NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Drivers Coming out of Kansas
Matt Kenseth's chances at winning this year's Sprint Cup may be slim to none after three underwhelming performances to start this year's Chase, but he's giving his Roush Fenway Racing crew plenty to smile about in his last season with the team.
Starting 12th and leading a race-high 78 laps, Kenseth scored his third win of the season in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway to rocket up our weekly power rankings. It was his second win of the Chase, after avoiding the carnage at Talladega two weeks ago to score the first.
Behind him, main championship contenders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson played to a draw, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively. Johnson led 44 laps to earn a bonus point, while Keselowski failed to do so, meaning the seven-point differential in the championship remains intact heading into next week's race at Martinsville.
So how did the caution-filled Kansas race affect our top 20 drivers in the series? Have a look:
1. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski managed to recover from a disappointing 25th-place starting spot to finish eighth, and had some incredible luck making it through the wreck that Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman had.
"If we win the championship, save that video clip," he told his crew during the subsequent caution. "I hope we have in-car camera of that."
2. Jimmie Johnson
A great first half of the race for Johnson was spoiled by spinning and backing into the wall just before halfway, but his crew did a magnificent repair job over the course of the race to keep him from losing a lap.
Judging by the wreck, finishing ninth and earning a bonus point to maintain equal footing with Keselowski was a pretty good day.
3. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer hoped to have some hometown magic in him on Sunday, but the Kansas native could only muster a sixth-place finish and five of 267 laps led.
It was good enough to make up three points on series leader Keselowski, but with a 25-point gap and four races to go, he'll have to do better than that in the next few weeks.
4. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth's disastrous start to the Chase still probably takes him out of championship contention, but two wins in his past three races are still a great way to commemorate his final season with Roush Fenway Racing.
He also matched his replacement for 2013, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the Nationwide race on Saturday.
5. Denny Hamlin
The weekend started with a hard hit and a totaled racecar for Hamlin, and it ended with disappointing on-track circumstances stealing a win from him. Hamlin made his final pit stop for fuel just before a caution for Aric Almirola hitting the wall, and as the second car a lap down, had to take a wave-around to get back on the lead lap.
He eventually finished 13th.
6. Kasey Kahne
Pole-sitter and new track record holder Kahne finished fourth, but he threw away what could've been something better while trying to save fuel under caution.
While running second, he shut the car off for too long and failed to maintain minimum speed, dropping him to sixth when four cars passed him.
7. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex snuck his way up to second late in the race, but eventual winner Matt Kenseth had far too large of a gap for him to avenge his loss to Denny Hamlin at this track in April before the repaving.
Still, it equaled Truex's best finish of the season, and helped him match a career high with seven top-fives this year.
8. Tony Stewart
Stewart recovered from a 33rd-place starting spot, pit road miscues and a big mid-race spin to score a fifth-place finish.
But any positives he can take out of the race as a driver are surely mitigated by his frustration as an owner, taking home the wrecked racecars of both Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.
9. Jeff Gordon
The run of second- and third- place finishes couldn't last forever, as Gordon has fallen back to earth in his race results. But a top-10 finish is never a bad thing, and though he's eighth in points right now, Gordon has a decent shot at climbing into the top five; he's only eight points out of sixth, and teammate Kasey Kahne is only 21 points ahead in fifth.
10. Kevin Harvick
Oh look, another finish between 10th and 16th for Harvick. (He ran 11th on Sunday.) This is his seventh finish in a row in that range, and 12th in the last 13 races.
The consistency is impressive, but if they could have improved that range by about three or four spots, we'd be speaking about this team in a whole different light.
11. Kyle Busch
Busch's day was ruined after a mid-race accident with Ryan Newman, which is a shame because the No. 18 looked like one of the strongest cars in the field on Sunday. It also came after Busch scored four finishes of seventh or better in the first five Chase races.
12. Mark Martin
Martin started second, led the race's first six laps and a 54-lap stretch late, and could've come back to win if the last 50 or so laps of the race had gone caution-free.
But not only did a caution almost immediately after his final fuel stop catch him off the lead lap, his car began to lose power late in the race. He fell to a disappointing 24th place, one lap down, by race's end.
13. Paul Menard
In both Saturday's Nationwide race and Sunday's Sprint Cup race, Menard was quietly one of the fastest drivers in the field. He ran out of fuel on Saturday to finish 16th after leading 110 laps, but he made up for it on Sunday to score a third-place finish, his best run of the season.
14. Aric Almirola
Almirola's run at the beginning of Sunday's race was impressive, and it was pretty cool to see the No. 43 out front again.
While two blown tires put him into the wall and ended any chance he had at scoring his first Cup victory, the unsigned-for-2013 driver did plenty to make a case to return to that car for next year.
15. Greg Biffle
So much for "winning" the regular season: Biffle is now 11th in points, 62 out of the lead, and his championship hopes are all but done after a mid-race accident (what else?) ruined his hopes for a good finish.
The 27th-place finish was especially disappointing, as Kansas is Biffle's best track: He has two wins and nine top-10s in 13 starts for an average finish of 9.5 there.
16. Regan Smith
Smith was fast all weekend, save for a bobble in qualifying, and got to show just what he could do in good equipment by working his way up from 39th to finish a strong seventh.
In that kind of equipment on a regular basis, he could do some incredible things.
17. Marcos Ambrose
Although his incident with Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne just half a lap after a restart made him look foolish, or at least like his brakes were shot, Ambrose took advantage of a Lucky Dog award to climb back on the lead lap and turned the second chance into a 12th-place finish.
It was his best run of the Chase thus far, which had seen him fail to finish on the lead lap in each of the last five races.
18. A.J. Allmendinger
What a shame that Allmendinger wasn't able to do more on Sunday. His Phoenix Racing car was a solid top-10 contender until a blown tire halted his day on lap 69.
Either way, he's proved he's still got it, and hopefully that will earn him another chance somewhere before the season ends.
19. Landon Cassill
Cassill earns his way on this list for one reason and one reason only: When Danica Patrick tried to wreck him and all of our attention was focused on her spinning and slamming the outside wall, Cassill was absolutely wheeling it to straighten his car out and stay in the running. That's a heck of a piece of driving, and a good part of the reason why he was a Hendrick Motorsports development driver for years.
20. Timmy Hill
Why is Timmy Hill getting a shoutout on this list? Because in his first full Sprint Cup race, he quietly scored a lead-lap, 22nd-place finish for Frank Stoddard's FAS Lane Racing. That's their best finish on a non-restrictor plate track since Ken Schrader drove them to a 21st-place finish at Martinsville just under a year ago.
Hill has made incredible progress as a driver in Nationwide this year, and it won't be long before he starts getting better opportunities.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.
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