NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of All-Star Race

Hugo Olguin@@RealHugoOlguinContributor IIIMay 21, 2012

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of All-Star Race

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    After Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race, a lot of fans are going to be demanding changes.

    Jimmie Johnson was without a doubt the most dominant driver of the night.  He drove away from the field easily in the first segment to win it, then stayed in the back of the pace to protect his car for the final segment.  Johnson's strategy paid off, starting on the pole in the last segment and winning in dominant fashion.

    It was an uneventful way to end the night, and I expect changes before next year's All-Star Race.

    Getting back to Saturday night, we saw two Roush cars blow motors, many veteran drivers struggle to keep up and a few drivers who drove the wheels off of their cars, hungry for a win.

    Let's take a look at this week's power rankings.

20. Aric Almirola

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    Previous Week: 20th

    Aric Almirola is a driver I've been keeping my eye on this season.  He is driving a car that A.J. Allmendinger ran very well in last season and I'm starting to notice the No. 43 car running closer to the front.

    Now Almirola has not gotten the finishes to match some of his good runs (only one Top 10 this season), but he has been higher in the running order lately. 

    Almirola made a good showing in the Sprint Showdown race after starting fifth.  He did everything he could to make it into the big race, but he couldn't keep up and finished seventh.

    This was a good showing for Almirola and his RPM team especially, since Almirola has never run a Sprint Cup race at Charlotte.

    Don't be surprised to see Almirola finish in the Top 20 in the Coca-Cola 600.  In seven Nationwide Series races at Charlotte, Almirola has finished outside the Top 15 only once.

19. A.J. Allmendinger

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    Previous Week: Not Ranked

    One of the drivers who probably impressed the most people was A.J. Allmendinger.  After starting on the pole of the Sprint Showdown and being forced to pit for a flat tire right before the green flag came out, Allmendinger drove like he was on a mission.

    Allmendinger rallied all the way to a second-place finish in the Showdown race to qualify for the All-Star Race.

    Allmendinger started 22nd in the All-Star race and powered his way up to the front but was unable to get close enough to the leaders and settled for a 11th-place finish. A questionable call by crew chief Todd Gordon when he kept the No. 22 car on pit road for four tires hurt Allmendinger's track position.

    With how strong Allmendinger ran, he could be a contender for a trip to victory lane next Sunday.  He finished in the Top 10 in both Charlotte races last season, including a fifth-place finish in last year's Coca-Cola 600.

18. Jamie McMurray

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    Previous Week: 18th

    Jamie McMurray just came up short in making the All-Star Race. After starting 19th in the Sprint Showdown, McMurray charged his way up to second place and was looking good to transfer into the All-Star Race.  

    A.J. Allmendinger had other plans and fought McMurray right down to the finish and got past McMurray.

    McMurray settled for a third-place finish and an early end to his night.

    While McMurray is probably dejected from missing the All-Star Race, he should feel good about his chances in the Coca-Cola 600.

    It is apparent that McMurray's team has a good setup for Charlotte and McMurray knows how to win at Charlotte.  He has two career wins at Charlotte, one of which was his first career Sprint Cup Series win.

17. Joey Logano

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    Previous Week: 15th

    Joey Logano had a short night on Saturday night.  He was one of the drivers who did not race his way into the All-Star Race.  Logano started 13th and worked his way to only a sixth-place finish.  It was disappointing for the Home Depot team to miss out on the All-Star race.

    I was surprised Logano didn't have a better run with his record at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  In six career starts, he has four Top 10 finishes, including a third-place finish in last year's Coca-Cola 600.

    Logano and his team definitely have work to do before next Sunday if they want to be a factor at all.  

16. Ryan Newman

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    Previous Week: 16th

    Ryan Newman was not able to capitalize on a second-place starting spot in the All-Star Race.  Newman was unable to seriously contend for any segment wins and finished 10th when it was all said and done.

    Newman's luck has been inconsistent at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  In 22 career starts, he has only eight Top 10 finishes and has finished outside of the Top 20 in 11 of those races as well. 

    Newman has struggled since his win at Martinsville and needs to rebound to get back into the Top 10 in points.  The Coca-Cola 600 might not be the place where Newman turns things around.

