NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers Coming out of Kansas
On Sunday, an old, familiar car managed to score a win in a race backed by an old, familiar sponsor.
The famed No. 2 Penske Racing/Miller Dodge made it to victory lane in Kansas Speedway's inaugural STP 400, for the first time with Brad Keselowski behind the wheel.
It was another strong performance from the young driver, in the wake of comments from Kurt Busch that he hadn't had a strong teammate at Penske in years.
And as long as Keselowski can continue to perform reasonably well for the rest of the season, that win gives him a very real shot at getting into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
So, where does the rest of the Sprint Cup field stack up after Kansas? Read on:
1. Carl Edwards
Another top five. The guy's a machine this year, plain and simple.
Like Kevin Harvick last year, he's probably a lock for most points scored over the course of the season (you know, in a pre-Chase world).
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
One of these days, this team will win a race. And the after party, both at the track and within the garage, will be so incredible that many of its participants won't wake up until 3PM on the following Tuesday.
They will find themselves with grotesque facial tattoos and chain-smoking capuchin monkeys of questionable origin. (Oh, wait, that's just The Hangover, Part Two? Well, either way, it's going to happen to somebody.)
3. Jimmie Johnson
I'm not going to lie: I keep forgetting that Jimmie Johnson exists this year.
But maybe that's exactly what he wants. If they see him coming, they'll know how to beat him come Chase time. If he lies low, though...
4. Kevin Harvick
Harvick just wasn't feeling it with the stubble this weekend.
It's not very aerodynamic. It probably made the difference in his loss of two positions in points this week. (Well, actually, no, finishing 11th when the other two drivers scored top-10s did, but still.)
5. Kurt Busch
Leading 152 laps from the pole and finishing ninth? It looks like the elder Busch brother finally has the car he's been looking for.
Now if he can only score a couple of wins in the second half of the regular season, he'll be all set for a strong Chase run. (Oh, and is Kez good enough for you yet, Kurt?)
6. Kyle Busch
After Charlotte put a black eye on his chances at challenging Carl Edwards for the points lead, Rowdy beat and banged his way to a 12th-place finish when the final bell sounded on Sunday.
He didn't pack too powerful of a punch, only leading 11 laps, but it was still enough to keep him fifth in the chase for the title belt at the end of the season. (What... too much?)
7. Matt Kenseth
Speaking of fighting, mixed martial arts continues its crossover into NASCAR with Kenseth, as Affliction—think of them as the Ed Hardy of MMA wear—backed the No. 17 at Kansas.
Kenseth's three primary sponsors this season are now whiskey, sunglasses, and MMA-themed clothing, making him officially the coolest man to ever come out of the state of Wisconsin.
8. Tony Stewart
Stewart finished eighth as he prepares to make his typical June/July charge to the front of the pack. Well, at least, his planned charge.
He only has a single top-five finish this year, worst among current Chase drivers and behind six other drivers in the top 20.
9. Denny Hamlin
Familiar territory: the No. 11 team is ranked in the Chase for the first time since Las Vegas.
And in retrospect, I really regret using my one allotted Hangover joke on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory after party when it would have worked so well here. Alas.
10. Greg Biffle
Hey Biff, I thought you were a sure thing at Kansas. 10th? Nevermind that, 10th without a single lap led at a track you dominate?
What gives? I'm disappointed.
11. Ryan Newman
Newman finished 15th and now holds only a one-point lead on Denny Hamlin for the final top-10 Chase spot.
But while that's all well and good, this photo of Newman holding his baby as it tries to drink his bottle of Coca-Cola was far more interesting than the race he drove on Sunday.
He only spent 14.2 percent of the race in the top 15 on the way to that mid-pack finish.
12. Clint Bowyer
From the desk of the Perfect Sponsorship Combination Department: Bowyer, a native Kansan, drove a car on Sunday that was sponsored by American Ethanol, which is produced in four plants in Kansas and is now present in all Sprint Cup cars.
Unfortunately, Bowyer could only muster an 18th-place finish in front of the home crowd.
13. Jeff Gordon
The No. 24 team has been wildly inconsistent all season, but when they're on, they're on. This fourth place finish marks their fourth top five of the year.
Their problem: it's also their fourth top-10.
14. Mark Martin
Not too good a race for Martin, who finished 21st. He was one of only 10 drivers not to spend a single lap of the race in the top 15, and six of those were start-and-park teams.
He's pictured above with the second of the 10, former teammate Jeff Burton, who came home 25th.
15. Juan Montoya
Started second, finished 17th.
Montoya's been fast while alone all season, but those strong qualifying runs are going to have to translate into race success if he wants to even have a shot at this year's Chase.
16. A.J. Allmendinger
Beautiful car, excellent driver-number-sponsor karma, 27th place finish. Cue disappointment.
17. Brad Keselowski
I'm going to be honest: I had been wondering when—if—Keselowski was going to win again. Then the Penske folks came out and dominated the entire race on Sunday, and I had my answer.
All of the Penske doubters can also hold their tongues now, because the intra-team restructuring looks poised to pay off.
18. David Ragan
Anybody else think that Ragan's driving for his job here? The past few weeks he's seemed like a little more than simply Roush Fenway Racing's fourth driver.
He finished a respectable 13th on Sunday, and just as he beat out Kasey Kahne by one spot in the finishing order, he will beat out Kahne by one spot in these power rankings.
19. Kasey Kahne
Kahne basically ran between 14th and 20th for the majority of the race, coming out on the top end of that range when all was said and done.
I will thus cite the fact that this is a lame duck year for him with Team Red Bull for about the hundredth time.
Mr. Irrelevant: Marcos Ambrose
Coming in the 20th, final, and most difficult spot for which to write one of these slides, Ambrose is this week's Mr. Irrelevant.
A 35th-place start didn't give Ambrose much with which to work on Sunday, but he managed to wring a 26th out of it, one spot ahead of teammate A.J. Allmendinger.
His quest to exit this hole in the rankings may take a turn for the worse at Pocono, where he hasn't finished better than 30th since his track debut.