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):
Should we start the Power Rankings at No. 2 for the foreseeable future? Because much like Dover, Jimmie Johnson didn't do much to make a case for himself anywhere other than the top spot. Yeah, Chad Knaus's pit strategy ended up having to make the No. 48 cut through the field a lot (and may have ultimately been the team's downfall), but let's look on the flipside of that for a second. With the increased speeds of the new car, track position and clean air have become very important and we've heard drivers talk about how it can be difficult to pass in traffic. Guess what? Johnson didn't get stalled in traffic on Sunday and they likely learned a lot about how their car handled around other cars. Michigan has many characteristics of an intermediate track. There are 5 intermediate tracks in the Chase. See where that's going?
2. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2):
Harvick's stats aren't overwhelming -- he's got seven top 10s in 15 races. But dive a little deeper and his season thus far looks a little Jimmie Johnsonian circa 2012. Thanks to 42nd and 40th place finishes at the two plate tracks, Harvick has scored a whopping seven points at those two races. In other words, had he skipped those two races entirely, he'd still be in fourth in the points. Oh, and he came in second to Biffle Sunday at Michigan. Couple more of those and Harvick's vaulting Vader.
3. Kyle Busch (LW: 3):
Did anyone (other than NASCAR officials) actually see Busch's penalty for passing on pit road early in Sunday's race? Not sure that TNT provided us with any replay proof, and given how rare that penalty is, well, it would have been great to see where and how it happened. After being sent to the back of the field, Busch and team didn't let it affect them and drove back through to finish fourth. Kinda reminiscent of Las Vegas, where Busch was penalized early on pit road and came back to finish... fourth.
4. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4):
How the hell did Kenseth save that car coming off of turn two? It snapped loose on him and it looked briefly like the nose of his car was pointing towards the inside wall before he gathered it back up and regained his momentum. It was an incredible save, but also a costly one -- Kenseth lost innumerable spots down the backstretch. But, in a surprise to no one, he had a strong enough car to get back to sixth over the final 25 laps.
5. Tony Stewart (LW: 5):
Don't look now, but Smoke is in the top 10. Remember, it was just at Charlotte that he had entered the top 20 thanks to a seventh place finish. Stewart's rise through the points standings is reflective of how well the team is performing (especially compared to the first 11 races) lately, but also how tight the points standings are from 10th to 20th. Kurt Busch, the driver in 20th, is 33 points behind Stewart in 10th. Avoiding bad finishes for the guys in that tier is going to be more important than Wild Card wins this summer.
6. Greg Biffle: (LW: NR):
Hey! Someone in a different position! Welcome back to the Power Rankings, Biff, and if you keep this up, you're not leaving anytime soon. In an era in which fans complain about drivers being "vanilla," it was great to see Biffle showing that emotion on the radio after crossing the finish line, right? Oh, it wasn't? Judging by many of my Twitter mentions after I had posted his comment, you would have thought that Biffle had committed a mortal sin. People, chill.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 6):
Junior sure looked like he was heading for a repeat Michigan victory until that engine went sour just past the halfway point. Instead, he finished in 37th, right in the same vicinity as two of his Hendrick teammates. Yes, the two engine failures in four races is a bit troublesome, but it's important to consider how well that Junior has been running, too. This isn't a team that's fighting to scratch out top 10s anymore, and if the engine gremlins keep striking, that's going to become very important.
8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 7):
Holy crap, did you see how beat up Bowyer's car was? And he finished seventh! Bowyer sustained significant damage on lap one when he got into the back of Trevor Bayne as the field hurtled into turn one. As bad as the lap 6 caution for Bobby Labonte and Jeff Gordon was for those two drivers, it was that good for Bowyer. Because of it, he was able to spend multiple laps on pit road and get the front end refabricated with spare front end pieces and Bondo. Without it, he would have likely had to pit under green.
9. Carl Edwards: (LW: 8):
It seems a little unfair to put Edwards down here, especially after having a strong car all weekend and holding serve as the second place car in the points. But given the performances of the drivers ahead of him, who would he jump? Edwards caught a horrible break when he pitted just before the caution for Jamie McMurray -- one that cost him any shot at the win. And pardon me if I don't completely understand his frustration with Biffle about the issue with the trash on Edwards' grille in the final quarter of the race. That seems a little late to ask Biffle to back up over a dozen car lengths, no?
10. Joey Logano (LW: NR):
That's four straight top 10s for Logano, who is a dozen points outside of the top 10. If he keeps that up, we can avoid the discussion at the end of the season about how Logano could have made the Chase if it wasn't for the penalty at Texas. Missing out on that wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?
11. Kasey Kahne (LW: 9):
Another fast car, another poor finish for Kasey Kahne. And don't look now, but he's outside of the top 10 in points. In the last six races, Kahne has tumbled from third to 12th in the standings and after the second at Charlotte, his highest finish is 17th at Darlington. By no means is it appropriate to write off Kahne as a contender -- he's been one of the most consistently fast cars every Sprint Cup weekend. The freefall just has to stop soon, especially given the cluster around him in the standings.
12. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: NR):
Other Junior finished third and carried the banner for the four Toyotas in the top 10. You could probably hear the sigh of relief from TRD officials across the garage when the race concluded after it dialed back in some horsepower for the weekend and the engines survived.
Lucky Dog: While it was an avoidable mistake, Brad Keselowski gets this week's Lucky Dog for running out of fuel on the last lap. Before he ran out, Keselowski was fifth (and ended up 12th), but had he gone dry a half lap sooner, he'd be staring at a finishing position in the 20s.
The DNF: The aforementioned Jeff Gordon. Or maybe Kurt Busch? Gordon was visibly frustrated at being taken out so early because of the potential of his car and Busch led both of Saturday's practice sessions and some laps early. But both of them ended up in the backstretch wall.
Dropped Out: Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon.
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