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NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Week 12 Edition

Joe MenzerFeatured Columnist IIJune 25, 2016

NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Week 12 Edition

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    The chase to set NASCAR's 12-driver field for 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup is on. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson is the runaway leader in the point standings after 11 races, but does that mean he's atop this week's Bleacher Report Power Rankings heading into the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 points race that will follow at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

    Not necessarily.

    What about the remarkable consistency of Carl Edwards? Or the three wins already registered by Matt Kenseth, who has battled through adversity to keep going to Victory Lane?

    Taking into account all factors, including a driver's ability to overcome poor racing luck, run consistently fast laps and win races, these 12 drivers have proven to be a cut above their competition so far this season.

12. Martin Truex Jr.

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    Why He's Here

    Although only 14th in points after the first 11 races, Truex Jr. has shown enough speed in his No. 56 Toyota to warrant being in the top 12. Plus, he's shown steady improvement in his finishes since getting off to a rocky start in the season-opening Daytona 500.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    His four top-10 finishes are more than both Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, illustrating that he is fast enough to hang with some of NASCAR's top guns. In three of his last five races, he's finished seventh or better—including a second-place effort at Texas after leading 146 laps. He has led laps in three of the last five races as well.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    While Charlotte Motor Speedway has not necessarily been his best track, the next points race after the Coca-Cola 600 is at Dover. That's his home track, and it shows. It's where he won his only Sprint Cup race in 2007 while driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and he's also won two poles there while finishing in the top eight in three of his last four races on the Monster Mile.   

11. Jeff Gordon

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    Why He's Here

    Gordon will turn 42 this August. He's hanging on at the outer fringe of the Chase crowd, dragged down by two DNFs (Did Not Finish races) in the first 11 starts but desperately wants to prove he's got another championship-contending run left in him.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    It's well worth noting that in the two races he did not finish—Bristol and Texas—he was fast enough in his No. 24 Chevrolet to lead laps before uncharacteristically departing early. He led 66 at Bristol before an accident took him out, and he led 15 at Texas before a suspension problem prematurely ended his day.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    On the surface, it looks like he's poised to move up. In his 22-year Cup career, he has the combined totals of nine wins, 31 top-five and 43 top-10 finishes at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover. But his last win at Charlotte came in 2007, and his last win at Dover was over a decade ago in 2001—although he did finish second there last fall.

10. Denny Hamlin

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    Why He's Here

    Hamlin's second-place run at Darlington—his first full-time race since suffering a compression fracture in his lower back during a last-lap wreck at Auto Club Speedway on March 24—was impressive enough to include him amongst NASCAR's elite. He was fortunate to recover quickly enough to miss only four races because of the injury.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    Hamlin is 27th in points after Darlington but needs only to climb into the top 20 while capturing a couple race victories to get squarely back into the Chase picture. He also owns a third-place finish this season, which came at Phoenix.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    Surprisingly, he's never won at either Charlotte or Dover. And while his first full-time run since the injury was outstanding, there are obvious concerns about how his back will hold up during NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, and on the treacherous, bumpy concrete of the Monster Mile.

9. Clint Bowyer

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    Why He's Here

    Bowyer currently sits fifth in the point standings, which is a testament to his overall consistency. But he has yet to win a race and really has lacked the speed to lead many laps, calling into question if he's going to change that anytime soon.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    Other than leading one lap in the season-opening Daytona 500 and 113 at one of his favorite race tracks in Richmond, Bowyer hasn't mustered the speed in his No. 15 Toyota to lead a single lap in any of the other nine races this season.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    Bowyer has one career win at Charlotte, and it came in last fall's shorter race. In seven Coca-Cola 600s, his average finish is just 20.7, and he's finished in the top 10 only once—with a seventh-place finish in 2010.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Why He's Here

    Earnhardt started the season hot, even briefly leading the points. But the fact that he's now hanging in fourth is deceptive, as he's led only one—count 'em, one—lap in the nine races since Phoenix, where he led 47.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    If top-10 finishes and occasional top fives were good enough to win a championship without ever getting to Victory Lane, Earnhardt would be golden. He has seven top-10 finishes already this season. 

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    Despite it being his home track and the fact that he captured the All-Star Race back in 2000, Earnhardt has never graced Victory Lane in 26 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where his career-average finish is 18.8.

    He's fared a little better at Dover with one win there in 26 career starts and an average finish of 17.2. He's probably thinking, "When's the first Michigan race?"

7. Kevin Harvick

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    Why He's Here

    If there is one driver who doesn't seem to have to lead a whole lot of laps to steal his share of victories, it's Harvick. He's up to his old tricks again, winning at Richmond despite leading only three laps. He added a fifth-place finish at Darlington to indicate he might be getting on a roll after a rough start to his season.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    Outside of Richmond, he's led only two other laps all season—one each at Fontana and Talladega—so there had been some questions earlier about whether his lame-duck situation at Richard Childress Racing might develop into a disaster this season—Harvick is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing next year. That's still something to watch.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    Harvick used to say he hated running at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but then he won the All-Star Race in 2007 and the Coca-Cola 600 in 2011. So now he can at least tolerate it. But the fact is that he's run more than 8,000 laps in points races there during his career and had led a total of six heading into this Coke 600. Even for him, that doesn't bode well.

