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NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers Coming out of Pocono

Christopher LeoneSenior Analyst IJune 14, 2011

NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 20 Sprint Cup Drivers Coming out of Pocono

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Jeff Gordon hasn’t been the most consistent driver in NASCAR this season, but he sure has figured out how to find the winner’s circle when he needs to. And with a win in the Pocono 500 on Sunday, he just may find himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, whether he finishes in the top 10 in points through the regular season or not.

    This is the thing about NASCAR’s new emphasis on winning. If you’re not consistent, but can still rip off the W’s like nobody’s business, they believe that you should be able to compete for the title just the same. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s going to make things a lot more exciting, even thought Gordon may have already all but locked up one of those two wild-card spots.

    Either way, the motivation is working – with Sunday’s victory, Gordon doubled his win total from the entire 2008-2010 seasons.

    But Gordon’s not the only one running every weekend – we’ve got 19 other drivers to cover in this week’s power rankings. Read on:

1. Jimmie Johnson

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Oh, hey, seeing Johnson atop the power rankings is something completely new and unexpected, isn’t it? His fourth place finish helped close what was nearly a one-race gap between him and leader Carl Edwards. That gap is now six points.

2. Carl Edwards

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg's Ford, sits in the garage with engine trouble during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansk
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    It only takes one race, as Edwards found out on Sunday. That 40-point lead he’d been carrying on Jimmie Johnson didn’t take long to erode when he suffered engine issues early in the event. Granted, he’s still leading, but that once comfortable lead isn’t exactly cushiony anymore.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Junior’s performance this year reminds me of Matt Kenseth in 2003. Not a race winner, but almost always up there fighting for them, or at least comfortably sitting in the top 10. That probably won’t get him anywhere in the Chase, but it will at least get him to the Chase, and after the past couple of seasons, that’s a victory in and of itself.

4. Kurt Busch

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    If we’ve learned anything from Kurt Busch, it’s that pissing and moaning works. He started complaining about how the Penske cars weren’t all that great, and suddenly he’s in the thick of things going for the win two weeks in a row. Granted, it still looks weird to see him in all yellow instead of the Blue Deuce, because we’re used to that car running up front forever, but still.

5. Kyle Busch

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    This is supposed to be Denny Hamlin’s track, but it was Rowdy who took home the best finish of the Gibbs drivers when all was said and done. It’s his turn to lead the Toyota brigade this year and see if he can snag the championship. Hopefully the impending penalty that will likely come from the left front being 1/16” too low in post-race inspection won’t do anything to affect that fact.

6. Kevin Harvick

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 10:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #29 Okuma Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 10, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Happy could have made owner Richard Childress a bit happier than a fifth place finish, especially after the $150,000 fine and NASCAR probation for the Kyle Busch incident, but the weekend wasn’t a total loss; Childress ARCA driver Tim George, Jr. took the win at Pocono after leading only the final two laps in a fog-shortened event.

7. Matt Kenseth

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Affliction Clothing: Live Fast Ford, talks with his wife Katie and daughters Kaylin and Grace prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    It feels to me like Kenseth is retreating to those “quietly good” ways that won him the 2003 championship. Maybe it’s just me, though. Maybe it’s because I’m used to thinking of him like Scott Dixon in IndyCar—quiet, resourceful, focused and determined—that I don’t outwardly make comments about how he’s already got two wins this season.

8. Ryan Newman

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Image
    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Newman, Clint Bowyer and teammate Tony Stewart are now involved in a three-way logjam for positions eight through 10, separated by a mere two points. Newman actually sits 10th, but by virtue of beating the other two drivers on Sunday, gets this spot in the rankings.

9. Jeff Gordon

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, leads Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Po
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Gordon admitted in victory lane that he was “embarrassed” with the way that he and his team had been performing since the Phoenix victory. The resulting hard work obviously paid off with their second win of the season and Gordon’s first multi-win season since 2007. He’s also only six points out of the top 10 now after struggling to hang onto the top 20 for much of the season.

