero0.12
139Johnny O'Connell0.10
199Davey Hamilton0.04


This result is obviously much closer to the truth than the actual IRL points standings were. Tony Stewart and Arie Luyendyk clearly stole all the headlines this year with Stewart leading the most laps in seven consecutive races and Luyendyk memorably winning the Indy 500 and Texas back-to-back even if the races themselves were overshadowed by bad officiating and a fight in victory lane. Although Stewart narrowly nosed out the more consistent Davey Hamilton in the actual championship, Hamilton was extremely consistent in the IRL in the late '90s but almost never came close to fighting for race wins, so his performances were always overrated, although this wasn't as bad as his 1998 or 1999 in that regard. While Stewart and Luyendyk each led three races naturally, nobody else led more than one, which was enough to give them a big advantage in a short season. In a series that then had so much parity, having any natural leads carried several drivers far. Scott Sharp earned an entire lead share for his one natural lead and rose from 22nd to 5th in a year he missed several races due to injury, while drivers who did not lead naturally like Eddie Cheever (whose Walt Disney World win came when he inherited the lead after Stewart and Buzz Calkins crashed and then rain ended the race the same lap) fell. So few drivers ran the full season that consistent drivers who ran partial seasons like Scott Goodyear and Mike Groff (the latter of whom actually led the points for a while) also improve. Marco Greco almost unquestionably posted the worst top five season in IRL history and Roberto Guerrero almost unquestionably posted the worst top ten season in IRL history, which says something about the competition level at the time. Past the first seven drivers, it's hard to find anyone particularly talented (except for Kenny Bräck who was 11th in a partial season.)

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Tony Stewart1.11
26Arie Luyendyk0.76
32Davey Hamilton0.55
45Scott Goodyear0.53
522Scott Sharp0.46
68Buddy Lazier0.45
73Eddie Cheever0.44
812Jim Guthrie0.40
914Mike Groff0.39
1018Billy Boat0.38
129Eliseo Salazar0.36
1410Buzz Calkins0.32
164Marco Greco0.27
187Roberto Guerrero0.25


I actually expected this to be closer. I didn't even know whether Tony Stewart's consistency or Kenny Bräck's dominance would win out here, but I should have known better considering Stewart actually doubled second-place Jeff Ward in lead shares while Bräck was only fourth, slightly behind both Ward and Eddie Cheever in that category. Stewart's issue throughout his IRL was his inconsistency, both due to crashes (which were usually his fault) and engine failures (which were generally not), but clearly nobody matched him in dominance throughout his IRL career, and it's pretty amazing how quickly he learned consistency in NASCAR after his start here. Except for Hamilton, who always ran weaker than he finished in points, pretty much everybody finished around where they were usually running so there is little to talk about here.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Tony Stewart1.16
21Kenny Bräck0.98
34Scott Sharp0.81
46Jeff Ward0.73
55Buddy Lazier0.71
62Davey Hamilton0.62
79Eddie Cheever0.60
87Scott Goodyear0.52
98Arie Luyendyk0.50
1013Billy Boat0.41
1310Marco Greco0.36


The one thing that makes Tony Stewart's IRL career look a little weaker is that Greg Ray, a driver who is now mostly forgotten, pretty much replicated what Stewart was doing the very next year. With Stewart and Luyendyk now retired full-time from the series, this year was possibly the shallowest competition-wise in IRL history, although probably 2000 would be a better argument since CART and the IRL traded a fading Al Unser, Jr. and a rising Kenny Bräck for 2000. Because nobody was consistent in this era of the IRL, the ultimate ranking on this list is almost entirely contingent on the lead share rankings, where the top five were in order Ray, Scott Goodyear, Sam Schmidt, Bräck, and Eddie Cheever, but Schmidt and Goodyear trade places on this list because Schmidt was more consistent.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Greg Ray1.17
25Sam Schmidt0.81
39Scott Goodyear0.79
42Kenny Bräck0.76
57Eddie Cheever0.63
63Mark Dismore0.53
78Scott Sharp0.52
84Davey Hamilton0.49
96Buddy Lazier0.44
1011Jeff Ward0.38
1210Robby Unser0.34


Buddy Lazier was pretty much the top performer in the 2000 IRL season by most accounts as he was the only driver to win twice, led the points standings for most of the year, and earned the best Indy 500 finish among IRL regulars. However, Eddie Cheever comes out pretty close here because he narrowly beat Lazier in lead shares. Al Unser, Jr., making his debut in the IRL after losing his CART ride did a little better in his IRL career than people remember as he was third in lead shares among the regulars (although behind Juan Pablo Montoya who entered only one race), which allowed him to finish 4th in driver ratings. Most drivers stayed in about the same positions as their actual points standings ranks, but Robby McGehee gained four positions because he made an on-track pass for the lead in three different races, while Donnie Beechler and Billy Boat dropped four positions because they led no races naturally.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Buddy Lazier0.95
23Eddie Cheever0.87
32Scott Goodyear0.76
49Al Unser, Jr.0.58
54Eliseo Salazar0.46
68Robbie Buhl0.44
75Mark Dismore0.43
812Robby McGehee0.40
97Scott Sharp0.39
106Donnie Beechler0.37
1410Billy Boat0.28


Sam Hornish and Buddy Lazier utterly dominated this year by combining to win seven of the season's thirteen races when no other driver won more than once. Although Lazier won 4 races to Hornish's 3, Hornish was substantially more consistent earning an average finish of 3.4 to Lazier's 7.8, he led the points standings by nearly two full races, and he led the standings for the entire season. He was also more dominant, nearly doubling Lazier in cumulative races led and slightly beating him in lead shares even though Lazier was slightly more clutch in terms of on-track passes for the win, so clearly Hornish was the best driver by a substantial margin and Lazier the second best by an even more substantial margin. Although Lazier actually improved his points per race from .106 in his championship season of 2000 to .125 this year, Hornish nearly doubled his predecessor Scott Goodyear's driver rating per rate total from .084 to .155. After them, nobody else was particularly impressive but Scott Sharp's consistency overcame Greg Ray's dominance even though Ray was a fairly close third in lead shares (but crashed so often that he only had one top five and two top ten finishes before being fired by Team Menard.) I still like Ray's placement because he was still a huge factor when many other drivers weren't. Most of the other drivers were fairly close to their championship finishes, except for Buzz Calkins and Airton Daré, who fell considerably because they combined for only .036 lead shares between them.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Sam Hornish, Jr.2.02
22Buddy Lazier1.63
33Scott Sharp0.92
418Greg Ray0.71
54Billy Boat0.625
67Al Unser, Jr.0.624
76Felipe Giaffone0.60
88Eddie Cheever0.59
95Eliseo Salazar0.53
1012Robbie Buhl0.51
149Buzz Calkins0.30
1510Airton Daré0.28


