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From the Marbles

Power Rankings: Johnson holds serve and Other Junior makes a leap

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): Yeah, whatever, Johnson is still first, yada, yada, yada. Anyway, when was the last time it'd been two straight races where you could legitimately question the in-race strategy of the No. 48 bunch? At Michigan, they took four tires when most everyone took two and Sunday they took two tires while everyone else took four. Johnson still finished ninth, but you can ask the "what if?" had he taken four. Would he have finished top five? However, when you're the points leader and a virtual lock for the Chase, you can take chances like that.

2. Carl Edwards (LW: 9): The biggest mover of the week is Carl Edwards, and that's probably my fault because I had him so low the previous week. Anyway, what's going to be remembered more as Sonoma gets further and further in the rear view? That Edwards finished third or that Kyle Busch went spinning off of his bumper in the esses? It was by no means a blatant crash -- that happens on road courses. But if Busch has a repeat of last year this summer and early fall, Sonoma could be one of those agonizers.

3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 2): Harvick stayed out with the top 15 on that final caution, but by being in the back half of that top 15, the main goal of his game at that point was to simply hold serve and come home with a top 10. And that's what happened. It's been mentioned before, but we can put that whole "lame duck" thing to rest, right? The gameplan is the same as it's always been for the No. 29: top 10 the hell out of it with a win here and there.

4. Greg Biffle (LW: 6): Greg Biffle finished 8th? Greg Biffle finished 8th. The Biff was very optimistic about his team's chances this weekend, especially after qualifying in the top five. But here's the important question. What the heck was this all about? Was that some post-Michigan carryover or was this a brand-new thing at Sonoma?

5. Matt Kenseth (LW: 4): Matt Kenseth finished 19th? Matt Kenseth finished 19th. Kenseth started up front on the race's final restart and was in the top 10 late in the race. But damn, the handling on that car disappeared and Kenseth was at the mercy of those behind him with fresher tires. Because of that tire wear, a caution with 15-20 laps to go would have thrown everyone for a loop and made for one hell of a restart.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 7): Junior moves up in Power Rankings after a road course! He and Steve Letarte played the strategy game perfectly as they moved up from their 26th place starting position to finish 12th. Odd stat: Junior has never finished in the top 10 at Sonoma, but he has three 11th place finishes, two 12ths and a 13th. Junior will be one of the first ones to admit that road racing isn't his forte, but he can hold his own.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 12): Welcome to victory lane, Other Junior. I guess it's fitting you're right behind Junior, right? While getting that win is an immense confidence boost to Truex and the whole No. 56 bunch after coming so close over the last two seasons, it's just as big when it comes to the points standings. With the win, Truex jumped three spots in a crowded section of the standings to 10th and has that win for the Wild Card in his back pocket, something only two of the drivers in 11th-20th have.

8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 8): It's tough to keep Bowyer in the same spot after finishing fifth, but there are tough decisions to make in Power Rankings sometimes. Sorry Clint, it has nothing to do with your Kansas fandom, promise. Despite not having a win this season, Bowyer is inching close to "virtual lock" status for the Chase and it's not a stretch to say he's there already with a gap of 83 points on 11th place.

9. Kasey Kahne (LW: 11): Kahner bounces back from a poor stretch to finish sixth, but because of Martin Truex's win, he didn't gain any positions in the standings. He's still in position for the Wild Card, but it's hard not to see Kahne making a move back into the top 10 with Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis coming up in the next month.

10. Jeff Gordon (LW: NR): Jeff Gordon's rotten luck at pitting under green right at the moment of caution continued Sunday as he was a fraction of a second from the commitment line when the caution flag flew for rain. Gordon was too close to the line to bail, and had he wanted to anyway, he couldn't have gone anywhere as the commitment line at Sonoma is blocked in by barrels and the pit wall. After restarting in 37th because of it, that was one hell of a run to ultimately finish second. Had Gordon not recovered, he could be 18th in the standings right now.

11. Kyle Busch (LW: 3): Busch and team did an admirable job recovering from their early spin at the bumper of Juan Pablo Montoya before the car's right side was flattened by the tire barrier after Busch went around off Edwards' bumper. Busch is now 16 points ahead of 11th and has two wins to help cushion. Last year at Kentucky, Busch started second and led 118 laps, but he finished 10th.

12. Tony Stewart (LW: 5): Smoke's climb through Power Rankings goes in reverse this week after his adventurous day at Sonoma. He made contact with Denny Hamlin entering turn five, sending Hamlin around and setting the grass on fire and also had a run-in with Jeff Burton in the hairpin which knocked over a tire barrier in the process. He finished 28th, one spot below Ricky Stenhouse and one spot above Danica Patrick. What a middleman.

Lucky Dog: Perhaps it's not fair to Joey Logano that he was the odd driver out of this week's Power Rankings, so he gets the Lucky 13th spot this week. A win or a top three in the next few races puts Logano into the top 10 and legitimizes his Chase candidacy.

The DNF: From the Lucky Dog to the DNF? It wasn't a DNF -- he finished 21st -- but Brad Keselowski goes here to emphasize how perilously close he is to being on the outside of the Chase looking in right now just nine points ahead of 11th with no wins. He won at Kentucky last year, and like his aforementioned teammate, a victory would go a long, long way.

Dropped Out: Logano.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Martin Truex Jr. ends drought at Sonoma
Is the Chase for the Sprint Cup a good thing?
It was an eventful day for Kyle Busch at Sonoma

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