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 now, shall we?
1. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1):
With five races to go before the Chase, we've reached the point where chasing Johnson is an exercise in futility for the drivers in second through seventh. But despite the points being out of reach, it's a good barometer of how the rest of the field stacks up to Johnson. And a day when Johnson cuts a tire and hits the wall, runs on seven cylinders for a while and ends up 13th is a perfect opportunity to make up ground. Yet, the points lead is extended.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 4):
After finishing fifth on Sunday, Junior hasn't finished lower than 14th since Michigan in June, a stretch of six races. Yeah, that fifth place finish was the only top five in that stretch, but this is a nice baseline for the Chase. Let's not sound the "Chase contender!" alarm just yet, though at this rate we can pencil the No. 88 team in for a top five finish.
3. Kasey Kahne (LW: 8): While Kahne's dive into turn two might have looked more impressive because Jeff Gordon got out of the throttle when he didn't have an angle into the corner, that drive into turn one on the penultimate lap was something else. Gordon's angle to that corner wasn't the greatest either, as he was defending the low line, but Kahne looked like he had nitrous oxide in the gas tank as he hurtled to and alongside of Gordon.
4. Kyle Busch (LW: 5):
Busch was a relative non-factor at Pocono, but yet he finished 8th, keeping that impressive streak of finishes in races that don't involve wrecks and blown engines. If Busch wins a race or two before the Chase, don't suddenly think of him as a dark horse contender for the championship. The performance has been there all season long.
5. Tony Stewart (LW: 2):
Dropping three spots after a ninth place finish may seem harsh, but there's no Eldora bump this week. A pit road speeding penalty and subsequently getting caught out on the track during a yellow flag did Smoke no favors, but he was able to get back towards the front each time. However, he just didn't have a car to get all the way there. And with the news that Stewart is out with a broken tibia and fibula
, this may be his last Power Rankings appearance for a while.
6. Matt Kenseth (LW: 3):
Kenseth's elevator ride stops here because there's no fair way to evaluate his performance at Pocono after he sustained damage when Juan Pablo Montoya got into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. After a late spin, he ended up 22nd. Semi-related: at the two tracks the Cup Series has visited twice this season, Kenseth's finishes are 37th and 33rd at Daytona and 25th and 22nd at Pocono.
7. Ryan Newman (LW: 9): You'd have gotten some really long odds on Newman's Chase chances the week before Indianapolis. Now all of the sudden he's nine points out of the second Wild Card position. If the consecutive top five finishes are a sign of things to come, Martin Truex Jr. better watch his back.
8. Carl Edwards (LW: 10): Yes, you've got it right. Stewart fell three spots despite finishing ahead of Edwards, who gained two positions. Why? Well, the two drivers that slid below Edwards were total non-factors on Sunday and Edwards established a residence near the top 10 for the entire race.
9. Jeff Gordon (LW: 11):
Will the second place for Gordon hurt more than the win will help Kahne? Given four-time's tenuous position in the standings without a win – he's ninth at the moment – visiting victory lane on his 42nd birthday could have made the next five weeks a lot less stressful.
10. Kevin Harvick (LW: 6):
Harvick was just off all day and finished 17th. Harvick and team went off-sequence to make a major adjustment, but it never ended up paying off. That was similar to Indianapolis, where Harvick didn't get the late caution he needed to salvage a good finish.
11. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7):
In the last seven weeks, Bowyer has followed up four consecutive top 10s with finishes of 13th, 20th and 14th and has lost 28 points to Jimmie Johnson. Lose 28 points to the leader in three races in the Chase and, well, you can take it from there.
12. Kurt Busch (LW: NR):
Welcome back to Power Rankings, Urt! I'm sure you're more proud of this than you are of finishing third on Sunday. Given how fast your cars have been all season, it's only a matter of time before you win a race, right? Right?
Dropped Out: Martin Truex Jr.
The Lucky Dog: You know what? Let's give it to Truex too. That's right, dropping out and getting The Lucky Dog in the same week. That's impressive. Truex was not very fast throughout the first part of the race on Sunday, but rebounded nicely to finish 15th. Had the porous early performance been reflected in the finishing order, Truex would be chasing Ryan Newman.
The DNF: Aric Almirola, your Chase chances likely went kaput with your cut tire and subsequent spin. And I'll stop there to save you all from more bad bowling puns.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Danica Patrick and Travis Kvapil tangle again
• Broken leg could end Tony Stewart's Chase hopes
• How long will regret of Jeff Gordon's restart whiff last?
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