NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Texas

Hugo Olguin@@RealHugoOlguinContributor IIIApril 16, 2012

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Texas

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    The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaves Texas Motor Speedway after an unusually quiet race.  

    There were only two cautions for debris. After the cautions, the cars ran a record 234 green-flag laps to finish out the race.

    While Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 156 laps, he couldn't hold off a hard-charging Greg Biffle for the win.

    This race showed how mistakes on pit road can be costly and how even top drivers can struggle just to keep up.

    Let's take a look at the power rankings after the Samsung Mobile 500.

20. Juan Pablo Montoya

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    Previous Week: Not Ranked

    While a 16th-place finish might not be a good night for some drivers, it is for Juan Pablo Montoya.

    Montoya started out the season in a hole after his jet-dryer crash in the Daytona 500.  He only has one Top 10 finish so far in seven races this season, but he is staying out of trouble and getting consistent finishes.

    I believe Montoya still has a chance to climb up the points and make a run for the Chase. The points are close right now, and a lot of the top drivers are having tough weeks.  Only Greg Biffle has been consistent all season long.

    Montoya currently sits 18th in points and just 45 points out of the Chase.  As long as Montoya keeps out of trouble, there is plenty of time to make the Chase.

19. A.J. Allmendinger

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    Previous Week: Not Ranked

    After starting out the season with finishes of 34th or worse in two of his first three races, A.J. Allmendinger is turning his season around.

    He has finished in the Top 20 in four straight races, including a second place in Bristol.  Allmendinger was expected to start out slow while adjusting to his new team.  Like Montoya, he is building momentum.

    I still expect Allmendinger to win a race this season, and he still has a shot in the Chase.  

    After finishing 15th in Texas, Allmendinger sits 19th in points, just 47 points out of the Chase. Still time to make a run for it.

18. Marcos Ambrose

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    Previous Week: 16th

    Can Marcos Ambrose catch a break?

    Ambrose had a strong car throughout the Samsung Mobile 500. He ran in the Top 10 all race long and was about to get a much-needed good finish.

    Running in seventh place, he ran out of fuel on the last lap.  A great day turned into just a 20th-place finish.

    Ambrose has shown he can run strong, but he needs to have some luck to get some good finishes.

    I still stand by my predication of Ambrose winning three races and making the Chase, but he needs to get back in the Top 20 in points.

    Ambrose currently sits 24th in points.

17. Joey Logano

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    Previous Rank: 17th

    Once again, Joey Logano had a tough day in the Sprint Cup Series.  Logano was not a factor at all in Texas.  He was never close to running in the Top 10.  

    Logano finished 19th, and he is not in a position to afford mediocre races.  Logano is in the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.  With sponsorships so hard come by, JGR might have to make a change in order to keep Home Depot.

    Logano sits 13th in points, and he has been lucky that many others on the circuit are having a tough time staying consistent.

    I still see Logano fading down the points standings as the season goes on.

16. Jeff Burton

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    Previous Week: 13th

    This season has not started out the way Jeff Burton would have hoped. He had a rough day in Texas and was never a contender in the race.

    Burton finished four laps down in 29th, which was his third straight finish of 22nd or worse. He has slipped to 16th in points and now is 40 points out of the Chase.  

    Burton has good equipment and can easily turn it around, but he has not been keeping up with his Richard Childress Racing teammates. 

    Burton has to turn it around now, while there is still time. Unfortunately for him, next week is Kansas.  

    Burton has finished outside the Top 10 in four of the last six races in Kansas.

15. Brad Keselowski

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    Previous Week: 12th

    Brad Keselowski is the definition of inconsistent this season.  Mechanical issues forced him into the garage area—and a 36th-place finish—Saturday night.

    While Keselowski has a win and three Top 10 finishes this season, he also has finished 32nd or worse in three races.  He has had a bad finish follow every good finish this season.

    That's why Keselowski is down to 15th in points.  Both Keselowski and his team have to get their act together, or they may have to rely on the wild card to make the Chase again.  

    The No. 2 car should do well next weekend in Kansas, since Keselowski won this race last season.

