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From The Marbles

Power Rankings: Another new face in second

Nick Bromberg
From The Marbles

It's time for Power Rankings! After every race, we'll opine about who we think is at the top of the Sprint Cup heap and how and why they got there. Remember, this isn't scientific, as our formula is the perfect blend of analytics and bias against your favorite driver. So let's get on with it, shall we?

1. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1): Who else was going to be here again? You can't justify taking Vader out of the top spot after salvaging a top 12 and extending his points lead Saturday night. He's a virtual lock to make the Chase via points now, and that means he's racing for wins (and testing for the Chase) from here on out. Is the over/under five wins before the Chase?

2. Carl Edwards (LW: 6): Welcome to a new second place driver again! While Johnson has been entrenched in the top spot much like the points standings, it feels like second place has been a roulette wheel. And speaking of roulette wheels, Sunday is Talladega, where Edwards has not been very good at spinning the wheel.

3. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4): Finishing 7th and leading 140 laps after getting the pole isn't a bad way to respond after the huge penalty NASCAR levied against the No. 20 team, is it? And it's proof that any grand proclamations against Kenseth's Chase chances are absolute bunk at the moment. He still has a win in the bank and will probably get another one (or two) before the Chase starts. Kenseth ain't out of this by any means.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 5): This seemed like a downright 2012ian Junior finish didn't it? Qualified 19th, ran around on the lead lap in the top 20 but not really in contention for most of the night and then grabbed a late race top 10. It's not glamorous by any means, but there are certainly worse ways to go about your races. And it'll get you in the Chase.

5. Kasey Kahne (LW: 3): Did Kahne come up on Mark Martin? Did Mark Martin come down on Kahne? Was it simply a product of short track racing? It didn't look like KK was too happy with Martin after that crash on the backstretch and he never recovered, finishing 21st.

6. Clint Bowyer (LW: 9): If you're stacking up the current Sprint Cup field at Richmond, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are probably your top three in some order. Fourth? Well, it's hard to overlook Bowyer, who capitalized on fresh tires at the end to finish second.

7. Brad Keselowski (LW: 2): A sour cylinder ruined his evening for good, but until then, that was an impressive performance by the champ with a flattened right side of his car. It was very weird to see the Blue Deuce be bright red, and given how the evening went, I don't think Kes will be asking for that paint scheme to come back any time soon.

8. Kyle Busch (LW: 7): Hard to believe that Busch would have likely had a better finish had he ended up not having his penalty rescinded by NASCAR, but it's true. Had he not been put back into his original spot, he's not in the midst of the confluence of events that led to the crash between Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. And how fun would it have been to see Busch on fresh tires near the front with a functioning car over the last two laps?

9. Kevin Harvick (LW: NR): Welcome back to victory lane and to power rankings Mr. Harvick. Did you also know that you've reclaimed your place atop the Richard Childress Racing heap too? Yes, you're technically tied with Paul Menard in points, but you have the tiebreaker. That's good enough to put you in our top 10.

10. Paul Menard (LW: 11): Was anyone else wondering if Richard Childress was going to ask Paul to flip over to channel 2 as the laps wound down Saturday night and Harvick wasn't catching Juan Pablo Montoya? Or do you think RC got on Joe Gibbs Racing's scanner and talked to Brian Vickers, knowing full well that Menard is in the top 10 in the standings?

11. Aric Almirola (LW: 12): Another top 10 for Almirola by Morning. Not only has he become the most consistent driver at Richard Petty Motorsports, but he's performed the best by far. That's now three straight single digit finishes. I think I've found my darkhorse Sprint Showdown pick.

12. Joey Logano (LW: NR): As big as the 25 point penalty has been for teammate Keselowski, it's been bigger for Logano. If, and it's a big if, the Penske penalties are overturned on appeal on Wednesday, Logano goes from 17th to 12th in the points standings. Given the morass from 11th-20th in the standings, it's not reaching to say that Logano' penalty impacts his Chase chances the most.

Lucky Dog: He wasn't very lucky to see the caution flag fly and potentially rob him of a precious win, but Juan Pablo Montoya's fifth place run is a huge boost of confidence to a team that hadn't been capitalizing on fast cars the first eight races of the season.

Dropped Out: Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The DNF: This week it goes to Greg Biffle, who finished nine laps down in 16th place. Honorable mention also goes to Tony Stewart, who continued his 2013 run of form by falling from fifth to 18th over the final two laps.

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