    He finished 31st in last year's Coca-Cola 600.

15. Marcos Ambrose

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    Previous Week: 17th

    Marcos Ambrose was a surprise to see running so well in the All-Star Race.

    Ambrose worked his way through the field after starting 18th and became very aggressive once he got towards the front.  Ambrose showed aggression and power that makes him a dark-horse pick for the Coca-Cola 600.

    Ambrose has climbed into the Top 20 in points and is still looking for his first oval win.  That could come next weekend.  He finished sixth in last year's Coca-Cola 600 and he finished fifth in the fall race at Charlotte.

14. Paul Menard

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    Previous Week: 14th

    Paul Menard was unable to use his decent starting position to get a solid finish on Saturday night. Menard started seventh but by the end of the night, he wound up 16th.

    Menard has struggled in his Sprint Cup Series career at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  He has only one Top 10 finish in 10 career races at Charlotte.  He comes into the Coca-Cola 600 with a five-race streak of Top 20 finishes.

    Menard needs to survive this weekend to keep his Chase hopes alive.  With his record at Charlotte, though, it doesn't look like he has much of a chance.

13. Kasey Kahne

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    Previous Week: 13th

    During the All-Star race, Kasey Kahne showed flashes of power and looked like one of the fastest cars out there.  Unfortunately, when it came to fighting for the win, Kahne faded away and finished ninth.

    Kahne would not be a bad pick to win the Coca-Cola 600.  He has three wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway and eight Top 10 finishes in 16 career races.

    Going into the 600, Kahne has a five straight Top 10 finishes and is climbing the points standings at a rapid pace.  

    A win on Sunday would put Kahne in striking distance to make the Chase, which would be an unbelievable comeback.

12. Carl Edwards

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    Previous Week: 9th

    Carl Edwards got plenty of practice at being a race announcer on Saturday night.  Edwards' night ended on Lap 25 when his motor "grenaded" and caught on fire.  

    While I'm sure Roush Fenway Racing was experimenting with their motors, a bad night is not what Edwards needed going into the Coca-Cola 600.  

    Edwards is right in the middle of the battle for 10th in points and he needs to keep his good finishes coming.  While Edwards has not been dominant in a while, he has been getting good finishes for the most part.

    Charlotte might be a good test for Edwards and his team.  He has only one Top 10 finish in the last five races.

11. Brad Keselowski

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    Previous Week: 12th

    Brad Keselowski's night in the All-Star Race showed that his team has a good setup for Charlotte Motor Speedway.

    Keselowski won the third segment of the All-Star Race which put him in great position to battle for a million dollars.  Unfortunately, Jimmie Johnson's car was in a league of its own.  Keselowski finished in second, which is like a win for Keselowski if his car is just as good on Sunday.

    Keselowski really needs a good finish in the Coca-Cola 600.  He is 12th in points and he needs to make up nine points to get into the Top 10.  It may be difficult for Keselowski to that on Sunday.

    He has never finished in the Top 10 in five Sprint Cup Series career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

10. Clint Bowyer

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    Previous Week: 10th

    Clint Bowyer was not much of a factor during the All-Star Race.  Bowyer started 12th and never made any impact during the four segments and brought the No. 15 car home in 14th.

    It looks obvious that Bowyer and his team have work to do before Sunday.  He has not had much good luck at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  He has only three Top 10 finishes in 16 career starts.

    Bowyer is just two points out of the Chase, and every finish counts in this tight points battle he is in.

9. Kevin Harvick

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    Previous Week: 11th

    Kevin Harvick had a eventful night in the All-Star Race.  After starting in sixth place, Harvick was battling hard with the drivers around him when he bounced off the wall and damaged his car. The damage to his car and the time to fix it ruined Harvick's chances to win.  

    Harvick and his No. 29 crew didn't give up and fixed the car enough for Harvick to move up through the field.  Harvick recovered enough to finish sixth.  

    Harvick is definitely going to be a favorite to win the Coca-Cola 600, especially since he won this race last season.

8. Tony Stewart

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    Previous Week: 7th

    Tony Stewart's struggles at Charlotte Motor Speedway continue.  After starting ninth, Stewart just faded towards the back of the pack and never made up any ground.  Stewart had to settle for a 17th-place finish.