Now we are beginning to enter the era when the IRL begins to have a fairly credible field at the top tier at least. For the first time, the drivers on this list were generally all at least pretty good. As the IRL schedule had also increased to fifteen races, the odds of single dominant races or making only a pass for the lead or two carrying great weight also declines, so most drivers were very, very close to their championship positions. Although most fans expected the Penske drivers to walk away with the title after Gil de Ferran's back-to-back CART titles and Hélio Castroneves and de Ferran's 1-2 finish in the 2001 Indy 500, Sam Hornish basically matched his 2001 performance and was unaffected while most of the IRL's old guard declined significantly (Buddy Lazier and Eddie Cheever only led one race naturally each and actually did worse than their 8th and 10th place points positions.) One general trend in Castroneves's career was that in most years his lead shares were usually lower than his cumulative races led and that was the case here as de Ferran actually doubled him in lead shares, allowing him to jump Castroneves here even though he missed the season finale due to injury. Al Unser, Jr., considered washed up by most and missing two races due to his arrest on a battery charge, actually remained more resilient than most of the other older drivers, but this year particularly was marked by the rise of younger drivers who never quite lived up to their potential like Felipe Giaffone, Alex Barron, Airton Daré, and rookie Tomas Scheckter, who finished 4th in cumulative races led, led the most laps in four races, and generally demolished his teammate/boss Cheever all season until he was fired for crashing too much. Scheckter was perhaps the most underrated driver of that era and does improve from 14th to 10th despite missing three races when he was rideless.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Sam Hornish, Jr.2.22
23Gil de Ferran1.67
32Hélio Castroneves1.52
44Felipe Giaffone1.33
55Alex Barron0.84
67Al Unser, Jr.0.73
76Scott Sharp0.61
89Airton Daré0.51
911Jeff Ward0.49
1014Tomas Scheckter0.482
118Buddy Lazier0.477
1210Eddie Cheever0.42


The mass defection of recent CART drivers along with engine manufacturers Honda and Toyota to the IRL massively shook up the series now rechristened the IndyCar Series, essentially creating the modern era IndyCar as we know it today, even though they didn't start introducing road and street course races until two years later. Although Scott Dixon won the title only rather narrowly due to inconsistency, he was a lot more dominant than that implies. He set the modern IndyCar record for consecutive laps led by winning at Pikes Peak, leading start-to-finish at Richmond, and leading from the pole at Kansas, where he did not win. That allowed him to take big leads in both lead shares and cumulative races led, nearly matching Sam Hornish's advantage over Gil de Ferran in driver rating in the previous year. Hornish, de Ferran, and Hélio Castroneves retain the same positions they held the year before among regular drivers in 2002, and de Ferran ended up badly beating Castroneves in lead shares again and still had the advantage over him despite again missing a race due to injury. However, despite Hornish having very underpowered Chevies for most of the season that could not compete with the Hondas and Toyotas, Hornish somehow managed to finish second in lead shares and also barely in driver rating thanks to his dominant runs late in the season when he had a Cosworth engine rebadged as a Chevy. Tony Kanaan, also making his IRL debut, finished both fourth in the championship and in driver rating, and the five championship contenders did finish in the top five, but they were nowhere near as close in driver rating as they were in the actual championship. Dixon's Ganassi teammate Tomas Scheckter was the 2nd most dominant in terms of cumulative races led and 3rd in lead shares, but he was too inconsistent to really show up with the five title contenders. Part-time Andretti drivers Bryan Herta and Dan Wheldon both showed better than most of the regulars and were rewarded here as a result, as this system does not punish people from missing races as much. Scott Sharp drops considerably both because Wheldon and Herta arguably outperformed him and because Sharp backed into his one race victory at Motegi when Kanaan and Dixon crashed while battling for the lead.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Scott Dixon2.13
25Sam Hornish, Jr.1.659
32Gil de Ferran1.655
44Tony Kanaan1.53
53Hélio Castroneves1.36
67Tomas Scheckter1.03
76Al Unser, Jr.0.76
813Bryan Herta0.65
911Dan Wheldon0.62
109Kenny Bräck0.61
1110Tora Takagi0.57
128Scott Sharp0.54


The dynamic of the IRL changed markedly in this year as the Honda/Toyota battle turned decidedly in Honda's favor in this year and in 2005 as Toyota was starting to underfund its IRL program to focus on its eventual entry in NASCAR. While the Penske drivers Hélio Castroneves and Sam Hornish, now replacing the retired Gil de Ferran, remained competitive, the Ganassi drivers especially tanked and Scott Dixon had probably the worst two seasons of his entire career to date and didn't even outperform Darren Manning all that much. The chief benefactor was Andretti Green Racing, who saw its lead driver Tony Kanaan post perhaps the best IRL season to date by becoming the first IndyCar driver to ever finish on the lead lap in every race in the season and he was also dominant as well, leading four more races naturally than anyone else and leading in lead shares and cumulative races led (the latter substantially.) Dan Wheldon, making his full season debut, was actually not that far off Kanaan in consistency and probably could have won the championship in a lot of other years, but he was far off in terms of dominance, as Hornish and Buddy Rice both beat him in lead shares. Despite Hornish again having underpowered equipment as Penske's Toyotas were nowhere near as fast as the Hondas, he was a fairly close to second to Kanaan in lead shares and far ahead of everyone else allowing him to finish only behind the three main title contenders here. For the third year in a row, Castroneves finished behind his teammates but was still fairly competitive. Considering how dominant Dario Franchitti was later, it's pretty shocking he was only 7th in his first full Andretti Green season, especially when you consider that Franchitti had a much stronger reputation than Kanaan and Wheldon entering this year.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Tony Kanaan2.48
22Dan Wheldon1.80
33Buddy Rice1.45
47Sam Hornish, Jr.1.42
55Adrián Fernández1.30
64Hélio Castroneves1.22
76Dario Franchitti1.10
88Vitor Meira1.05
99Bryan Herta0.61
1010Scott Dixon0.54


The Honda dominance of 2004 extended into 2005, but this year the Honda dominance was represented almost entirely by one team: Andretti Green Racing. While Buddy Rice won three races for Rahal-Letterman Racing including the Indy 500 and Adrián Fernández won three races for his self-owned team, the Rahal team tanked perhaps due to Rice's injury and perhaps also due to rookie Danica Patrick's relative conservatism, and Fernández wasn't able to find sponsorship to run full-time. This meant Andretti had even less opposition in 2004 and Wheldon dominated the entire season over Kanaan, but not to nearly the degree Kanaan had dominated over Wheldon the year before. While Wheldon led essentially every advanced leading statistic, Kanaan matched him in races led and nearly matched him in lead shares, so the gap wasn't perhaps as large as it looked. Their teammates Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta also contributed to the dominance and both fared a lot better than they did the previous year. Penske was the only team that could really pose any threat to Andretti, but it wasn't a very big one. Most drivers finished very close to their actual points positions, but the big exception was Tomas Scheckter, who posted probably the best year of his career after replacing Sam Hornish at Panther Racing. He finished 4th in lead shares but less than half of a lead share behind the three lead Andretti drivers despite driving a relatively underpowered Chevy, and also posted one of the best ever IndyCar lead change records at 12-5.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dan Wheldon2.16
22Tony Kanaan1.95
34Dario Franchitti1.65
43Sam Hornish, Jr.1.51
56Hélio Castroneves1.20
69Tomas Scheckter1.13
78Bryan Herta0.96
85Scott Sharp0.94
97Vitor Meira0.85
1010Patrick Carpentier0.66


