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):
After finishing third at Kansas, Johnson now has an astonishing 37 point lead over now-second place Kasey Kahne
. This is the third year of NASCAR's current points system, and Johnson's lead is by far the largest a driver has ever had after eight races. If he keeps this up, he's going to be able to take a race or two off in the summertime to run a triathlon and still have the points lead.
2. Brad Keselowski (LW: 4):
Sorry Kasey, you're up next. Brad gets this spot by virtue of a proverbial chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what weekend at Kansas. The No. 2 didn't have much speed on Friday or Saturday and sustained some damage early in Sunday's race. That's a recipe for disaster, right? Wrong. Yeah, Keselowski benefited from the caution his flapping rear bumper caused, but stop with the nonsense already. Was NASCAR supposed to send him to the back? On that precedent, we'd have to find the specific reason for every debris caution to penalize the offending driver.
3. Kasey Kahne (LW: 3):
Think Kasey can convince Matt Kenseth
to move over if the two find themselves in the same situation at Darlington or Charlotte? Since finishing 36th in the Daytona 500 and then 19th at Phoenix, Kahne's lowest finish is 11th. The only thing that would make this six race stretch better is if Kahne got that number he was looking for Thursday night.
4. Matt Kenseth (LW: 7):
Lots of talk about how Kenseth made the right move to go to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. But had he stayed at Roush, it's entirely likely Gibbs wouldn't be on the run they're on to start the season and there would be absolutely zero talk about how Kenseth made the wrong decision to stay with the only Cup team he's ever known. Regardless, Kenseth is a contender, JGR is benefiting from his presence and accident at Kansas notwithstanding, Joey Logano
may be flourishing at Penske. That's a win for everyone.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 6):
There are a lot of options for the fifth spot here, but we'll go with Junior. Why? He was simply a victim of circumstance when the final caution flag fell and instead of likely finishing in the top five had the race stayed green, he finished 16th. Much like last year, the speed the No. 88 is showing isn't matching its finishes in the first part of the season, but now it's an opposite relationship.
6. Carl Edwards (LW: 4):
There was a moment in Sunday's race that made you wonder if the finish was going to be a battle for Missouri-Kansas supremacy between Edwards and Clint Bowyer
. And then that quickly faded, certainly helped by that caution that felled Earnhardt Jr.'s chances because it felled Edwards' too.
7. Kyle Busch (LW: 2):
Just a momentary drop for Busch, right? And he was probably the happiest person to get out of of the middle of the country Sunday afternoon given his career stats at Kansas. The reason we think this is a momentary drop is because Busch is heading to one of his best tracks (yeah, yeah, one that failed him last year when he needed to make the Chase, but alas) and one of his strongest competitors for the checkered flag may not be in the field.
8. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: NR):
That's back-to-back top five finishes with laps led for Other Junior at 1.5 mile tracks. And his other top 10 of the season came at Las Vegas, yet another 1.5 mile track. If Truex is going to succeed at just a certain type of track this season, he's certainly picked the right one given the preponderance of them on the schedule.
9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 11):
All three MWR cars finished in the top 10 and Bowyer was the second of the two, finishing fifth. Earlier in the week, he officially opened the Clint Bowyer Autoplex in his hometown of Emporia, Kansas. And he also went to the Braum's there too. As much as having my own car dealership would be cool, I may be more jealous that Bowyer went to Braum's.
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: NR):
As the esteemed Geoffrey Miller noted in our chat, a Stenhouse win would have been a perfect time to break out the "Danica visits victory lane" headlines. And damn if it wasn't looking like we'd be using that headline. But like Junior and Edwards, Stenhouse's chances at a win were blown up by the caution for Keselowski's bumper.
11. Paul Menard (LW: 12):
PFM DOES NOT LEAVE THE POWER RANKINGS UNTIL HE WANTS TO. And PFM doesn't want to just yet. Another top 10 run and another day carrying the banner for Richard Childress Racing. The gap between he and Kevin Harvick is 16 points.
12. Aric Almirola (LW: NR):
Almirola by Morning wasn't up too much from San Anton' on Sunday. Yes, it was his second straight top ten finish and man, did that car look pretty, but I'll admit that I expected more from Almirola given his performance at Kansas last year. But when an 8th place finish may have that feeling of leaving something on the table, that's when you know things are going in the right direction.
Dropped Out: Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon
Lucky Dog: Jeff Gordon. Finished 13th in a backup car that started at the back of the field and was almost start-and-park slow during Saturday's practices.
The DNF: Huzzah, Tony Stewart! You've handed off the title of this award despite finishing 21st and finishing outside the top 20 for the fifth time this year. In your place comes Marcos Ambrose, who crashed for the second straight race. Wait, what was that? Ambrose still finished a spot ahead of Smoke? Oh, yikes.
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