NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Fontana

Hugo Olguin@@RealHugoOlguinContributor IIIMarch 26, 2012

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Fontana

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    The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has left Auto Club Speedway still trying to dry themselves out from the rain.

    The one guy who couldn't be happier about being rained on was Tony Stewart as he took home the win. After Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin were up front for most of the race, it was Stewart who got the lead and never looked back.

    There were lots of mistakes on pit road on Sunday that cost drivers good finishes.  

    Let's see how this all plays out in this week's NASCAR Power Rankings.

20th: Marcos Ambrose

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    Marcos Ambrose survived a very long day at Auto Club Speedway.

    With no cautions and no way to gain much track position, Ambrose ended up with a 21st-place finish. Sitting three points out of the top-20 in points, Ambrose has to get it together and get a string of good finishes going.

    He's long been strong at times this season, but he has to translate strong runs into strong finishes.

19th: Regan Smith

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    After a pit road penalty, Regan Smith recovered enough to finish 20th.

    Smith has been qualifying well but not making it translate into top-10 finishes. Fontana was not too friendly to him, as he qualified 22nd.

    This team has shown some promise, but they have a hard time keeping that promise with the lack of good finishes.

18th: Mark Martin

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    I completely left Mark Martin off of my power rankings last week and I want to take it back.

    This No. 55 car just keeps getting good finishes week after week.  

    After Brian Vickers had a great day in Bristol in this MWR car, Martin brought home a 12th-place finish. 

    Martin has looked pretty good this season and a win doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.

    I'm still wondering whether I need to count all the drivers of this car in the power rankings as a whole. I'm thinking I'm going to have to with the good runs the No. 55 car is having.

17th: Juan Pablo Montoya

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    The look of confusion and frustration had to be on the face of Juan Pablo Montoya.  

    The No. 42 car struggled again and was not a factor Sunday going a lap down and finishing 17th.

    You have to wonder how long will it take before we see frustration boil over for this driver and team.

    Or if Juan Pablo Montoya can get the job done and win on an oval in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series?

16th: Joey Logano

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    I'm using a picture of Logano winning in the Nationwide Series Saturday for a reason.

    That could be his future, and I don't mean winning.

    Once again, we witnessed another poor run by Logano, finishing 24th. With all the success Logano can have in the Nationwide Series, it just does not translate to the Sprint Cup Series.

    The question will be: when will Joey Logano feel the pressure to win to save his ride? Otherwise his future is the Nationwide Series.

15th: Jeff Burton

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    Once again, Jeff Burton was the third-best Richard Childress Racing car.

    No caution hurt many teams, including Burton, who could not get enough chances to work on his car, leaving him to finish 22nd.

    He is another driver who is feeling the pressure to win—will his time run out too?

14th: Brad Keselowski

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    From the highs of winning at Bristol to the lows of pit road penalties, Brad Keselowski had a rough day in Fontana.

    Keselowski finished 17th after a penalty ruined his day. These are the mistakes Keselowski can't make if he wants to be a Sprint Cup Series champion.

    Maybe he got too focused on defending the current Bristol configuration all week?

13th: Paul Menard

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    Paul Menard did not have a particularly good day in the rain Sunday.

    Menard finished 19th, and like other drivers, could not use any pit strategy to get him back up front.

    Menard is still sitting at 11th in points, but the No. 27 car can't have these struggles if he wants to keep in contention in The Chase.

    Is Paul Menard ready to contend for The Chase or is he a pretender?

12th: Clint Bowyer

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    After a top-five finish last week in Bristol, Clint Bowyer did not back it up with another stellar finish.

    Bowyer ended up finishing 13th Sunday in Fontana and holds onto eighth place in the championship standings.

    I'm starting to believe Bowyer is the real deal and going back to a short track next week can give the No. 15 car another top-five.

11th: Kyle Busch

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    A second place finish may sound like a great day for a driver, but I'm sure Kyle Busch is not too happy with it.

    After leading 80 of the 129 laps the Sprint Cup Series ran, Busch had to settle for a second place finish.

    Busch is climbing up the points and currently sits 14th.

    Can Busch keep climbing or will frustrations bite him like they have in the past?

10th: Jimmie Johnson

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    Maybe Jimmie Johnson still has the "golden horseshoe" with him.

    His team wins the appeal and gets a top-10 finish even when he has engine problems. Johnson did a big enough rain dance when the red flag came out and his car was leaking oil.

    Johnson sits ninth in points, but will the luck last?

9th: Matt Kenseth

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    Matt Kenseth was one of many drivers hoping the rain would stop.

    Kenseth did not have a good day and ended up 16th. He was the last car on the lead lap, but I'm sure with some adjustments and pit strategy, Kenseth could have had a top-10 finish.

    This kind of run won't attract too many sponsors that his team needs.

8th: Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards was the best finishing Roush Fenway Racing driver Sunday in Fontana.

    Edwards finished fifth but he is still need more good finishes. He currently sits 12th in championship points.

    He still has not won a race in over a year. The question is when will Carl Edwards get back into victory lane? 

7th: Denny Hamlin

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    I give Denny Hamlin a lot of credit for defending crew chief Darian Grubb during the rain delay.

    Grubb made a big mistake calling Hamlin into pit road when the caution came out for rain. It cost Hamlin a top-five finish. I know the thought was about maybe winning after the rain, but someone needs to show Grubb how to read a radar.

    Hamlin finished 11th—a waste of a good day.  

6th: Martin Truex Jr.

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    Does anyone realize that Martin Truex Jr. is fifth in points?

    Truex is having a great start to this season. He earned his third top-10 finish in Fontana with an eighth-place finish.

    Truex is getting good finishes, but like other drivers, when will he win?

5th: Ryan Newman

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    Ryan Newman was not too far behind his boss in the running order.

    Newman had a great run at the Auto Club Speedway with a seventh-place finish.

    Newman is holding onto The Chase sitting in 10th place. Going into Martinsville, will Ryan Newman handle the beating and banging without letting his temper get the best of him?

    Or will he some revenge on Carl Edwards?

4th: Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick earned his second top-five finish Sunday with a fourth-place finish.

    Harvick has been pretty silent in is chase of Greg Biffle for first in points. He has closed the gap to seven points.  

    "The Closer" is showing championship form with this string of good finishes.  

    I would not be surprised if Kevin Harvick is the points leader when the Sprint Cup Series leaves Martinsville.

3rd: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Is anyone else as amazed as I am that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is third in points?

    I did not expect Earnhardt Jr. to have this good of a start to the 2012 season. 

    No. 88 keeps getting good finishes and backed it up again with a third-place finish in Fontana.  

    Even with people waiting desperately for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win, Earnhardt is making a case that he needs to be taken seriously as a championship contender.

2nd: Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart used plenty of "slide jobs" to make his way up to the lead and into victory lane.  

    Stewart, known for his late-season runs, is out to prove he can win at any time. The combination of Stewart and new crew chief Steve Addington have two wins this season and somehow the No. 14 car looks stronger than last year.

    Give credit to Steve Addington for giving Stewart great cars and setups to start the season.  

1st: Greg Biffle

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    Well, Greg Biffle's streak of third-place finishes has come to an end.

    Biffle finished sixth Sunday in the Auto Club 400 and holds onto the championship lead. He's still the top-dog but he's got plenty of guys right behind him ready to strike.

    I believe Biffle is going to need a win soon to solidify his position as a major player for the championship.