Although many people questioned Dan Wheldon's decision to replace Darren Manning as Scott Dixon's teammate at the Ganassi team, considering Ganassi had perhaps the two worst years of its history in 2004 and 2005, and considering Andretti was clearly on top in 2005, Wheldon's decision looked like a visionary move by season's end. Wheldon may have lost the championship to Sam Hornish on a tiebreaker, but that looks almost like a travesty in retrospect. Although Hornish won four races to Wheldon's two, Wheldon beat him in almost every other category: laps led, TNL, races where he led the most laps, and Wheldon also beat Hornish by nearly two full lead shares. It seems that much like Rusty Wallace's 1989 or Jeff Gordon's 1997, Hornish won this title over Wheldon solely because he was lucky, and I think we might look at Wheldon's career very differently if he had won back-to-back titles with two different teams, and winning this championship might have extended his tenure at Ganassi rather than having him dropped after the 2008 season; sadly, I think he'd have lived if that narrative had continued as well, although it's possible he would have been replaced by Dario Franchitti regardless since Ganassi signed Franchitti for his NASCAR team while he still had Wheldon driving for him in IndyCar, and Franchitti always was the stronger road racer. As the withdrawal of Toyota and Chevy created an all-Honda field, Andretti's advantage was nullified and Penske and Ganassi returned to their usual positions of dominance, and the two Ganassi and two Penske drivers utterly dominated the field and were very close in points (separated by only 13 points, less than 1/4 of the points in a single race), however Scott Dixon and especially Hélio Castroneves lagged on lead shares and shouldn't have been that close to Hornish or especially Wheldon in the title battle. Andretti drops to at best the 3rd best team but Panther's driver Vitor Meira ended up beating all four Andretti drivers here, and the only change in the top ten is that Dario Franchitti trades positions with Marco Andretti, who may not have been the best driver to replace Wheldon with.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Dan Wheldon2.30
21Sam Hornish, Jr.1.90
34Scott Dixon1.73
43Hélio Castroneves1.62
55Vitor Meira1.10
66Tony Kanaan1.08
78Dario Franchitti0.60
87Marco Andretti0.58
99Danica Patrick0.43
1010Tomas Scheckter0.41


After their rather dismal 2006, Andretti Green Racing returned to the fore overtaking the Ganassi and Penske teams, although they were probably more evenly matched than in the previous three seasons, as Andretti had a huge advantage in 2004-05 and Penske/Ganassi had a huge advantage in 2006, while this year was perhaps the most balanced between the three. Although Hélio Castroneves surprisingly led all drivers in lead shares this year largely thanks to winning pole positions on road courses in races that no on-track lead changes, he was maddeningly inconsistent and crashed from the pole at least twice. He wasn't really anything resembling a title contender, and leading in lead shares doesn't help him much here. Dario Franchitti had the best balance between lead shares and consistency, convincing me he was the deserving champion even though he got ridiculously lucky to win the Indy 500 and even though Scott Dixon running out of gas on the lead lap handed Franchitti the race win and title. However, Dixon was far luckier than Franchitti in the races this season, as while Franchitti and Dixon won four times, Franchitti had three TNL to Dixon's one so Dixon was backing into race wins a lot, which allowed him to get passed here by Franchitti's teammate Tony Kanaan, who won the most races this year (five) and was an outside title threat as well (Kanaan possibly would have had a strong chance to win the title himself if he hadn't sacrificed his title chances in Sonoma to block for Franchitti's damaged car there and fought for the win himself.) Besides that, little changes except that the sometimes dominant but wildly inconsistent Marco Andretti slightly broke into the top ten in driver ratings.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dario Franchitti2.61
23Tony Kanaan2.22
32Scott Dixon2.15
46Hélio Castroneves1.95
54Dan Wheldon1.67
65Sam Hornish, Jr.1.21
77Danica Patrick0.77
88Scott Sharp0.66
911Marco Andretti0.60
109Buddy Rice0.48
1110Tomas Scheckter0.43


While Hélio Castroneves underachieved most years in his career, this year is clearly the big exception. There is a solid case that even though Scott Dixon won six races including the Indy 500 and Castroneves only won twice, Castroneves had the stronger season, but it's certainly debatable as the very small gap between them in driver ratings implies. Despite Dixon having the winningest season of his career to date, Castroneves slightly beat him in lead shares by .35 and he was also more consistent, posting a better average finish and one more top five and top ten finish, which was enough to swing him to taking a very small lead here. While Dixon was more dominant, most of the difference in their dominance came down to luck or pit strategy, as Dixon beat Castroneves by an entire cumulative race led but Castroneves beat him in lead shares. It's a very real debate and it says quite a lot for Castroneves that he was able to basically match Dixon in what might have been Dixon's best season ever, and he more than doubled his new teammate Ryan Briscoe in driver rating. It's too bad he wasn't able to come close to that kind of performance in any other season though. None of the other drivers were even close to them. With Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish defecting to NASCAR, Dan Wheldon beginning to struggle with the massive increase of road courses onto the schedule, and Tony Kanaan beginning to struggle as the replacement of Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta, and Dario Franchitti, with Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, and Hideki Mutoh, who did not provide as much stellar setup knowledge, Castroneves and Dixon were pretty much home-free to dominate. Marco had clearly the best season of his career to date as he actually matched Castroneves and Dixon in races led naturally and was third in lead shares, indicating he actually surprisingly wasn't far off Kanaan and Wheldon and he was very unlucky not to win this year. Will Power also improves thanks to the one race at Long Beach he dominated start to finish, even though the IRL regulars weren't there. Although Oriol Servià and Justin Wilson beat him in points to be the top two ex-Champ Car drivers in points, Power's win places him first among the ex-Champ Car drivers in driver rating, and definitely presages his future dominance.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Hélio Castroneves2.42
21Scott Dixon2.37
33Tony Kanaan1.57
44Dan Wheldon1.22
57Marco Andretti1.16
65Ryan Briscoe0.99
76Danica Patrick0.88
88Ryan Hunter-Reay0.73
912Will Power0.72
109Oriol Servià0.55
1110Hideki Mutoh0.50


