NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Michigan

Ben MontedonicoContributor IIIAugust 19, 2012

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Michigan

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    The boys of NASCAR traveled to the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway.

    The two-mile D-shaped oval was kind to the Blue Oval as well as the hometown boy and a few others, including the winner at Michigan back in June, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    Unfortunately, the long straightaways took their toll on more than a few engines and the wide, sweeping turns sparked a potentially new rivalry involving a couple of Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

    The face atop the rankings changes this week, as do 16 of the 20 positions after a big shakeup in this week's edition of NASCAR Power Rankings.

    Who moved up and who moved down after Sunday's race at Michigan? We've got you covered!

20. Travis Kvapil

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    Last week: NR

    Something smells good. Is that a Whopper? With cheese?

    Nope, that's Travis Kvapil's performance at Michigan, where the Sprint Cup veteran earned BK Racing a lifetime-best 15th-place finish. 

    With Regan Smith dropping out early at Michigan due to a crash and no other drivers outside the Power Rankings last week stepping it up, the door was opened for Kvapil to slip in and grab a spot this week.

    Kvapil and teammate Landon Cassill actually both had relatively decent runs this week, though Cassill was unable to close the deal. Props to Travis on the good run.

19. Joey Logano

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    Last week: 18

    Juan Pablo Montoya may have made some friends during his vacation to the Irish Hills this past weekend.

    Assuming he did, among them was probably not Joey Logano.

    Montoya punted Logano midway through Sunday's event, dropkicking Logano from a bad day to a worse day. Logano finished 31st.

    Logano's Chase hopes were virtually history, anyway. Juan just assisted in getting Joey's impending countdown to the Penske ride started a little early.

18. Sam Hornish Jr.

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    Last week: 20

    Three things you need to know about life if you don't already: The picture I used of the No. 22 car is from Watkins Glen (don't judge), the picture I used of Travis Kvapil is from Daytona (seriously, don't judge) and Sam Hornish Jr. is making Roger Penske's decision regarding 2013 very difficult.

    Hornish impressed twice this weekend, first at Montreal coming back from a very late crash to finish second, and then at Michigan where he got in the car for the first time this weekend on Sunday and ran extremely well, leading laps and finishing 12th.

    If given the choice between him and Joey Logano to fill my race car next year, at this moment it's advantage Hornish.

17. Paul Menard

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    Last week: 17

    I feel kinda bad for not ranking Menard higher this week. I just couldn't bring myself to quite move him ahead of Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and others.

    And really, do you blame me? Again, if you do, don't judge.

    But I will say, regarding Menard's impressive performance on Sunday, that his performance was...um...impressive.

    Paul, if you're reading this, your top-10 run didn't go unnoticed. And neither did your neon yellow car.

16. Jeff Gordon

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    Last week: 13

    One fan during ESPN's telecast of Sunday's race at Michigan claimed that Jeff Gordon was crabby during the event because he's "getting old and blind."

    That's judging. Don't judge.

    I will say, however, that Gordon did come across as a little childish when he came over the radio claiming he'd wreck an undesirable part of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr's body(figuratively speaking, I hope) if he "did that again."

    By "that", of course Gordon meant "make a three-wide pass" on him. Which I believe is legal, last time I checked.

    Fortunately, the circuit heads to Bristol next week, and we never see any three-wide passing there.

15. Kyle Busch

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    Last week: 14

    I have nothing good to say.

    No, seriously. I'm trying to come up with something interesting to say about Kyle Busch this week and I have nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

    So since Kyle didn't really do anything spectacular (like win) or terrible (like bust) on Sunday, I'll simply say that the younger Busch kept touch with the final Chase Wild Card spot and finished a respectable 13th.

    Like I said. Nada.

14. Marcos Ambrose

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    Last week: 16

    The Tasmanian Devil kept it pretty clean on Sunday, save for a little nudge into former Power Rankings driver Regan Smith that sent the No. 78 into the wall and out of the top 20.

    But Marcos built off the momentum from his thrilling win at Watkins Glen, running in the top 10 for a good share of the day and winding up in fifth.

    In addition, Ambrose gained some ground in the Wild Card race, closing the gap on Ryan Newman from 44 points to 41.

    Now that's a pretty g'day, mate.

13. Carl Edwards

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    Last week: 15

    First thing's first: that Geek Squad car designed by the guys at West Coast Customs was smokin'. And not literally, like some of the other cars on this list.

    Not only did the paint job look good, but so did the car. By which I mean it was fast.

    Edwards led a few laps on Sunday and actually looked, dare I say it, as though he could possibly contend for the win.

    Alas, Carl finished sixth. But don't be fooled. He believes he can win before the Chase arrives, and I'm not about to argue with him.

12. Ryan Newman

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    Last week: 12

    The man who used to have the prefix "Rocket" has looked more like the tortoise from the famed children's book.

    There's nothing wrong with that, and I actually mean it as a compliment. With the general consensus being that a driver has to rush out and win to make the Chase, Newman has shown in recent weeks that it may just be slow and steady who makes the Chase.

    Despite not contending for a win since the madness that was Martinsville, Newman has six consecutive finishes of 11th or better after his eighth at Michigan

    Should he back into the Chase on the heels of consistency and the assistance of a fluky win early in the season, Newman's story could be one of the most underrated...and most relevant...of 2012.

11. Tony Stewart

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    Last week: 7

    A year ago, Tony Stewart claimed after the race at Michigan that his team was so bad that they did not deserve a berth in the Chase.

