Brad Keselowski Makes Some Noise in This Week's NASCAR Power Rankings

Hugo Olguin@@RealHugoOlguinContributor IIIMarch 19, 2012

Brad Keselowski Makes Some Noise in This Week's NASCAR Power Rankings

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    As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaves Bristol, we saw a lot of top drivers get caught up in wrecks or just plain struggle.

    This early in the season, we're going to see plenty of ups and downs on a weekly basis until things settle down.

    There were drivers who started the season slow, who've picked up the pace now and other drivers who started fast and just fell flat lately.

    While Brad Keselowski got his first win of the season, he's no where near the No. 1 position.

    Let's take a look at this week's Top 20.

20th: Regan Smith

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    Regan Smith and his Furniture Row team know how qualify well.

    That's a fact.

    But this team needs figure out how to capitalize on good starting positions.  Smith had a rough day after making contact with Kasey Kahne on lap 25 which caused a big wreck.

    Smith had damage to the front of his car which ruined his day, finishing 24th.

    The question comes up whether Smith got too aggressive too early, and I think he did get a little aggressive early.  I don't blame him for it.  His team is competing against the best teams in racing.  They need to be aggressive and make moves.

    Just not ones like the No. 78 made in Bristol.

19th: Juan Pablo Montoya

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    Juan Pablo Montoya cracked the top 20 this week after finishing eighth Sunday.

    Montoya has had a disappointing start to the season with new crew chief Chris Heroy.  

    The main thing Montoya needs to do right now is get Top 10 finishes and build some momentum.  He has the ability to win, but he needs to keep his cool and get some good finishes and build on them.  

    Montoya currently sits 18th in points, and if he wants to think about making the Chase, Top 10 finishes are critical for any future success for the No. 42 car.

18th: Jeff Gordon

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    Can Jeff Gordon catch a break?

    Running in the Top Five all day in Bristol, disaster struck when Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact with Gordon.  The contact made Gordon's left rear tire go flat and slam into the wall.

    A great day ended with a 35th-place finish and Gordon now sits 23rd in points.

    Gordon fans should be concerned.  He need good finishes and fast.  He's almost a full race worth of points behind 10th place.

    Unless Gordon is going to get some fast wins and go for the wild card, he needs to recover and do it now.

    I know we're only four races into the year, but every point counts, and too many bad finishes will end any hopes of seeing Jeff Gordon in the Chase.

17th: Jamie McMurray

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    Just like his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray has broke into the Top 20.

    After a dismal 2011 season, McMurray is racing to prove that his amazing 2010 season was not a fluke.

    He did not start off the 2012 season the way he would have wanted too.  Two DNFs to start the year made it look like the No. 1 car was in trouble already.

    Then McMurray got back-to-back Top 10 finishes and is digging himself out of the hole he's in.

    If he can keep the Top 10s coming, he'll be able to make a run for the Chase.

16th: Kyle Busch

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    Kyle Busch's day at Bristol was filled with frustration and anger.

    He was caught up in the big crash on Lap 25 which sent Busch to the garage area.

    Busch had to come back out on the track with a car that looked more like a modified than a Sprint Cup Series car to get some laps in.

    With only one Top 10 finish and struggling the last few weeks, the question that should be asked is: When will we see the real Kyle Busch?

15th: Jeff Burton

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    Jeff Burton should be smiling after getting a strong sixth place finish at Bristol.  

    When Burton got up in the Top Five, he looked strong enough at times to go for the lead.  This is something we have not seen out of the No. 31 car this season. 

    One good day at Bristol is enough to counter his struggles in recent weeks.  

    Burton still is the third best on the Richard Childress Racing team in points. He still has work to do.

14th: Joey Logano

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    Joey Logano continued his mediocre season with another 16th-place finish in Bristol.

    While Logano has kept out of trouble so far this season, he has not done much to impress anyone either.

    The Home Depot car was not much of a factor in the Food City 500, and that's not good news for a driver who is in a make-or-break year.

    Even though Logano sits ninth in points, finishing mid pack and not in the Top 10 is not good enough be taken seriously as a contender.

13th: Brad Keselowski

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    I know that Brad Keselowski just won at Bristol, but he's got to be consistent.

    Keselowski now has two Top Five finishes this season, but in between those Top Fives, he has two finishes of 32nd.

    This is a great moment for the "Blue Deuce," but he needs to build on it and not have another 32nd-place finish.  

    That's what it's going to take if he wants to climb into the Top 10 in points.

12th: Clint Bowyer

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    Clint Bowyer is quietly moving up the points standings.

    Bowyer has moved up to eighth in points after two-straight Top 10 finishes.  His fourth-place finish Sunday was statement that MWR cars can run with the top teams.  All three MWR cars finished in the Top Five. 