The Penske and Ganassi teams dominated this year to an almost even greater extent than they had in 2006 as the once-dominant Andretti team was now in a shambles with Tony Kanaan suffering a slight injury, and Kanaan, Danica Patrick, and Marco Andretti having terrible team morale. That left Penske and Ganassi to dominate almost singlehandedly, with only Justin Wilson's surprise natural win for the then-career-winless Dale Coyne team breaking the duopoly. However, this year the tables turned with Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Hélio Castroneves trading places on the team, perhaps because Castroneves missed the opening race of the season due to his tax evasion case and Penske shifted more of its resources to focusing on Briscoe's team. While Castroneves beat Briscoe 3.97 lead shares to 0.73 in 2008, Briscoe essentially turned the tables and beat Castroneves 3.98 lead shares to 0.51 the next year. Briscoe along with Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were essentially even all season long. Franchitti was a slight step behind in dominance, while Dixon was the most dominant, but the season was essentially decided by Franchitti beating the faster Dixon and Briscoe on fuel mileage in the season finale at Homestead. I think I agree with the order of the three championship contenders here. Dixon was definitely unlucky this year while Briscoe took himself out in the Motegi crash and Franchitti was fairly lucky with the fuel mileage finish. Shockingly, despite only competing in six races and finishing 19th in th championship, part-time Penske driver Will Power actually beat near full-timer Castroneves in driver rating because he posted nearly two more lead shares despite running in 12 fewer races; this definitely predicted most of the next decade for Penske. Wilson's natural win carried him over all the drivers who didn't win, and only two drivers besides the top six even led naturally all season: Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan. Although Kanaan, who suffered a slight injury in 2009, was barely beaten by teammate Danica Patrick by two points in the standings, his two races where he led naturally were enough to place him over his teammates. Dan Wheldon, now driving for the once-great Panther Racing, failed to lead naturally at all and as a result dropped out of the top ten compared to his actual points rank.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Scott Dixon2.56
23Ryan Briscoe2.52
31Dario Franchitti2.40
419Will Power1.00
54Hélio Castroneves0.99
69Justin Wilson0.87
76Tony Kanaan0.71
87Graham Rahal0.64
95Danica Patrick0.62
108Marco Andretti0.55
1210Dan Wheldon0.49


Although at the time I thought this was a fairly deserving championship for Dario Franchitti and his best overall season both because he won one of the most dominant Indy 500s ever in recent years, because he was more balanced between ovals and road/street courses, while Power was incredibly dominant on road/street courses but struggled on ovals, and because Power crashed in the final race to hand him the title, it actually looks like there wasn't much a case that Franchitti deserved it at all. While Power won five races to Franchitti's three, Power was unlucky while Franchitti was lucky, as Power actually beat Franchitti with 7 TNL to 1. This (along with Power's 5.6 lead shares to Franchitti's 1.9) indicates to me that he probably was the stronger driver by a long shot even though Franchitti had more balance and consistency, and indeed Power's 0.78 point lead is the largest in IndyCar history to this point. The dominance of the Penske and Ganassi teams continued this season as the five regulars for those teams swept the top five positions with no one else even close, although Briscoe was again more dominant than Castroneves in terms of lead shares and Castroneves was lucky to win three times while Briscoe was slightly unlucky to win only once, which caused them to flip positions. The only other swap is between new Andretti teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Even though RHR has the much stronger reputation, Marco was actually arguably stronger as he was tied for second in races led naturally, tied for the lead in lead change record, and 5th in lead shares at 1.57 to Hunter-Reay's 0.27. This is reflected in the result here even though RHR was more consistent.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Will Power2.57
21Dario Franchitti1.79
33Scott Dixon1.62
45Ryan Briscoe1.50
54Hélio Castroneves1.39
66Tony Kanaan0.97
78Marco Andretti0.96
87Ryan Hunter-Reay0.91
99Dan Wheldon0.89
1010Danica Patrick0.57


This result actually surprised me a bit because Dario Franchitti only barely won the title and Will Power seemed a lot more dominant in the races, although I'll grant that Franchitti felt closer to Power this season than he did in 2010, as Franchitti led the points standings throughout most of 2011 while he only led after the season finale in 2010. Although Power led in all the advanced leading statistics in 2011 except for best lead change record, which went to Scott Dixon, Franchitti did score the most races led naturally and was not far behind in lead shares, and they were so close in lead shares with Power scoring 5.00 to Franchitti's 4.64 that driver rating did not actually flip the championship result. Most of the other drivers flip entirely due to lead shares, as Tony Kanaan had two races led naturally including a TNL to Oriol Servià's one, Takuma Sato gains a large amount and enters the top ten due to his TNL in the rain-shortened Loudon race, and Marco Andretti, who scored a natural win at Iowa, actually jumps his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose Loudon win was not natural. Danica Patrick, who failed to lead naturally for the third year in a row, had one of the weakest top ten seasons in recent memory, dropping to 15th in driver rating, but it was clear she was focusing more on her impending NASCAR season at this point anyway. I still probably prefer Power's season to Franchitti's because Franchitti's teammate Dixon still did well although not as well as usual, while Power's teammates Ryan Briscoe and Hélio Castroneves had probably their worst Penske seasons, with Castroneves probably having the worst season of his career and not even making the top ten either in the actual points standings or in terms of driver rating (Castroneves also had 0 races led naturally for the only time in his full-time career.)

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Dario Franchitti2.40
22Will Power2.36
33Scott Dixon1.67
45Tony Kanaan0.92
54Oriol Servià0.83
66Ryan Briscoe0.74
78Marco Andretti0.70
813Takuma Sato0.60
97Ryan Hunter-Reay0.59
109Graham Rahal0.54
1510Danica Patrick0.42


With the introduction of the DW12 chassis, there was suddenly a lot more parity and the recent dominance of the Penske and Ganassi teams was nowhere near as pronounced as before. To be sure, they were still the two best teams out there, but the other teams were now a lot closer than they had been in the recent past, and Ryan Hunter-Reay delivered the first championship to the Andretti team since Dario Franchitti in 2007, and this is fairly out of the blue when you consider he wasn't really any better than Marco Andretti the previous two seasons (indeed, their relationship seems somewhat similar to Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader in that the driver viewed as legendary and the driver viewed as mediocre are actually somewhat closer than most people's impressions.) Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Scott Dixon were all fairly close in the points standings, so the difference came down to lead shares and Power had nearly a full lead share advantage over Dixon, who had nearly a full lead share advantage over Hunter-Reay, which determined the result. It is clear that Hunter-Reay was extremely lucky to eventually win the championship. You can say he earned it because he won more races than Power, had the best lead change record, and Power crashed in the season finale, but despite that Hunter-Reay still only won by three points and was clearly much luckier than Power, and Power beat Hunter-Reay in every other advanced leading statistic. Furthermore, Power had fairly sustained dominance for an entire half decade according to both lead shares and driver rating, while Hunter-Reay really had only about two or three seasons where he was a real contender, making him closer to the IndyCar equivalent of Bobby Labonte or something. He definitely seems to be one of the weakest IndyCar champions since the CART crossover, especially considering it took until 2018 for him to finally get another top five points finish. Beyond that, Dario Franchitti and James Hinchcliffe surpass Ryan Briscoe because they both had multiple races led naturally while Briscoe had only one, and that marks the only other change on this list.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
12Will Power1.79
23Scott Dixon1.57
31Ryan Hunter-Reay1.49
44Hélio Castroneves1.06
55Simon Pagenaud0.81
67Dario Franchitti0.77
78James Hinchcliffe0.70
86Ryan Briscoe0.6602
99Tony Kanaan0.6597
1010Graham Rahal0.64