14th. Jeff Gordon

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    Previous Week: 19th

    After having a dominating day in Bristol get taken away, Jeff Gordon bounced back and showed that he's got some power under the hood.  

    Gordon qualified 34th and marched his way through the field to a fourth-place finish.  If there had been one more caution at the end, he would have had a real chance at the win.

    For two straight races,Gordon has had a strong car.  This is why it is way too early to count him out of the Chase.  He has had many tough breaks that have cost him good finishes this season.   Among those outside the Chase right now, Gordon stands out with his strong performances.

    Gordon sits 17th in points, just 42 points out of the Chase.  Gordon has to be happy to go to Kansas next week.

    In 12 races at Kansas, Gordon has two wins and nine Top 10 finishes.

13th. Kyle Busch

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    Previous Week: 15th

    I can not believe that I'm moving Kyle Busch up in the power rankings, but it because the drivers around him in the rankings did a lot worse. 

    Busch finished 11th in Texas and I was amazed he finished that close to the Top 10.  Towards the end of the race, Busch was almost put a lap down.  

    It is safe to say that we are seeing the same Kyle Busch that we are use to seeing.  Busch has only two Top 10s all season and currently sits 14th in points.

    Whether Busch is afraid to run as hard as use to or not. He needs to make some changes to win some races.

12th. Paul Menard

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    Previous Week: 14th

    I give Paul Menard credit for being 12th in points after seven races.  While Menard got his first career win last season, it was tough to say if Menard would contend for the Chase.  So far, he is contending pretty well.

    While Menard did not have a great night in Texas with a 18th-place finish, he is still holding on in the points standings.  He has three Top 10 finishes in seven races, after only eight Top 10 finishes in all of 2011.

    Menard is improving as a driver, but it is too early to tell whether he has a chance to make the Chase.

11th. Clint Bowyer

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    Previous Week: 11th

    After a wild day in Bristol, Clint Bowyer had a quiet night in Texas.  Bowyer did not have a strong car—unlike his Michael Waltrip Racing teammates.

    Bowyer finished 17th and sits 10th in points. 

    Bowyer sits on the edge of the Chase, but I believe he'll climb in points.  The MWR stable is running stronger than ever, and Bowyer is proving that he can run strong, as well—even without Richard Childress Racing equipment.

    The question is when—or if—he will win a race this season.

10th. Denny Hamlin

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    Previous Week: 6th

    Denny Hamlin took a real slide in my power rankings after a mediocre day, performing much worse than the drivers ranked around him.

    Hamlin never had a chance at winning the race, and I'm amazed that he finished 12th.  While he has a win already this season, there have been times where he didn't get good finishes.  

    Hamlin has only three Top 10 finishes this season.  That is the same amount as Paul Menard.

    Currently, Hamlin is in sixth in points.  What is troubling for him is how JGR cars have struggled a lot this season as a whole. 

    Hamlin finished third in this race last year, so we'll see if he can rebound and finish in the Top 10.

9th. Carl Edwards

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    Previous Week: 9th

    Roush Fenway Racing drivers were expected to dominate this race, and they didn't, for the most part.

    Edwards had issues on pit road, which cost him any chance at winning. He had to fight his way through the field during the long green-flag run to finish eighth. Edwards and his team need to eliminate those kinds of mistakes.

    This is especially true since he is 11th in points.  With the points so close right now, mistakes like this can ruin a driver's chance at making the Chase.

    It is also interesting that—like Denny Hamlin—Carl Edwards has only three Top 10 finishes so far this season.  With the competition so close, Edwards needs to separate himself from the pack to secure a spot in the Chase.

8th. Jimmie Johnson

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    Previous Week: 10th

    Jimmie Johnson was so close to getting Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory in the Sprint Cup Series.  Johnson led for the most laps in Texas, but he could not seal the deal.  He even hit the wall trying to stay with Greg Biffle.

    Johnson earned his fifth Top 10 finish of the season, but sits only eighth in points.

    I've talked about Jimmie Johnson never returning to Sprint Cup domination, and this race was a real sign of it.

    He had strength, but he could not get the win.  I expect Johnson to get into victory lane this season, but he needs to get there soon to keep up with the rest of the Top 10 in points.