    Now if Bowyer can keep this wave of good races going, he's going to show former car owner Richard Childress how good of a driver he really is.

11th: Paul Menard

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    Is anyone talking about Paul Menard?

    People should be talking about him.  He got this third Top 10 finish out of four races this season.

    Menard is flying under the radar and is holding on to the 10th position in the Chase.

    While I'm unsure that Menard can keep this stretch of good finishing going, Menard is out to show that he belongs in the Sprint Cup Series and that he can be a contender.

10th: Jimmie Johnson

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    Jimmie Johnson earned his third-straight Top 10 finish, but did not impress anyone with it.

    Johnson was never a factor in Food City 500 and just showed no power to move up through the field.  

    Crew Chief Chad Knaus never got Johnson closer with pit strategy.  It was a pretty mediocre day for the Lowe's team.

    If Rick Hendrick loses his appeal this week, Johnson might not have any strong runs for a while.

Ninth: Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards was one of those drivers caught in the Lap 25 wreck and was forced to take a trip to the garage area.

    After finishing 39th, Edwards sits 14th in points.  Four races into the 2012 season, Edwards should be fine.  

    He's close enough to the Top 10 in points to get right back into it.  

    Whether he wins soon is a big question.  It has been over a year since his last win.  

    How long will his losing streak last?

Eighth: Denny Hamlin

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    Denny Hamlin's hot start to the 2012 season has fizzled out in the last two weeks.

    Hamlin struggled for the second week in a row at Bristol and finished 20th.  

    The FedEx Toyota was not even close to being a factor in the Food City 500.  Hamlin can't have these races where he's not a factor at all.

    If these finishes keep popping up, questions about his mental toughness will come back, and that's something he will not want to deal with.

Seventh: Martin Truex Jr.

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    A third-place finish at Bristol was exactly what Martin Truex Jr. needed to do after having an unimpressive 17th place finish in Vegas.

    Truex and his MWR teams ran strong all day in Bristol.  Having all three MWR cars finish in the Top Five makes a real statement about MWR contending for wins.  

    Truex sits fourth in points and is holding firm in the Top 10 in points.

    The momentum that Truex is building since the end of last season seems to be growing. Victory lane looks to be in the future for Martin Truex Jr.

Sixth: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Running in the Top 10 all race long, Dale Earnhardt Jr. settled for a 15th-place finish after speeding on pit road and getting a flat tire on the last lap of the Food City 500.

    Earnhardt Jr. was having a good day until he made contact with teammate Jeff Gordon that sent Gordon in the wall.  Then things went downhill for the No. 88 car.

    Earnhardt Jr. has been sort of consistent, but he needs to turn these strong runs into Top Five finishes and get that first win.

    Sitting fifth in points, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is doing what he can to stay in the Top 10, but a win would do so much more.

Fifth: Ryan Newman

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    Ryan Newman's day at Bristol had its ups and downs.  

    While Newman fought most of the day to stay on the lead lap, he was able to recover enough for a 12th-place finish.

    I'm keeping Newman up this high because of that ability to recover from a bad day.  He has a great team and he has the ability.  Although another day of struggling will be something to look out for.

    Next week's race at California will be a real test for him and every other team out there.

Fourth: Matt Kenseth

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    After a tough day last week in Vegas, Matt Kenseth bounced back in a big way, almost getting his second win of the 2012 season.

    Kenseth battled with Keselowski for the win and almost got him on a few re-starts. 

    The No. 17 car is looking great, and Kenseth is out to prove that he's for real in getting back into the championship hunt.

    Sitting third in points, Matt Kenseth should be a factor again in California to get his second win of the season.  He finished fourth in this race last season.

Third: Tony Stewart

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    The champ did not have a great day in Bristol.

    Tony Stewart could not make any noise in the Food City 500 and finished 14th.  While Stewart struggled in Bristol, I wouldn't expect anything to come out of it.  

    Stewart had an off week, and while it's fine to have one, he can't make a habit of this.

    He does not want to go into the Chase like he did last year, not feeling like he belonged. Although, it did work for him last year.

Second: Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick did not let getting caught up in a crash on Lap 25 completely ruin his day.

    Harvick was able to get away from the wreck and finish 11th.  That's what a closer is supposed to do.

    I was very impressed to see Harvick keep his composure and focus on getting the best possible finish he could get.

    That's what champions are made of.

First: Greg Biffle

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    Greg Biffle did not have a day to remember at the Bristol Motor Speedway.

    He did survive Bristol with a 13th-place finish.  He got his bonus point for leading a lap and holds onto first place in the points.  Biffle is doing what he needs to do to be the man to beat for the championship this season.

    While Biffle did not have a great run, he stayed out of trouble and is ready for California, a place where Roush cars are know to run well.