In a way people sort of have 2008 and 2013 reversed in their minds. Both seasons involved Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves as the chief title contenders and Dixon ultimately won the title in both seasons, but people usually cite 2013 as the best season of Castroneves's career because he led the points standings most of the season even though he wasn't much of a race-to-race factor. Castroneves did tie Dixon in races led naturally with five but ranked only eighth in lead shares, with less than half of Dixon's total. Castroneves tended to lead the points because no one could match his consistency more than because he was any kind of dominant force - indeed, the three most dominant drivers were Dixon, Will Power, and Ryan Hunter-Reay just as in the previous year. While Castroneves may actually have outperformed Dixon in 2008 and was extremely unlucky, Dixon easily outperformed Castroneves here, and it isn't just because Dixon won four times and Castroneves won once (with an illegal car no less.) Having said that, Castroneves's consistency was good enough for second place, and Power and Hunter-Reay's continued dominance still keep them in about the same league. While RHR was the main threat for Andretti in 2012, he and teammates James Hinchcliffe (who won thrice) and Marco Andretti (who failed to win but was a constant threat and actually beat them in points) were fairly evenly matched this time. Simon Pagenaud may have won twice and finished third in points, but he only led one race naturally, and tumbles to seventh. Justin Wilson posted the best points finish in Dale Coyne history (still to date) but also drops to sixth because he failed to lead naturally at all, but that's still pretty understandable for that team. Charlie Kimball still beats teammate Dario Franchitti either way (just as he did in points) because he also beat Franchitti in races led naturally and lead shares. Franchitti was clearly fading even before his career-ending wreck.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Scott Dixon1.85
22Hélio Castroneves1.34
34Will Power1.31
47Ryan Hunter-Reay1.27
58James Hinchcliffe1.23
65Marco Andretti1.12
73Simon Pagenaud1.10
89Charlie Kimball1.03
910Dario Franchitti0.94
106Justin Wilson0.89


While Will Power was the obvious best driver this year by all accounts (he was the only IndyCar driver to lead every single advanced leading statistic in a season ever in the IRL/IndyCar era) and his monstrous advantage in driver rating of 0.93 makes that abundantly clear, the rest of the drivers shuffle around substantially. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second in most leading-related categories and tied Power for the most wins to claim second place barely over many others, while the previous year's title combatants Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves both drop, but they also strangely flip places even though Castroneves beat Dixon in points and also beat him in lead shares. This is not so strange when you realize that Dixon won twice to Castroneves's once and Dixon earned 11 top 5s to Castroneves's 7. Since this system awards top finishes more, that explains that swap. Sébastien Bourdais makes a huge jump from 10th to 7th because he was 2nd to Power in lead shares just barely over Hunter-Reay, and Ed Carpenter, by then a part-time driver, still had a natural win and was 5th in lead shares to propel him to 10th place. Juan Pablo Montoya, returning to IndyCar after the end of his NASCAR career, dropped significantly from 4th to 8th as he ranked only 12th in lead shares and aside from his natural Pocono win, he only led one other race naturally and had only about an eighth of Power's lead share total. While Marco Andretti was surprisingly close to Hunter-Reay in many earlier years, he only led at Indy naturally here and since there were so many lead changes in that race, it didn't help him much and he tumbled to 15th.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Will Power2.28
26Ryan Hunter-Reay1.35
33Scott Dixon1.31
42Hélio Castroneves1.23
55Simon Pagenaud1.19
67Tony Kanaan1.18
710Sébastien Bourdais1.08
84Juan Pablo Montoya1.06
98Carlos Muñoz0.61
1022Ed Carpenter0.60
159Marco Andretti0.53


This was a very messy year. Although Juan Pablo Montoya led the points standings for the entire season until the season finale when Scott Dixon won a double-points race to give him a win via tiebreaker, it turns out neither of them ended up leading in driver rating. Will Power as usual remained substantially dominant on lead shares earning 3.9, while nobody else even had half that amount in a highly competitive season. Six other drivers - Tony Kanaan (surprisingly 2nd in lead shares despite going winless), Hélio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Montoya, Dixon, and Sébastien Bourdais, were all very close with between 1.5 and 1.8 lead shares, and surprisingly the title contenders were were only 5th and 6th in that category. I did feel at the time that Montoya had a quite overrated season as he beat Will Power out of the pits to win the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, backed into the pole and leading the most laps at the rain-shortened New Orleans debacle because qualifying rained out and there was basically no on-track passing, did score a well-earned Indy 500 victory but got double points from it, and then coasted after that. Dixon didn't seem all that dominant either but mostly just plugged away getting finishes between 4th and 10th, so Power, who was drastically unlucky with 4 TNL to 1 win (in a year no one else had more than 1 TNL), ended up leap-frogging both of them. One can say this year marked a return to the standard Penske/Ganassi dominance as those teams' drivers did take the top five positions, but honestly they were all relatively close and there were no real standouts. Power's winning driver rating of 1.60 was the lowest since 2001, and would usually be second or third or perhaps even lower most years. Dixon and Montoya were basically saved by their consistency and that nobody else won substantially more races. Honestly, the best driver might have been Josef Newgarden, who won two natural races for Ed Carpenter's team and outscored both title contenders in lead shares; he was basically indistinguishable from most of the Penske/Ganassi drivers despite having cars that were probably inarguably slower. Graham Rahal had a season much like Newgarden's except wins were luckier and less dominant, but Rahal was still the top Honda driver either way in a year all the Hondas were slow, and he still did beat all the Andretti drivers. Bourdais once again gains a couple spots due to his number of lead shares, while the Andretti drivers, who were basically non-factors, dropped and once again RHR and Marco are very close, as they really were every year since they became teammates in 2010 to this year (except for 2012 and 2014.)