    Going into Kansas, Johnson has six straight Top 10 finishes, including two wins.

7th. Tony Stewart

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    Previous Week: 4th

    Tony Stewart's weekend in Texas was a long one.  After losing control and hitting the wall in practice, Stewart was forced into a backup car.  The change proved costly, as Stewart was not a factor in the outcome of the race.

    Stewart did not show the strength of his team; he only raised questions.  Stewart has two wins this season, but only three Top 10 finishes this season.

    Wins are important, but finishing 24th in Texas will hurt Stewart's championship hopes.  It is way too early to be concerned, but his inconsistent runs are something that his team will have to work on.

    Stewart slipped to seventh in points after going into the race tied for third place.

    Stewart is going to need a Top 10 in Kansas to stabilize his slide in points.  He finished eighth in this race last year.

6th. Ryan Newman

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    Previous Week: 3rd

    After getting his first win of the season at Bristol, Ryan Newman couldn't keep the momentum going in Texas.  Like his teammate, Newman struggled to keep up and finished two laps down in 21st.

    Newman's hot steak of good finishes cooled at Texas, and Newman will be tested next weekend in Kansas.

    Newman is currently ninth in points.  He has strong equipment, and I expect this race to be just a bump in the road for Newman's 2012 season.

    Newman struggled at Kansas last year with no Top 10 finishes.

5th. Kevin Harvick

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    Previous Week: 7th

    Even with problems in the pits, Kevin Harvick was able to get a ninth-place finish.  He was running as high as seventh, but he faded in the final laps. 

    Harvick now sits fifth in points and has four Top 10 finishes this season. 

    While Harvick has not yet reached victory lane, the RCR cars will get there.  The competition is tougher than ever, making it hard for drivers who had great 2011 seasons to get back to victory lane.

    Harvick finished 11th in the spring race in Kansas last year, and he will probably be looking to get his first win this weekend.

4th. Matt Kenseth

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    Previous Week: 8th

    Matt Kenseth moved up to second in points with his fourth Top Five finish of the season at Texas.  He started on the outside of the front row and stayed in the Top 10 all race long. Kenseth held his own and came home in fifth place.

    While many expected Carl Edwards to head up the Roush Fenway stable, it has been Kenseth and Greg Biffle leading the charge.  Kenseth's season has been successful already with his Daytona 500 victory, but I'm sure he wants to prove that he can win a championship with the Chase format.

    Going into next weekend, Kenseth has three straight Top 10s at Kansas.  Expect to see him running toward the front of the pack again.

3rd. Martin Truex Jr.

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    Previous Week: 5th

    Martin Truex Jr. is making his case that he is a championship contender this season.  Truex got the pole for the Samsung Mobile 500 and would have had a great chance at winning, but problems in the pits cost him.

    Truex finished sixth and moved up to fourth in points, just one point out of a tie for second.  

    With MWR running as strong as ever, it is Truex leading the charge, with five Top 10s so far this season. 

    The big question for Truex is when will he win?

2nd. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Previous Week: 1st

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team tried a experimental setup for Texas, and it didn't have the success Earnhardt would have wanted.  

    Earnhardt was able to get a 10th-place finish and is tied for second in points with Matt Kenseth.

    Junior has five Top 10 finishes so far this season.  Even on days when Earnhardt's setups are not quite right, he is still getting Top 10 finishes, which is what champions are made of.

    He just needs a win to go with his good finishes, and that could come in Kansas, where he finished second last year.

1st. Greg Biffle

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    Previous Week: 2nd

    Greg Biffle is out to prove that he can win a championship in the Sprint Cup Series.  This is his first win in 49 races. His last win was Kansas in 2010.

    Biffle expanded his points lead to 19, and he earned his fourth Top Five in seven races this season.

    Biffle is the strongest car in the Roush Fenway stable and is making it hard for anyone to catch him.  While this season is only seven races old, Biffle is going to be tough to beat this year.

    He will be specially tough next weekend in Kansas; in 11 career races, Biffle has eight Top 10 finishes there, including two wins.