10. Clint Bowyer

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    ROSSBURG, OH - JUNE 08:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 Crawford Supply/Klotz Synthetic Lubrication Chevrolet, poses in Victory Lane after winning the running of Prelude To The Dream at Eldora Speedway on June 8, 2011 in Rossburg, Ohio.  (Photo by Jared
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Congrats to Bowyer for winning the Prelude to the Dream at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway this past week. His finish at Pocono, however, wasn’t quite so impressive, as he came home 16th. Bowyer’s still eighth in points, however.

11. Tony Stewart

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 10:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 10, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images fo
    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    Smoke’s Prelude to the Dream was a hit as usual, but his Pocono performance was a bit of a miss. He snagged a bonus point for leading a lap, but still finished 21st. Not quite the performance he was looking for. Not by a long shot. Maybe he'll pick up something when he drives Lewis Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes at Watkins Glen today...you never know.

12. Juan Montoya

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Ima
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Montoya actually spent a good chunk of the race out front, finishing seventh after leading 38 laps. It doesn’t suggest that this year will even come close to 2009 in terms of overall performance, but at the very least, it shows that the No. 42 team has got some fight in it, something that just didn’t seem like the case last year.

13. Denny Hamlin

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, drives down pit road with a flat rear left tire as Joey Logano, driver of the #20 The Home Depot Toyota, passes during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono
    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    It’s official: This is not Denny Hamlin’s year. A 19th place finish at Pocono, even after leading 76 laps, just cements that. If he even makes the Chase, expect him to finish closer to his car number (11) than last year’s rank (two).

14. Mark Martin

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jason Smi
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Token lame duck Mark Martin slide. Martin finished 18th in debuting the No. 5 Farmers Insurance car, the sponsor that will back next year’s driver Kasey Kahne. Yup. I’m going to make lame duck and Kasey Kahne references all year until this team does something interesting.

15. Greg Biffle

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 11:  Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford, signs autographs during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 11, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images f
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    It couldn’t have been much worse for Biffle after starting 37th. He managed to come home a lap down in 27th, which was a marginal improvement, but he still slipped to 14th in points from 12th and faces a 14-point deficit for the final Chase spot.

16. Kasey Kahne

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #4 Red Bull Toyota, sits next to his car on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Gett
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Kahne finished 12th on Sunday and remains a long shot for the Chase, but until he skydives out of an airplane to promote a race like teammate Brian Vickers did, that’s all I really care to say about him.

17. David Ragan

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 11:  David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 11, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Ragan was the second-best of four almost evenly spaced out Roush Fenway Racing cars on Sunday. Matt Kenseth came home eighth, Ragan 17th, Greg Biffle 27th and Carl Edwards a disappointing 37th. That’s probably completely different from the order that anybody would have expected that to happen, but it could’ve been a lot worse for the undisputed No. 4 in the RFR stable.

18. A.J. Allmendinger

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 10:  A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the #43 Medallion Financial Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 10, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images fo
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Once on the doorstep of the Chase, the quickly plummeting Allmendinger sits in a three-way tie with Kasey Kahne and David Ragan for 16th in points after finishing 25th on Sunday. His car was painted like a taxi cab for the race, owing to Richard Petty Motorsports financier Medallion Financial. Maybe Allmendinger should channel his inner New York City taxi driver to break the tie.

19. Paul Menard

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12:  Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/G
    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Menard finished 14th after starting second, as we continue to wonder whether he’s ever going to break out and be the real deal or not. For some reason, his early season momentum never seems to carry on too long.

20. Martin Truex Jr.

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    LONG POND, PA - JUNE 12: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, comes in for a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 12, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Ge
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Truex used his NAPA KNOW HOW to climb through the field and finish 10th after starting 31st. (Seriously, NAPA, I do this every week, will you sponsor my damn column already? You know I’m always going to bat for you…)

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