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
13Will Power1.60
22Juan Pablo Montoya1.36
31Scott Dixon1.31
45Hélio Castroneves1.17
58Tony Kanaan1.12
67Josef Newgarden1.11
74Graham Rahal1.04
810Sébastien Bourdais0.99
96Ryan Hunter-Reay0.75
109Marco Andretti0.69


The parity of the previous years is certainly smashed in this year, as Simon Pagenaud, who had a terrible debut season at Penske in 2015, utterly dominated in all categories this year. While he has always struggled as an on-track passer (he made only one on-track pass for the lead this season), he was remarkable at winning the pole at road/street course races this season and basically leading start-to-finish and the title was clearly deserved, although his dominance clearly could not be sustained once he started qualifying worse as happened in later seasons. As in the actual points standings, the three lead Penske drivers swept the top three positions in the same order, with Juan Pablo Montoya substantially trailing, but Scott Dixon jumps from 6th to 4th here mainly because he lost a lot of points to Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal in the double-points races. Newgarden and Rahal were still very impressive as they did beat fading Penske and Ganassi drivers Montoya and Tony Kanaan in clearly inferior cars, and once again Newgarden was the top driver outside the big two teams despite his mid-season hand and shoulder injury. In a season where 8th and 13th were separated by only 17 points, there are many minor changes in these positions, many of which can be largely explained by the vagaries of the double-points races.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Simon Pagenaud2.50
22Will Power1.59
33Helio Castroneves1.35
46Scott Dixon1.26
54Josef Newgarden1.07
65Graham Rahal0.98
78Juan Pablo Montoya0.93
87Tony Kanaan0.79
912Ryan Hunter-Reay0.76
1013James Hinchcliffe0.73
129Charlie Kimball0.52
1310Carlos Muñoz0.51


After back-to-back years where Josef Newgarden did about as well as one possibly realistically could have done given the cars he had and the injury he faced, he clearly showed what he could do in a faster car by becoming the first driver to win the championship in his first Penske season since Gil de Ferran in 2000. He was more dominant than the actual championship implied, as this outcome isn't too close while the championship was. While Newgarden wasn't that much better than his teammates in some categories (Hélio Castroneves actually led in races led naturally in his final full-time season, while Castroneves, Newgarden, and Power tied in TNL and races with the most lead shares), Newgarden won the most races, was more consistent than Castroneves and Power, and slightly nosed out Castroneves in lead shares. Neither Castroneves and Power were close to Newgarden in consistency, while the teammate who was, Simon Pagenaud, had no races led naturally all season, which caused him to rank last among the Penske teammates. Although I would agree with this that Dixon was at least the second-most impressive driver, and the only driver to pass Newgarden for the lead all season (while he made on-track passes of all three Penske teammates without once being passed by any of them), he was fourth in lead shares and as a result didn't end up being very close either. Little else changes here except that James Hinchcliffe jumps up a bit - while his win at Long Beach wasn't natural, it seems the main reason for his improvement is that he DNFed in both double points races and they're counted only once here.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
11Josef Newgarden2.24
23Scott Dixon1.78
34Helio Castroneves1.73
45Will Power1.70
52Simon Pagenaud1.39
66Graham Rahal1.21
77Alexander Rossi0.99
88Takuma Sato0.668
913James Hinchcliffe0.665
109Ryan Hunter-Reay0.66
1210Tony Kanaan0.52


Although this was considered an off year for Josef Newgarden, he really didn't decline that much as his driver rating was pretty much identical despite being a lot less consistent. That's because he made a substantial jump in his on-track dominance and earned an entire 6 lead shares, which is actually the most in IndyCar history. I had skepticism about him coming out as the leader in driver rating until I just noticed that. Most of the other years do come out well using this system and it is not something intrinsic to my formula that makes it work for NASCAR and not work for IndyCar. It works just fine for IndyCar. It really is just that Newgarden had one hell of an underrated season. Granted, he would drop behind Alexander Rossi if I didn't count Newgarden's pass of Rossi at Mid-Ohio as a TNL for him (when he passed Rossi for the lead before entering the pits but never actually officially led) or if I counted Dixon passing Newgarden after he hit the wall on a restart at Toronto as a pass for Dixon. But based on both the adjudications I made, Newgarden's six lead shares relative to Dixon's shocking zero for a champion did shake this up considerably. Clearly Newgarden was badly unlucky to only win three times while Dixon was very lucky to. Rossi nearly matched Newgarden blow-for-blow when he fought for the lead; he just had a couple fewer races when he fought for the lead, although he did tend to dominate in his dominant races more. The three main contenders did seem more evenly matched than this implies, and I would say Newgarden, Rossi, and Dixon probably all should be close, not as separated as they were, but I still understand why that result emerged. One can say Newgarden's finishing results were too inconsistent for him to really deserve the championship and I understand that argument, but he certainly should have been third and only lost that because of the double-points races, one of which Will Power won and one of which Ryan Hunter-Reay won. Despite failing to win a race, Robert Wickens was tied for 3rd in lead shares and 2nd in races led naturally, and definitely seemed like he belonged more with the top five drivers than he did the rest of the field. Few other drivers had much in the way of lead shares at all, so there aren't too many huge changes, but James Hinchcliffe gained two spots thanks to his natural win at Iowa and he surely deserves it since he passed Newgarden for the win at one of his most dominant tracks.

Driver Rating RankStandings RankDriverDriver Rating
15Josef Newgarden2.23
22Alexander Rossi1.94
31Scott Dixon1.55
43Will Power1.53
54Ryan Hunter-Reay1.29
611Robert Wickens1.16
76Simon Pagenaud0.86
810James Hinchcliffe0.85
97Sébastien Bourdais0.70
109Marco Andretti0.68
128Graham Rahal0.58


To summarize which drivers gained the most and lost the most according to this new driver rating system relative to the actual points system, I decided to calculate the value of drivers' overall careers by awarding points based on placements for each driver's top ten seasons for both the actual points system and for driver ratings. I decided to do this by using the Formula One points system, such that the champion/driver ratings leader would score 25 points, with 2nd place scoring 18, with the remaining positions from 3rd to 10th scoring 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 as in any Formula One race. A driver who has had overrated championship finishes would be a driver whose championship points exceed their driver rating points, while an underrated driver would have more driver rating points than championship points. These results follow.

Cumulative standings points vs. driver rating points for NASCAR Cup drivers

Generally speaking, this list does seem to make a good correction for which drivers tended to perform better than their championship finishes would indicate. Drivers who were usually renowned for risk-taking even if it led to more mistakes are generally the highest on this list: with Kyle Larson (3.13), Ernie Irvan (3.00), Kasey Kahne (1.65), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (1.60), Kyle Busch (1.54), and Geoff Bodine (1.53), Davey Allison (1.43), Rusty Wallace (1.31), Tony Stewart (1.27), and Martin Truex, Jr. (1.24) are the most underrated drivers by this metric as those ten drivers had the highest ratio between their driver rating points and their points based on the actual points standings. To be fair some of this comes down to the chase not being especially reflective of the overall season, especially in Kahne, Junior, Busch, Truex, and Larson's case, but it does say something when the drivers probably most associated with checkers and wreckers in this era do appear highest on this list. By contrast, drivers who were most known for conservatism tended to fall the most, with Aric Almirola dropping from 10 points to 0 (as his 5th place points finish in 2018 was badly inflated). He was followed by Clint Bowyer (.16), Morgan Shepherd (.17), Alan Kulwicki (.48), Ricky Rudd (.58), Greg Biffle (.58), Ryan Newman (.59), Chase Elliott (.63), Bill Elliott (.67), and Sterling Marlin (.73). I excluded drivers who did not have either ten driver rating points or ten standings points from that analysis, but regardless most of those drivers do tend to be more associated conservatism than risk-taking. Clint Bowyer's championship finishes in his RCR period were clearly inflated (as Childress had a penchant for conservatism in this era and for most of the last 30 years) and his 2nd place points finish for Michael Waltrip Racing was also badly inflated as well. Using this metric, he is probably the most overrated driver of the last thirty years. Shepherd is completely understandable because he was in his fifties or older for most of this period. Kulwicki was intentionally conservative to secure the 1992 championship, while Rudd, Bill Elliott, and Marlin also make some sense. Greg Biffle and Chase Elliott are probably largely caused by the chase. Other drivers known for conservatism like Mark Martin, Terry Labonte, and Matt Kenseth are close to making this list. Overall, it does serve as a good proxy of conservatism vs. risk-taking, but definitely more for the drivers before the chase started messing up top ten points finishes.

