Cory Mccartney
Thursday July 15th, 2010

1. Watching David Reutimann, who has stood as one of the Cup series' most underappreciated drivers, outduel Jeff Gordon and hold off Carl Edwards at Chicagoland was a win for someone outside of the same core of Victory Lane drivers. But it also got me thinking: as undervalued as the self-effacing Franchise has been, he's far from the most underestimated wheelman on the circuit.

So who makes up NASCAR's most underrated drivers? Glad you asked. Here's the starting grid for the Discounted Drivers 400.

Matt Kenseth. There's little Kenseth hasn't done in his 383 races. He's finished eighth or higher in the final standings seven times and has won 18 times, including benchmark victories at Daytona and Charlotte. Yes, his 2003 Cup championship was controversial enough that the Chase has been called "the Matt Kenseth Rule," but a title's a title, right? He's the pole-sitter of the undervalued.

Greg Biffle. The Biff's style may come off as bland as the products he hocks (Post-it notes, baby), but don't' let that fool you. Kenseth's Roush-Fenway teammate has 14 wins to his credit and was runner-up in the points in 2005 and third in '08. The knock against him is that he hasn't won since Sept. 21, 2008, but he has had 30 top 10s in that period. He's currently 11th in the standings.

Ryan Newman. Here's all you need to know about what makes Newman Newman. Mark Martin has 49 career poles in 777 career starts; Newman is just three away from tying Martin, and he's run 462 fewer races. He hasn't matched his fabled 2003 season, when he won eight races. He's won only three in the last six years, but he does have 44 top 10s in the last four years, and he's Tony Stewart's fishing buddy, which has to be worth a story or two.

Jamie McMurray. How does a guy who's won at Daytona and Talladega wind up on this list? McMurray has proven himself a far better driver away from the restrictor-plate tracks than he's been given credit for, especially in what's turning into his breakout year at Earnhardt-Ganassi. He has three poles this season and they've come on a wild-card track (Darlington) and two intermediates (Chicagoland and Fontana). Jamie Mac is opening eyes and is on the verge of becoming a household name.

Clint Bowyer. While his Richard Childress teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton get all the love this season (and for good reason), Bowyer has been making waves of his own. He was in position to win at Daytona, where he has six top 10s in 10 races, and is currently above the Chase cutline after missing the playoff last year. Bowyer has two top-5 points standing finishes on his resume -- 2007 and '08 -- to go along with 71 top 10s. He also gets serious props for punking noted prankster Harvick.

2. Forget the potential Chase tweaks. Sure, fans have their takes on what NASCAR should do with its playoff format, but there is no topic more dear to fans' hearts than the standing of the sport's holiest of No. 3s. Should it be retired? Should it be on the track? Everyone has had their deep-rooted opinions since Earnhardt's death in 2001.

The debate has heated up of late. It started with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the Nationwide race at Daytona in a tribute to his father's old Wrangler paint scheme, and it continued with Austin Dillon, the grandson of Dale Sr.'s old boss Richard Childress, winning his first trucks race in a black No. 3 last week. It was a 10-day period that was a celebration of the Intimidator's legacy.

Dillon is scheduled to spend another year in the trucks series, with rumors of Nationwide starts as well. The Cup series is only a matter of time, and while Childress has taken a "never say never" approach to whether or not he'll run the No. 3 in NASCAR's top division again, you'd think if he'd be willing to put anyone in that iconic car, it would be his own family member.

As much as seeing the No. 3 on the track stirs memories, is having it back really going to make anyone forget about the Intimidator? Does having A.J. Allmendinger drive the No. 43 affect Richard Petty's legacy? In fact, you could argue the mere sight of Dale Sr.'s old ride only keeps him more relevant and extends his legacy to younger fans.

If seeing Dale Jr. and Dillon, and the reactions of the fans seeing a return of the No. 3 to Victory Lane taught us anything, it's that the No. 3 is clearly coming back, it's just a matter of when.

Plus-9.2 -- Improvement of Kasey Kahne's average finish since the April 13 announcement that he would be joining Hendrick Motorsports.

Plus-4.9 -- Kahne's increase in starting position since the declaration.

Since Kyle Busch isn't driving and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be behind the wheel of the No. 3 in this weekend's Nationwide race, I'm taking points leader Brad Keselowski. He holds the track qualifying record at Gateway, has two top-10s in three starts at GIR and a 4.8 average finish through the first 18 races. It's too bad KB won't be there to defend his title; I'd love to see if he'd go on another rant about perceived lack of love from the fans -- and if ESPN would mistakenly leave Rusty Wallace's mike open again.

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