    Stewart is currently seventh in points with his two wins that make him basically a lock to make the Chase. I think Stewart is going to struggle again on Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600.

    He has only one Top 10 in his last eight starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

7. Martin Truex Jr.

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    Previous Week: 5th

    Martin Truex Jr.  was a contender to make it into the All-Star race with his good starting position but he could not hold the competition.  Truex finished fourth in the Sprint Showdown.  

    Truex needs to forget about this past weekend and focus on surviving 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday.  Truex has slipped from second to fifth in points in recent weeks.  He needs a good finish to stabilize his season.

    Truex has a lot of work to do get a Top 10 next Sunday.  He has only two Top 10 finishes in 13 career starts at Charlotte.  

6. Kyle Busch

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    Previous Week: 6th

    After starting on the pole, it was very surprising to see Kyle Busch not win any of the segments during the All-Star Race.  

    Busch looked like he was struggling with the handling of his car for most of the night.  That is, until the end, when Busch's car came alive and he worked his way back up to a fourth-place finish.

    Busch's run of good finishes has a great chance of continuing this Sunday.  Busch has eight Top 10 finishes in the last nine races.  The one thing Busch has done is win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  That could change in this year's Coca-Cola 600.

5. Jimmie Johnson

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    Previous Week: 8th

    Jimmie Johnson is keeping the momentum going.  After getting win No. 200 for Rick Hendrick at Darlington, Johnson dominated the All-Star.  I mean, when he was actually trying.

    After Johnson won the first segment, he hung in the back waiting until the final segment.  He started first in the final segment and never looked back.

    This was Johnson's third All-Star Race win, which ties him with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon for most All-Star wins.

    While Johnson had a rough night in last year's Coca-Cola 600, I don't expect to see that happen on Sunday.  Johnson has six wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway to go along with his All-Star wins.  

    With how strong Johnson was on Saturday night, don't be surprised to see that again on Sunday.

4. Denny Hamlin

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    Previous Week: 3rd

    Just like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin had a great starting spot and looked to be a contender for the win on Saturday night.  Then the race started and Hamlin never could stay up towards the front of the pack. Hamlin struggled severely and finished 20th.

    Whatever crew chief Darien Grubb tried in the car, they better throw the setup away.  Hamlin has done pretty well lately at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  He has three straight Top 10 finishes at Charlotte, but that was all with former crew chief Mike Ford.  

    Hamlin and Grubb have some work to do before this Sunday.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Previous Week: 4th

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out to prove that he did not need the fan vote to get into the All-Star Race.  He fought his way to lead and held off A.J. Allmendinger to win the Sprint Showdown.

    Junior was not done. He came from his 21st starting position to win the fourth segment of the All-Star Race.  Earnhardt Jr. was not able to get too close to Jimmie Johnson, but he he came home in fifth place. 

    With how well Junior ran, and how close he came to winning at the Coca-Cola 600 last season, he is going to be a factor in this year's race.  He has to hope that the momentum he has this season will get rid of the struggles he has had lately at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

    Junior has only one Top 10 in the last six races at Charlotte.

2. Matt Kenseth

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    Previous Week: 2nd

    Even with a win in the second segment and a third-place finish in the All-Star Race, Matt Kenseth has to be frustrated.  Kenseth started second at the start of the final segment and his had a bad start when the green flag came out and it cost him any chance at winning.

    Kenseth is right on the heels of his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle in the points standings. He has a fast car and knows how to get it done at Charlotte.  He won the fall race at Charlotte last season.

    We may see Kenseth finally take the points lead back from Biffle after Sunday.

1. Greg Biffle

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    Previous Week: 1st

    Greg Biffle did not have the night he wanted.

    Just like his teammate, Carl Edwards, Biffle's motor "grenaded" on Lap 67 and caused a big fire.  It was pretty evident that RFR was trying some new things with their motors and it didn't work out too well. 

    Fortunately for Biffle, this was not a points race, but Biffle may need some help in the luck department in the Coca-Cola 600.

    Biffle has only six Top 10 finishes in 18 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  In order to keep the points lead, Biffle is going to have get a solid finish, especially after how well Matt Kenseth ran in the All-Star Race.