The overall points differences are more significant than one would think as the order of the lists do change rather radically. It's very interesting that using the championship standings points Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are exactly tied, but Gordon scored more points using the driver rating system, which makes sense since most would argue he was hurt by the chase more than Johnson was. Mark Martin was competitive for so long he placed third in standings points but lost more points than anybody else when comparing driver rating points to standings points and dropped to 5th behind Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Stewart, the top duelist of his era, constantly benefits from measures taking on-track passing into account, and this is no different as he easily rates 3rd in cumulative driver rating points since 1990, and there is a solid case he is the 3rd best driver in that time with Harvick in 4th as well. Harvick lost a lot of points in his Childress years as his points standings were usually inflated then but he almost entirely made that up in recent years when he usually scores the highest driver rating but does not win the championship. Kyle Busch, because he posted a lot of points finishes weaker than his actual performance, gains more points by this method than any other driver and essentially ties both Martin and Dale Earnhardt even though they both badly outscored him in standings points; the same general trend holds for Rusty Wallace to a lesser degree, who had a very similar career to Kyle Busch. You can see the differences between risk takers and risk-averse drivers in many cases on this list, such as Stewart jumping Harvick and Martin, Wallace jumping Kenseth, Irvan jumping a lot of other drivers, etc... You can tell this is not too biased towards championships because even though Kyle Busch won a title in a season he was 7th in driver rating, he had enough other underrated seasons that he still came out on the positive side; ditto for Joey Logano. Carl Edwards is an opposite and strange cases as he led in driver rating and the actual points standings twice without winning a title, but most of his other seasons were overrated so he ended up in the negative as most would not expect. Two drivers - Almirola and Elliott Sadler earned top ten points finishes but never finished in the top ten in driver rating, while one driver - Jamie McMurray, finished top ten in driver rating twice but never earned a top ten points finish. Overall I do think the driver ratings points come closer to measuring performance than the standings points do, especially for drivers who emerged since the chase. 100 driver ratings points does seem to be a pretty good cutoff for determining who had a great career, versus a merely very good one.

DriverDriver rating pointsStandings pointsRatio
Jeff Gordon2932561.14453125
Jimmie Johnson2672561.04296875
Tony Stewart1951531.274509804
Kevin Harvick1581630.969325153
Mark Martin1532030.753694581
Kyle Busch152991.535353535
Dale Earnhardt1521680.904761905
Rusty Wallace128981.306122449
Matt Kenseth1131370.824817518
Dale Jarrett1081090.990825688
Denny Hamlin100901.111111111
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.96601.6
Carl Edwards79890.887640449
Brad Keselowski78671.164179104
Joey Logano70671.044776119
Martin Truex, Jr.68551.236363636
Bobby Labonte67700.957142857
Kurt Busch67760.881578947
Jeff Burton64660.96969697
Ernie Irvan63213
Davey Allison43301.433333333
Terry Labonte43540.796296296
Ricky Rudd42730.575342466
Greg Biffle34590.576271186
Sterling Marlin30410.731707317
Bill Elliott30450.666666667
Ryan Newman30510.588235294
Kasey Kahne28171.647058824
Kyle Larson2583.125
Geoff Bodine23151.533333333
Harry Gant21240.875
Ken Schrader18181
Kyle Petty18200.9
Alan Kulwicki14290.482758621
Chase Elliott12190.631578947
Jeremy Mayfield991
Clint Bowyer8500.16
Jamie McMurray60N/A
Darrell Waltrip680.75
Juan Pablo Montoya441
Morgan Shepherd4240.166666667
Bobby Hamilton331
Ryan Blaney331
Ward Burton230.666666667
Mike Skinner111
Ted Musgrave160.166666667
Elliott Sadler020
Aric Almirola0100

Cumulative standings points vs. driver rating points for IndyCar drivers

This is harder to evaluate than the NASCAR list for a number of reasons. For one thing, simply comparing championship finishes ignores that the early years of the IRL had much weaker competition than the years after the CART drivers started crossing over, and especially compared to the years after Champ Car and IndyCar reunited. Furthermore, IndyCar points standings have usually been better in the first place than NASCAR points standings (until they introduced the gimmick of double points, which is probably still better than NASCAR's final four winner-take-all finale.) Regardless, some conclusions may be drawn.

Probably reflecting the fact that IndyCar has a better points system, the ranking of drivers between the driver rating points list and the standing points list are much less volatile, as the top seven on both lists are the same in the same order. Regardless, aggression and conservatism still seem to mean something, as the major stars who tended to be more aggressive (Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish, and Dan Wheldon) are still above 1 while those who were more conservative (Scott Dixon, Hélio Castroneves, and Dario Franchitti) are below. Despite Dixon and Franchitti being close in titles with five for Dixon and four for Franchitti, the difference between them is stark here with Dixon nearly doubling Franchitti by both metrics. As I earlier argued, Franchitti was essentially championship or bust while Dixon was good every year and has now passed him in titles as well. They are not close. Power has essentially matched Dixon blow by blow in the last decade but didn't get the championship results (had he not crashed in three straight championship finales, he'd suddenly have four titles and then he would be in the same league, but in most of those years, he was unlucky throughout and had he been lucky earlier those crashes might not have mattered.) Kanaan, Franchitti, Hornish, and Wheldon mostly seem to be ranked in the order they are based on longevity. It's interesting that Josef Newgarden, the best duelist among today's stars, has already passed his teammate and fellow 2012 rookie Simon Pagenaud, the worst duelist. However, since most of the IndyCar drivers who are not elite tend to have pretty short careers as opposed to NASCAR mediocrities, it's hard to draw many conclusions about most of the rest. 60 points does seem to be the dividing line here between great and not, more or less, and although some great drivers like Al Unser, Jr., Gil de Ferran, and Juan Pablo Montoya fall below this line, they also had very short IRL careers and would definitely do so if you considered their earlier CART years. Obviously I understand if someone would exclude Scott Sharp or Buddy Lazier from that criterion given that their peak era came against weaker competition.

