Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano

Kevin Harvick (4), Joey Logano (22), Carl Edwards (19), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88), Kyle Busch (18), Martin Truex Jr. (78), Matt Kenseth (20), Denny Hamlin (11), Kyle Larson (42), Jeff Gordon (24) and Brad Keselowski (2) into Turn 1 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 15, 2015, in Avondale, Ariz.

A 16-driver playoff field for the NASCAR Cup Series became a staple during this decade after being implemented for the 2014 season.

The 2010s featured fading veterans, wheelmen with staying power and rising stars. Each of those categories of competitors made up this list, an attempt to create an all-decade playoff field of the span’s best drivers:

(Just missed: Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle)

16. Kyle Larson

A four-win season in 2017 helped the 2014 rookie of the year edge a couple others to round out this field. He finished ninth or better in the final four seasons of the decade and racked up six total wins with 98 top 10 finishes in just six fulltime campaigns.

15. Chase Elliott

The 2016 rookie of the year finished off the 2010s with back-to-back three-win seasons in ’18 and ’19. He has double-digit top five finishes and has finished top 10 in the standings in all four of his fulltime seasons to date, including fifth in ’17.

14. Clint Bowyer

Bowyer began the decade with two-, one- and three-win seasons before breaking a long winless streak with another pair of victories in 2018. A second-place finish in the standings in 2012 really helped him solidify his spot on the all-decade list.

13. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

His decade and tenure with Hendrick Motorsports started off rough, but Earnhardt rebounded with a Daytona 500 win, Pocono sweep and Martinsville victory in 2014 to highlight his 2010s. He also won 8 of 10 most popular driver awards in that span.

12. Kurt Busch

Just like the previous decade, the 2010s contained some turmoil for the elder Busch brother. But he was consistent, winning in 8 of 10 seasons and claiming his first Daytona 500 win in 2017. He won twice apiece in ’10, ’11 and ’15.

11. Jeff Gordon

Gordon’s most dominant decade was the 1990s, but he proved his staying power with 11 more wins in the 2010s before his retirement from fulltime racing after 2015. He finished in the top 10 in points each fulltime year, including third in ’15.

10. Carl Edwards

Edwards’ sudden retirement after 2016 might have been the most shocking moment of the decade, but he made his mark on it beforehand, winning 12 times. That included signature Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 victories in ’15.

9. Tony Stewart

Smoke’s best days were behind him by the time the 2010s rolled around, but he held on long enough to win his third and final Cup title in 2011. He won 12 races in the decade, none bigger than Homestead in ’11 to clinch the title on a tiebreaker.

8. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth finally called it quits after a part-time season in 2018, but he won more races in the 2010s than he did during his title-decade of the 2000s. He visited victory lane 21 times and finished top five in points four times, including second in ’13.

7. Joey Logano

Widely considered a bust at the beginning of the decade, Logano proved his doubters wrong when his career gained new life at Team Penske. He fittingly won 22 times in the 2010s to go along with his first Cup championship in 2018.

6. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin was both one of the most consistent drivers of the decade and the winningest driver of the 2010s to not win a championship. He won in all but one season, and started (eight wins in 2010) and ended (six in ’19) with two of his best years.

5. Martin Truex Jr.

Not many would have predicted Truex to be on this list in 2010, but he went wild with Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing in the latter half of the decade. He claimed the ’17 Cup title, his first, and visited victory lane 27 times.

4. Brad Keselowski

Keselowski was one of the decade’s most consistent drivers, winning in every year but 2010 and picking up his first Cup championship in 2012. His 29 wins and nine straight playoff berths have served as a foundation for Team Penske’s program.

3. Kevin Harvick

Happy was one of just two drivers to win in every season of the decade, which began for him at Richard Childress Racing and ended with a renaissance at Stewart-Haas Racing. He took home a second-best 38 trophies and the 2014 Cup championship.

2. Jimmie Johnson

Johnson was less successful in the 2010s than his dominant decade of the 2000s, but he still won the most championships with three in 2010, ’13 and ’16 and a third-best 36 races. Back-to-back winless seasons kept him out of the top spot on the all-decade list.

1. Kyle Busch

A second Cup championship in 2019 to close out the decade really solidified the younger Busch brother’s spot atop this list. He won his first in 2015 after rallying back from an injury and topped all drivers during the 2010s with a whopping 40 victories.

Justin Epley can be reached at jepley@morganton.com or 828-432-8943.

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