6. Kasey Kahne

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    Why He's Here

    Kahne has struggled at the restrictor-plate races this season—finishing 36th in the Daytona 500 and 42nd after wrecking out early in the spring race at Talladega. But he won on the short track at Bristol and was strong on a pair of 1.5-mile tracks while finishing second at both Las Vegas and Kansas.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    Kahne also finished fourth at Martinsville, another short track, and ninth on the two-mile test at Fontana. Since he hasn't always fared the best at short tracks and the intermediate tracks are most important in terms of getting into the Chase and doing well in it, this illustrates that he is a force to be reckoned with this season.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    He's almost always a factor in the races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he's won four times—three of which came in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race. He's also won the All-Star Race at CMS, where he's led over 800 laps in 18 career Cup points races.

5. Brad Keselowski

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    Why He's Here

    The defending Sprint Cup champion has yet to win a race this season and has had to endure a setback in the point standings because of penalties levied by NASCAR, but his No. 2 Blue Deuce Ford has still been wicked fast at times.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    After leading 12 laps or more in each of the season's first four races and finishing in the top four each time, he's cooled off some and now will have to do without suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe for two more weeks. Keselowski has led only one lap in the last seven races and has finished 32nd or worse in two of the last three.

     

    Short-term Outlook

    How will he fare with Kevin Buskirk subbing for the suspended Wolfe at crew chief? That's likely to be more of a factor than anything else, and it's a mystery.

    Plus, his fifth-place finish at Charlotte in last year's Coca-Cola 600 is the only time he's finished higher than 11th in any race at CMS. He does have one win in seven-career starts at Dover, which is when Wolfe will return.

4. Carl Edwards

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    Why he's here

    Consistency has carried Cousin Carl this season, plus he ended a 70-race winless streak with a victory at Phoenix in the second race of the year. He's currently second in the point standings.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    With seven top-10 and five top-five finishes in the first 11 races, he's showing the kind of speed, teamwork and staying power that has eluded him since he battled Tony Stewart down to the wire for the Cup title in 2011 and lost out on a tiebreaker after Stewart won the final race of the season.

    It proves that Edwards hasn't forgotten how to drive and also raises questions about where all the horsepower went last season in his No. 99 Ford ride for Roush Fenway Racing.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    Don't underestimate the positive influence and cagey common sense atop the pit box that new crew chief Jimmy Fennig brings to the Edwards camp this season. Unfortunately, Edwards has often struggled in the Coca-Cola 600—even though he is a former winner of the All-Star Race at Charlotte. Edwards is more likely to be a factor at Dover.

3. Kyle Busch

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    Why He's Here

    The younger of the two racing Busch brothers already has visited Victory Lane twice, and he's been in contention to win at least four other times. Other than his newest Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, no one has been faster across more events.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    Busch already has led a total of 740 laps this season, including 265 at Darlington before a flat tire in the late going caused him to fade to sixth. It has been feast or famine for him, though, as he has six finishes of sixth or better and five finishes of 23rd or worse.

     

    Short-term Outlook

    He's never won a points race at Charlotte, but he has consistently improved at the 1.5-mile track over the years. In his last 13 races at CMS, he's finished eighth or better a remarkable 11 times. That includes two seconds, four thirds and a fourth. He's also won twice at Dover.

2. Jimmie Johnson

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    Why He's Here

    He currently leads the point standings and owns a pair of victories, including the season-opening Daytona 500, which is NASCAR's most prestigious event. His six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in the first 11 races are a testament to his ability to coax his car to the front, even when it's perhaps not the fastest on the track. 

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    In the first 11 starts, he completed 99.9 percent of the possible total number of laps (3,547 of 3,549). He's finished lower than 12th only once, when he finished 22nd at Bristol.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    Once considered the King of Charlotte, he hasn't been as effective there since it was last repaved.

    In fact, he's finished 28th or worse in half of his last six starts there. But he also finished third in two events during that stretch, and he's the defending winner of the All-Star Race, where he wore out the field. And there's also Dover ahead. Johnson has won there seven times.

1. Matt Kenseth

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    Why He's Here

    Isn't it obvious? No matter what the current point standings say, no car has been more dominant through 11 races this season than the No. 20 Toyota Kenseth drives for Joe Gibbs Racing.

     

    Key 2013 Stats

    He's never won three races this quickly in any of his previous 13 Sprint Cup seasons, and in only two of those seasons has he won more than three over the course of the entire schedule. And he's already won two more races than he did in all of his last championship season in 2003, when he rode the strength and consistency of 25 top-10 finishes to the title.

     

    Short-Term Outlook

    He's won twice each at both Charlotte and Dover in his career, and he's led nearly 1,100 laps at the two venues combined. As hot as he's been, winning at Darlington—even with substitute crew chief Wally Brown—he has to rank as one of the favorites in each of the next two points races.

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