    It may be time for Smoke to speak up again.

    Stewart was parked on Sunday for not making minimum speed after his car dropped a cylinder early in the going. He finished 32nd and dropped to ninth in the standings.

    After back-to-back poor outings for Stewart and Co., the No. 14 team may need another gut check just like last year.

    After all, we all know how last year ended.

10. Kevin Harvick

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    Last week: 11

    Harvick moves up by default this week after Tony Stewart experienced woes for the second week in a row.

    But don't get the wrong impression. Harvick has not been that good lately and his 16th-place effort on Sunday means he has just one top-10 finish since the first time the circuit hit the Irish Hills.

    His nickname is "Mr. Where Did He Come From?" but "Mr. Where Did He Go?" would be more accurate considering his 2012 performance.

    And it may be the question most asked at season's end in Las Vegas if Harvick dosen't pick it up in the Chase and earn a trip to the banquet.

9. Denny Hamlin

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    Last week: 10

    Denny finished in the same position as his number, ending the day in 11th.

    Needless to say, he's glad the number on the side of his car isn't 43.

    Hamlin really didn't do too much of note on Sunday besides lose a little more ground to Kasey Kahne for that 10th-place spot in the standings, although he did lead a lap.

    At this point, it's all about getting some momentum moving into the Chase for the No. 11 team, which won't be easy to come by at Bristol.

8. Clint Bowyer

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    Last week: 8

    Another race, another good week for the boys of Michael Waltrip Racing.

    Clint Bowyer led the charge for Mikey this week as he posted a seventh-place finish in his 5-Hour Energy Toyota.

    A brief glimpse into my life: As I write this, it's 11:00 on Sunday night and I get up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a flight to Minneapolis.

    That's four-and-a-half hours away.

    If ever there was a day for 5-Hour Energy to give away free bottles for their driver finishing in the top 10, let it be Monday, August 20.

7. Kasey Kahne

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    Last week: 9

    I love Minneapolis. Beautiful city. Nice airport. I have family up that way (actually, hi Grandma!). They read my stuff, which isn't always easy to do and I very much appreciate.

    So I'm not complaining about the impending lack of Z's.

    Kasey Kahne probably isn't complaining too much either after finishing third despite getting collected in a freaky crash with Mark Martin, who was taken out of the race after hitting the pit wall right in front of Kahne's pit box.

    Driver No. 5 is one of the hottest in the sport right now with four top-three finishes in the last seven races.

6. Matt Kenseth

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    Last week: 6

    He gained a spot in the standings because a guy ahead of him blew up. He finished 17th because everything went wrong.

    That's how Matt described his day after the race at Michigan, and that's pretty much the long and short of it. A flat tire took him out of contention after he ran with the leaders for most of the day.

    Kenseth ranks second in points, but only sixth in the Power Rankings as he's been colder than all the drivers ahead of him and even a couple who are behind him.

    Kenseth will look to get things turned around at Bristol, where he's won twice.

5. Martin Truex Jr.

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    Last week: 4

    Truex was so good at Michigan he got to be in back-to-back slides.

    Actually, he lost a spot in the Rankings this week. But only because the man he lost it to just so happened to win the race on Sunday.

    Truex has actually been really solid lately, stringing together four top-10 finishes in a row.

    Just a couple more good races and Truex will lock up the first-ever Chase berth for Michael Waltrip Racing.

4. Greg Biffle

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    Last week: 5

    Say hello to this week's winner and your new Sprint Cup points leader.

    The Biff snatched the win in the closing stages when the leader blew a motor with four laps to go (more on him in a moment), marking his second victory of 2012.

    Biffle called his shot in Victory Lane, claiming "they may not know we're here, but we're going after that title."

    I can't say Greg's words didn't hurt. I mean, give us a little credit. We knew he was in Michigan the whole time, did we not?

3. Jimmie Johnson

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    Last week: 1

    J.J. had it in the bag. But for the second week in a row, the driver who appeared destined for the win was not the driver who ended up in Victory Lane.

    After blowing a motor while leading with four laps to go (told you we'd get to it; it's called "foreshadowing"), Johnson took his car to the garage and went straight to his motorcoach before leaving the premises without even so much as a "I have nothing good to say."

    Recall a week ago, when Kyle Busch lost the victory in a similar way and was lambasted for his handling of the matter, which was also similar to Johnson's

    I'm not saying there's bias in the media. That would be ludicrous. But this little development may be worth storing away for later.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Last week: 3

    He may have lost his primary car in practice, but that didn't stop Dale Earnhardt Jr. from putting on a strong performance at Michigan, where he won in the spring.

    Junior did it all at Michigan. He came from the back, pulled some strategy, led a few laps and came home with a top-five finish.

    Heck, he even managed to tick off his teammate without doing anything wrong.

    Not a bad day for Earnhardt, who's proving he's talented in many facets of the sport. 

1. Brad Keselowski

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    Last week: 2

    It seemed fitting that the hometown boy should take the top spot in the Power Rankings this week.

    He earned it. After all, seven consecutive top-10 finishes is pretty impressive for a driver who's beginning to show there isn't a facility on the circuit he can't contend at.

    Also, I think it's time to move on from the nickname "Bad Brad." That's so 2009.

    I invite anybody who has an idea to mention it below. However, I'd like to propose "The Gnat." He's always there and he just won't go away!

    It's a nickname that's worked wonders for the Washington Nationals baseball team. You know where they are?

    First. Just like Brad in this week's Power Rankings.