The drivers who come off as most underrated by this metric among drivers who scored 10 or more points in either category were James Hinchcliffe (2.56), Bryan Herta (2), Jeff Ward (1.88), Tomas Scheckter (1.8), Sam Schmidt (1.8), Arie Luyendyk (1.56), Al Unser, Jr. (1.55), Sébastien Bourdais (1.5), Greg Ray (1.48), and Tony Stewart (1.48). This doesn't map as neatly as a reflection of aggression vs. conservatism, although to be sure the most aggressive and mistake-prone drivers like Takuma Sato, Scheckter, and Ray do have substantially higher driver rating points than standings points, as do Greg Ray and Tony Stewart who were both crash-prone in the IRL years as well as having unreliable equipment. Bourdais probably rises considerably because he drove for average teams at best throughout his IndyCar team who cost him positions in the pits, and Ward was extremely unlucky to only win once, but Hinchcliffe and Herta are a revelation. Considering Herta's reputation for extreme conservatism, I'm very surprised he comes out on the underrated side here, but I'm less surprised by Hinchcliffe, as he has proven himself randomly capable of fighting for wins at some point pretty much every season, and on pretty much every type of track at some point but never seems to put entire good seasons together. Still, for Hinchcliffe to be nearly as underrated by this metric as NASCAR drivers like Ernie Irvan and Kyle Larson perhaps says something about Hinchcliffe's style that I never noticed.

By contrast, the drivers who come out as most overrated are indeed usually those associated with conservatism or generally being lucky: Marco Greco (.00), Roberto Guerrero (.06), Eliseo Salazar (.50), Davey Hamilton (.55), Richie Hearn (.55), Mark Dismore (.56), Danica Patrick (.60), Graham Rahal (.65), Kenny Bräck (.69), and Simon Pagenaud (.78). This list makes a lot of sense except for Bräck and possibly Rahal. Greco earned a top five points finish in the IRL despite being considered one of the weakest drivers in CART in the years before the split. Guerrero was a very good driver in the mid-'80s but was not the same after his 1987 testing crash. Salazar and Dismore's only wins were not natural and Patrick's was on fuel mileage. Hamilton never won a race or really contended for one despite finishing in the top five in the points standings three straight years. Patrick didn't contend much more despite six straight top ten points finishes. Pagenaud is the most conservative of the major drivers today. Bräck I don't really understand, but he did tend to finish better than he ran in his IRL races probably because the Menard team (Tony Stewart and Greg Ray) had faster cars and he benefited hugely when they went out, although I suspect Bräck will be very strongly on the other side when considering his CART years. Rahal makes some sense when you consider that he doesn't really factor in a lot of races that he doesn't win. He certainly does a great job of winning or at least finishing second in most races he's competitive for the win but can be an afterthought in a lot of other races, so I guess that makes some sense too. Five drivers: Robert Wickens, Jim Guthrie, Davy Jones, Robby McGehee, and Ed Carpenter finished in the top ten in driver ratings without ever finishing in the top ten in the championship (although Wickens got robbed by the double points finale after his Pocono crash) and five drivers also earned top ten points finishes without ever finishing top ten in driver rating: Hideki Mutoh, Tora Takagi, Robby Unser, Johnny O'Connell, and Greco.

If you're wondering why a few drivers have half points on the standings points side, that is because there were ties in the top ten in the 1996 points standings, including Buzz Calkins and Scott Sharp's tie for the championship. As there were no tiebreakers in that season's IRL points standings, I awarded an average of the points for both places in those cases. So Calkins and Sharp earned 21.5 points each for that season, an average of 25 for the championship and 18 for second place.

DriverDriver rating pointsStandings pointsRatio
Scott Dixon2472570.961089494
Hélio Castroneves1962030.965517241
Will Power1891491.268456376
Tony Kanaan1461381.057971014
Dario Franchitti1201310.916030534
Sam Hornish, Jr.1181161.017241379
Dan Wheldon94881.068181818
Scott Sharp8084.50.946745562
Buddy Lazier73691.057971014
Ryan Hunter-Reay70770.909090909
Josef Newgarden68531.283018868
Simon Pagenaud67860.779069767
Tony Stewart65441.477272727
Ryan Briscoe50510.980392157
Scott Goodyear46361.277777778
Eddie Cheever44431.023255814
Marco Andretti39400.975
Greg Ray37251.48
Al Unser, Jr.34221.545454545
Gil de Ferran33331
Kenny Bräck31450.688888889
Arie Luyendyk28181.555555556
Juan Pablo Montoya28340.823529412
Graham Rahal28430.651162791
Davey Hamilton2749.50.545454545
Buzz Calkins2524.51.020408163
Alexander Rossi24241
James Hinchcliffe2392.555555556
Robbie Buhl21191.105263158
Tomas Scheckter18101.8
Sam Schmidt18101.8
Felipe Giaffone18200.9
Danica Patrick17280.607142857
Buddy Rice16170.941176471
Vitor Meira16200.8
Jeff Ward1581.875
Mark Dismore14250.56
Bryan Herta1262
Sébastien Bourdais1281.5
Billy Boat12130.923076923
Eliseo Salazar12240.5
Oriol Servià11140.785714286
Alex Barron10101
Adrián Fernández10101
Justin Wilson9100.9
Robert Wickens80N/A
Takuma Sato842
Richie Hearn6110.545454545
Jim Guthrie40N/A
Davy Jones40N/A
Robby McGehee40N/A
Airton Daré431.333333333
Charlie Kimball441
Mike Groff480.5
Carlos Muñoz250.4
Ed Carpenter10N/A
Patrick Carpentier111
Donnie Beechler180.125
Roberto Guerrero1170.058823529
Hideki Mutoh010
Tora Takagi010
Robby Unser010
Johnny O'Connell01.50
Marco Greco0130

Overall, I think this is a reasonable reflection of who is overrated and underrated on a season-by-season level, which may sharply differ from who is overrated and underrated on a race-by-race level. There are some drivers who keep coming up as underrated no matter which metric you use: Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Tony Kanaan among them. However, other drivers who came out extremely underrated on a race-by-race level didn't always do as well by this metric, such as Sterling Marlin and Vitor Meira. Both metrics are worthy of consideration as they do reflect somewhat different cross-sections of the data, and I would say this is even more true in NASCAR where what it takes to win an individual race and what it takes to win a championship can be in conflict with each other given the bizarre incentives their points standings tend to create. While race-by-race analysis can at times be more reflective of luck rather than style, when you look at things on a season-by-season level, driver styles come to the fore much more and drivers who were more aggressive risk-takers invariably ended up with higher driver ratings while drivers who were more conservative and raced for points did not. From the IndyCar list, you can see the incentives are generally balanced enough that few drivers change positions, however the two NASCAR lists are wildly different and the distinctions in driver styles practically jump off the page here. I do intend to do this analysis for Formula One and CART eventually, but I'm going to do so alongside the year-by-year Formula One and CART lead change analyses probably at some point in the coming months.

Sean Wrona is the Managing Editor of racermetrics.com, the Webmaster of race-database.com, the winner of the 2010 Ultimate Typing Championship at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, and the ratings compiler and statistician for the Mensa Scrabble-by-Mail SIG. He earned a master's in applied statistics from Cornell University in 2008 and previously digitized several seasons of NBA box scores on basketball-reference.com. You may contact him at sean@racermetrics.com.